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It's Complicated: LGBT India Since 2003

It's Complicated: LGBT India Since 2003


For India and LGBT rights, it's three steps forward and two steps back.

Art_smallerx400_0_0When India reversed the colonial-era law banning gay sex in 2009, it gave American LGBT activists pause. The U.S. hadn't gotten rid of its anti-sodomy laws until the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas ruling.

India, with one of the oldest established societies on earth, wasn't as economically advanced but seemed to be keeping pace with the United States -- all while India had an openly gay crown prince?

It was equally jarring, however, when the country's court reinstated that archaic law in 2013 (while still upholding a ruling that recognizes the nation's third-gender population). Clearly the matter of LGBT rights in India has been complicated, especially over the last few years.

Here is where India's LGBT people have been and where they might be going.

June 29, 2003: Activists of India's Integration Society carry a rainbow banner during a Gay Pride March in Calcutta. The society, committed to the defense of human rights and sexual freedom, organized the Walk on the Rainbow march to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York in 1969.

June 19, 2007: Lesbian couple Baljit Kaur, 21 (right), and Rajwinder Kaur, 20, pose for a photograph in Amritsar during a press meeting following their marriage. Across India gay and lesbian couples were increasingly visible and open about their sexuality. Same-sex marriages, although not legally recognized, were becoming more common.

December 2, 2013: Artist Balbir Krishan's exhibit "My Bed of Roses" at the Muse Gallery in Hyderabad is closed down by the "moral police." This event foreshadows the reinstatement of Section 377, a colonial-era law banning gay sex, a little more than a week later. To read more about Krishan and see more of his artwork, click here.

May 14, 2009: Editors of India's first gay magazine, Bombay Dost, or Bombay Friends (from left), Nitin Karani, Vivek Anand, and Pallav Patankar go through an article in the latest edition of their recently relaunched magazine at the Humsafar Trust office in Mumbai. The groundbreaking publication first hit the streets 12 years earlier and despite selling some 5,000 copies every quarter, lack of funding and advertising revenue forced it to close in 2002. In April 2009 the new Bombay Dost was launched at a Mumbai bookstore, with funding from a local men's sexual health charity and the U.N. Development Programme as well as star backing from a Bollywood actress.

July 2, 2009: Activists celebrate the New Delhi High Court's landmark ruling that decriminalizes gay sex between consenting adults. The decision repealed colonial-era legislation, which the court called a violation of fundamental rights under the constitution. Although prosecutions were rare, gay activists said police used the law to harass and intimidate LGBT people.

July 5, 2009: National Akali Dal activists hold placards and shout slogans during a protest in New Delhi against an Indian court ruling to decriminalize gay sex.

January 24, 2010: A model auditions for the Indian Super Queen beauty contest for transgender women in Mumbai. The contest is the first beauty pageant organized for trans women in the country. Such pageants are among the latest in a series of recent attempts to break down barriers for India's transgender citizens. In November 2009 eunuchs claimed victory in a long-standing campaign to be listed as "others," distinct from men and women, on electoral rolls and voter identity cards.

April 19, 2010: Indian wrestlers practice their mud-wrestling skills at Loknath Akhara, a wrestling school in Allahabad. Akhara is India's indigenous form of wrestling and was once a royal national sport. It is based on a physical culture template that dates back thousands of years and is traditionally performed in a sandpit.

November 12, 2010: Dunno Y/ Na Jaane Kyon, a feature-length film with gay characters and themes, premieres. It became one of the best-known LGBT-focused films from India in the last decade. Above, Dostana from 2008; below, Dunno Y/Na Jaane Kyon from 2010; and at bottom, My Brother/Nikhil from 2005, about emerging awareness of HIV and AIDS.



June 2012:Amra Ki Etoi Bhinno/Are We So Different, a remarkable documentary about gay and bisexual men, and transgender women in India, wins Best Documentary Short Film at the Mumbai International Queer Film Festival. The film is certainly provocative, and it challenges the views we have about sexuality and HIV in countries like India. See the full film above. (This year the Mumbai International Queer Film Festival runs May 21 to 25.)

October 3, 2013: Transgender women perform at a seminar for the trans community in Mumbai. For India's gay population, the joy that greeted the 2009 court ruling legalizing gay sex is tempered by the fact that, although the law now accepts them, society still does not. For all the celebrations and talk of a historic milestone, many believe it will take more than a court decision to change public attitudes toward homosexuality, which is largely taboo in India and considered by many as a mental illness.

December 11, 2013: Akshay Khanna of Voices Against 377 talks with the media on the Supreme Court lawn in New Delhi. India's Supreme Court upheld a colonial-era law criminalizing homosexuality in a landmark judgment that crushed activists' hopes for guarantees of sexual freedom in the world's biggest democracy. A two-judge panel overturned a Delhi High Court ruling from 2009 that section 377 of the Indian penal code, prohibiting people from engaging in "carnal acts against the order of nature," on infringed the fundamental rights of Indians.

April 25, 2013: Prince of Rajpipla Manvendra Singh Gohil, a gay activist, at the premiere of the film Meghdhanushya: Colour of Life in Gandhinagar. Manvendra appears in Meghdhanushya, the first film in the Gujarati language about gay people and the problems they face in society. See a promo clip of the film below.

November 7, 2013: Nolan Lewis, or Mr. Gay India, urges those in countries like India not to lose hope because of oppressive laws that criminalize homosexuality. "I was afraid that I would be ridiculed or criticized, but when I returned to India, people gladly appreciated me," he says. "I think India is beginning to understand the LGBT issue."

January 28, 2014: A policeman looks on as LGBT activists demonstrate against the Supreme Court's reinstatement of section 377, a law dating from India's colonial era that banned gay sex, in Bangalore. India's top court rejected a plea filed by the government and activist groups to review its shocking ruling.

April 29, 2014: Celina Jaitly, a Bollywood actress and former Miss India, says she will not stop fighting for LGBT rights, even though she and members of her family have received death threats. Recently, she was named a United Nations Equality Champion and appeared in a pro-gay Bollywood video.

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