It was a celebration. A celebration of colour, music, dancing, love and friendship. But most importantly, it was a celebration of freedom. The freedom to choose and live a respectable life. The Queer Pride Parade, which walked through the streets of Delhi, witnessed the coming together of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) individuals from various parts of the country.
It also saw many heterosexual men and women declaring their support for the cause of those individuals who continue to be marginalised by mainstream society. The event was truly an eye opener. I walked alongside people from varying socio economic and cultural backgrounds. I walked alongside my teachers, classmates and friends who suddenly seemed to be different people. They sang and jumped in jubilation while declaring their right to live.
But a few minutes into the parade and I really could not see the difference that the media and our middle class mentality has tried to drill into us. I was alongside perfectly normal people, with ordinary likes and dislikes, aspirations and desires.
There was absolutely nothing abnormal about them.
The term ‘ Queer’ has, over the centuries, changed from meaning ‘strange’ or ‘unusual’ to defining an entire community of individuals who defy the heterosexual norm. Perhaps, it will be surprising to know that the word queer, though considered derogatory by many has helped millions break down gender stereotypes. Queer people employ the term to bend standard gender identities, and to create a space for themselves. Interestingly, LGBT individuals are also part of a world wide movement that is fighting for their right to education, work, and marriage and above all, meaningful societal acceptance.
As I danced to the beat of the drum and waved the rainbow coloured flag, I felt very odd. Wary of the cameras that were clicking away and the media reporters who wanted to know why I was there. I heard myself tell a reporter, ‘Well, you see, I am not gay but I am here to…’
I was afraid that I was in the wrong place. Those few minutes of discomfort changed me drastically.
What is it about a person that reveals their sexuality? Attire? Language? Hairstyle?
And why do people judge you for the sexual freedom you choose to enjoy?
But I looked around and realised that none of those in the parade cared about any of it at that moment. Students, teachers, artists, professionals, friends, brothers and sisters. They were there to express solidarity for all those who could not be there. Their celebration was actually a salute to all those lesbian women who have had to commit suicide to escape the violence of our society. Gay men and transgender people who are forced into marriage and suppressed brutally. Their remembrance of their fellow mates reminded me of all the other victims of violence. It did not matter whether they were dalits or Muslims, South Indians or North Easterners. It did not even matter if they were traditionally female or male. What mattered was the pain and abuse that thousands of individuals suffer in their life time just to lead a life free from isolation and hatred.
The Queer Pride Parade, like other movements elsewhere, also has a history of its own. In 1969, New York police officers inhumanly attacked Stone Wall Inn, targeting its largely black and Hispanic gay community. But what changed the course of history for the gay rights movement was the stiff resistance exhibited by the people. In the riots that ensued, hundreds of gay people fought off police violence, demanding their right to live. The Queer Pride Parades occur around the world during the month of June to commemorate the LGBT community. They began as a way to unite affected people and also to bring to the world’s notice of those who suffer merely for being different.
In the beginning, there were more media persons in Delhi than people to participate in the parade. But as the walk began, I saw the numbers swelling and the festivities increasing much to the dismay of the scores of policemen who lined the streets. The LGBT individuals and their friends who came to support them openly swayed in delight, causing no trouble at all.
The media called it a giant leap for the gay people of India and expressed surprise at the large numbers. But today I see it as a huge leap for people like me as well.
At the end of the parade, during a candle vigil, the activists shouted ‘Article 377, Leave India’
I felt vaguely funny. As if I was a part of a freedom movement that was warding off an enemy. An enemy with many faces. But as the chanting gained pace and more people called to abandon Article 377, everything seemed to fall in place. It gave me great joy and pride to know that I had begun to bend my own rules and stood firm in what I believed. What my small gesture of support must have meant to my friends who needed them the most.
The homosexuals are not criminals. They are also not physically or mentally challenged in any way. They are just people who chose to be different.
The Pride Parade taught me a big lesson. The importance of appreciation and respect and the ability in each of us to accept the differences within and outside us.
[Image by Indrani Basu]