Why are LGBTQ relationships still a social stigma?

The LGBTQ community has a long way to go to bridge the gap between social acceptance and legal inclusion, even after Supreme Court’s decision to scrap Section 377.

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The year 2018 will always be known for remarkable changes, as the year broke barriers about many controversial issues, witnessing one of the few most liberated set of changes. From Triple Talaq to Adultery and Rape Laws, India took a few positive steps towards transforming mindsets last year. One of the major highlights of the year was the Supreme Court’s decision to scrap Section 377, extending a helping hand to the LGBTQ community, safeguarding their rights and freedom of choice. 

We all clearly remember the pride colours all around, talking and breathing freedom with people out on the streets celebrating victory over age-old prejudices.

"LGBT Community has same rights as of any ordinary citizen. Respect for individual choice is the essence of liberty; LGBTQ community possesses equal rights under the constitution. Criminalising gay sex is irrational and indefensible," mentioned Chief Justice Dipak Misra, who headed the bench with the five judges hearing this case. 

However, even though the Supreme Court supports the gay community and treats it as a natural sexual inclination, India still has a long way to go to make it socially acceptable. We often come across people questioning the verdict decriminalising gay sex. We tend to participate in conversations advocating homosexuality but shy away from the possibility of accepting a homosexual in the family, if not friends. Although these views might be alien to a few, many in our surroundings expressed hesitation in this context.

Even the Government has a controversial take on the issue. On one hand, where the NALSA judgement protecting the rights and the dignity of the transgenders got rejected in Lok Sabha in 2014, Section 377 got scrapped 4 years later, soon to present the Transgender Bill which contradicts the NALSA judgement and does exactly the opposite of safeguarding the interests of the transgender community. 

The NALSA verdict was released back in 2014 which brought smiles in the transgender community, but that, unfortunately, was short lived. Not a lot has changed post that, despite many attempts to provide something much more inclusive and is in line with the NALSA verdict. Other attempts to improve our state of existence and identity was repelled in the Lok Sabha as the bill was not passed.

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment drafted a bill and introduced it in the Parliament on December 17, 2018, but unfortunately, it is against NALSA, whereby it states that one will have to present themselves in front of a district screening committee which will then determine the gender of the person. The situation here is concerning as this is what will happen with the transgenders if this bill gets passed.

Throwing light on the discrimination and baseless rights, a member of the Queer Collective at TISS and a transgender activist named Christy expressed his agitation over this at a protest in Azad Maidan. In a conversation with Mumbai Live, she said, "The society will not change with just a judgement. Judgements and laws are required but when the Government is making laws about a community which is already marginalised and vulnerable, the Government must listen to their voices. I am unable to understand what is the Government trying to do right now. When the transgenders bill was passed, the transgenders and the inter-sex community revolted a lot and kept their demands forward. The Government is suppressing our voices and passing bills in the Parliament. These bills are for us and aren’t you going to listen to us?"

Adding a thought to the same, another transgender activist, Vicky Shinde, a member of the Shiv Shakti Foundation, also said, “The new Transgenders Bill is about a lot of things which is against the community. If I am born a boy and feel like a girl, then I will live as a transgender would. Why should we showcase our body to a screening committee to be identified as a transgender? This is against our rights."

This shows the sad side to the way transgenders in our society are being perceived. Where the LGBTQ community at large faces discrimination in the society despite the existence of a law favouring them, transgenders are the most exploited and less respected. On the other hand, same sex relationships are still seen as a taboo. The rigid mindsets and years of conditioning will take a long time to wear off till it is socially acceptable to be a homosexual.

A member of the LGBTQ community, who identifies himself as a gay and chose to remain anonymous, mentioned that “Social acceptability is a very subjective term and highly depends on what you perceive acceptance to be.”  He has not personally come out to a lot of people but to those who he chose to tell, have never expressed 'dislike.' Talking about the Section 377 verdict, he added, “Just the verdict will not bring about acceptability, awareness will. How can you expect people to accept something they aren’t aware of. Many don’t know what LGBTQ really stands for. First, people needed to be educated about what it is.”

It is perceived across the community that when the verdict came out, it was easier for people to come out on the streets and celebrate in a city like Mumbai, where it is “less of social stigma”. But in towns and smaller cities, people are afraid to speak up for the fear of being judged and not accepted.

Talking of the discrimination members of the community faces, we are aware that it begins in schools. In a class, there might be kids growing up who will be feminine. The entire class gives them feminine names because of their body language. The self-image is, thus, psychologically imbibed to be derogatory. They tend to develop self-doubt and it swipes away their self-confidence.

Indeed, it is a fact that social acceptability comes after social awareness. And with the Government being dubious about defending the community, how can we expect mindsets to change overnight. In an interaction with someone, I was told that they’re not against the queer community but they would not be able to accept a family member to be a gay, a lesbian or a transgender. 

This homophobic view is more prevalent because of the lack of awareness and the existing social norms about sexuality. Our minds are conditioned to think in a certain way because the term ‘chakka’ and ‘hijra’ is still used to humiliate someone. Our surroundings are all about men and women, from signboards to mere education. How can we learn to accept something so out of the everyday normal? Awareness starts more at the individual level and not the policy level. Yes, India still has a long way to go in accepting people with different sexual orientation but it would not happen till we show them social inclusivity at an individual level.

On the other hand, and ironically so, same-sex marriages are still not legal in India. Where gay sex is decriminalised, marrying a man/woman of the same gender is still considered illegal. Even though we as a country have finally taken the first step, we are still quite dubious in extending support to the LGBTQ community for real, let alone making it socially acceptable. 

But what we can do is raise a generation which is more aware, accepting and all-inclusive. Focusing on gender sensitization, sex education should not be only about male and female reproductive systems but also about gender and sexual orientation. If we want the Government, laws, policies, and reforms to favour the discriminated, we first need to be well equipped and impactful enough ourselves to leave no other choice for the policymakers. Social acceptability, henceforth, would be a given. 

Scrapping Section 377 might bring about security in terms of a criminal action against gay sex but it will still be seen as something abnormal till mindsets have changed. And that would start with each one of us becoming more aware and treating them as normally as a male or a female would be treated.

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