Written by Vikki
One of my straight friend recently asked me “Why do you guys need a gay pride, when we are not parading on the street announcing about our heterosexuality?”. I could have replied him we don’t follow the so-called social norms defined by the majority of you people. Instead I took him to one of my favorite beach Besant nagar, there were plenty of heterosexuals doing all sort of romantic things openly, submerged in their erotic activities. Hesitant to disturb their privacy, me and my friend took a place somewhere behind and sat. Now I asked my friend “How many of these people you think are straight people”. He looked at me puzzled, but answered “I think almost most of them are”. I continued “See, they have an open space to showcase their heterosexuality without any disturbance and with social acceptance, not just in the beach, they are doing it through marriage institution or proposing to the opposite sex without any shame or fear. But unfortunately we are not that fortunate people, we don’t have a safe space or social tolerance to announce our sexuality, fearing on social stigma we are remaining in the closet. Pride march is the only time most of us together without any fear can announce our sexuality and celebrate for who we are”.
I am not sure whether my friend agreed to my point, but he came and took part in the last year pride march. Since first Pride in 2009, we have come a long way. The number of gay and bisexual men participating in the pride march had increased tremendously. We are seeing some lesbian and bisexual women become actively involved or participating in Pride celebrations. Though Trans men are yet to be a part of the march except one or two. As usual our trans sisters are loud and proud, they have been our front runners, leading the way, holding the rainbow flag, posing for cameras, they are not going to give up the fight.
Few weeks before at Pride Press meet, a media person asked me “Why are you doing the pride celebrations in June”. Suddenly all that stories I have read and heard about Stonewall riots rushed into my mind. I was silent for awhile, thankfully Kalki interrupted and answered to that question. Long time back one of the guys who participated in the Stonewall riots said in an interview that “Everyone in the crowd felt that we were never going to go back. It was like the last straw. It was time to reclaim something that had always been taken from us.... All kinds of people, all different reasons, but mostly it was total outrage, anger, sorrow, everything combined, and everything just kind of ran its course. It was the police who were doing most of the destruction. We were really trying to get back in and break free. There was something in the air, freedom a long time overdue, and we're going to fight for it. It took different forms, but the bottom line was, we weren't going to go away. And we didn't”.
In 2009 when I started organizing gay parties along with my friends Srivath, Senthil, Teja and Gabriel under the banner of Chennai Dost, many criticized. And there were plenty of criticism and obstructers within and outside the community which continue to exist until now. They attacked us on several grounds western import, commercialization, cultural evil, party freaks, not being inclusive etc. But we silently organized our events regularly, we have focused on our objectives and strategies, we have avoided answering to them since many of them would have found the answers by now. In September 2009, the first gay party under a group banner was organized which has seen more than 100 turn-outs. Our logic was simple and straight ‘Gay people love to party’. But we have made sure there were interactions in all our parties. These parties connected people without any class, caste, religion, preferences, area or education. Everybody participated. What we have witnessed in the Chennai Queer Film Festival in terms of turn-outs of GB men is one of the out come of the gay parties in the city in the last 3 years.
3 years before It wasn’t easy connecting with other gay and bisexual men and bringing them to our events. They were very hesitant. Most of them feared that they might be exposed or extorted or raped. We had to repeatedly talk to them and build that confidence. Fortunately for me and my 4 friends we had a pretty long friends list, we built a wide network location wise, class wise etc. We organized hang-outs, meet-ups, movie screenings regularly to connect the scattered, invisible GB community. We have utilized all the gay meeting spots both online and offline including Planet Romeo, Yahoo Chat, Emaling lists, Facebook, Cruising spots and some house parties.
People like me who may have worked in a short span are tired now because of the continuous criticism and obstucles, some of us have already stayed away from the community work and focused on their personal life. Even I wanted to go back to my hometown and live quietly with my boyfriend. We wanted young leaders who are confident and vibrant. Hence we are trying to establish our presence at Colleges and Universities. Our strategists are working hard to make things happen. Presence of many youths in our group gave us the energy and confidence on most occasions. They don’t fear unlike us. They wanted their voices to be heard loud and clear. Most of them I meet are confident about their sexuality. We are sending them to other cities like Bangalore, Mumbai and Thrissur to take a look at the pride marches and local communities. They are learning, they are going to be the next leaders and activists of this community. Their confidence is building day by day.
Recently I was fortunate enough to watch a movie called “More than a friend” directed by Debalina. This movie is about a lesbian couple and their life. It was beautifully filmed; almost all of us who were watching the movie in the review panel went into tears. What was so touching is that there was a lesbian girl among our panel, who literally lost her words after watching the movie. It isn’t easy being women in India; they were the most suppressed and degraded by the society. I don’t think life is going to be easier for lesbian women either; in fact it is going to be even more difficult. That’s why we have heard so many suicide stories of lesbian women in India. Queer women movement has a long way to go and they need a strong leader for sure especially in Chennai. I hope they will have all the courage in the world to stand up for their rights and form a community of their own.
We have come a long way, participation in the Pride marches and celebrations from Community groups have been increasing. There were many NGOs actively involved in Pride 2009, now we are witnessing plenty of Community groups and individuals playing active role. And they are not going to stop. They are going to fight till the end.
When we suggested demanding for inclusion of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans men in the Welfare board and activating the existing Transgender Welfare Board as Sexual Minorities Welfare Board in one of the Pride Planning meet, many were not convinced. Some of them even asked us that there is no need to include Bisexual issues into the welfare board. Ramki, Shiva and others arranged for a meeting with few Transgender leaders to get their opinion for the inclusion. Finally we have managed to speak to them and included the demand in the Press release draft. I was glad for their understanding and support on LGB issues. Fortunately we have also received updates on Planning Commission and National Youth Policy which will trigger LGBT movement in the upcoming years.
There were few agitations and frustrations on the community; I have read one article where one writer mentioned the reasons for his non-participance in the upcoming pride. Perceptions differ. Though we cannot force anyone to participate in the Pride, but one or two groups and individuals cannot be put as a bad example. There were plenty of open minded friends and groups waiting to receive him. I felt sad that he didn’t think about them when he wrote it, who loved him no matter what happened. But Pride is not just for the community or unity, it is to celebrate one’s sexuality. Announcing the world that we are proud of being Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual or Transgender.
As many other Pride march, I hope this pride will bring many changes. Changes in many people lives. Of course I am going to be there, shouting and dancing around with our boys and girls, just like the way I did in 2009.