In a world divided by race, language, religion, and ideology, it is understandable why we need to celebrate International Integration Day. Development of a peaceful world demands respectful treatment of all forms of diversity. International Integration Day promotes the values of universal acceptance and equality around the globe. But what is ideally desired is not always practised. It has never been. The intolerance that marks our everyday existence is most visible towards sexual minority groups, such as the gays, lesbians, transgenders and bisexuals. We have so far failed to extend the idea of inclusiveness to appreciate people with different sexual orientation than what is believed to be the mainstream or the "natural".
The question that human rights activists and LGBTQ community members have been asking all along is: why being a gay is the crime? Why being different in terms of sexual orientation is offensive, when being different could be unique? The saga of oppression against lesbians, gay, bisexual, and transgender is a long drawn one but it is sadly the most unacknowledged, ignored and triviliased issue both in India and elsewhere.
Everyone looks for a place in society - to be accepted as an equal member like anybody else. But that acceptance is not easy to achieve because we always tend to judge others by fixed social norms. Members of LGBTQ community, therefore, find it extremely daunting to disclose their identity, fearing reprisals. The reprisals and marginalisation did not spare even an established social persona like Rituparno Ghosh. Ever since the acclaimed filmmaker decided to remain not so discreet about his sexual identity, he has been the butt of unsavoury jokes, even in TV shows.
The intolerance that marks our everyday existence is most visible towards sexual minority groups, such as the gays, lesbians, transgenders and bisexuals
It was Ghosh's heroism that he openly accepted his sexual preference and even underwent several surgeries to transform her body to his likings. His androgynous personality was never a barrier to him in his filmmaking and acting career but in the last few years of his life, he isolated himself from the entire industry and from his near and dear ones. No matter how brazenly he opened up about his effeminate traits but somewhere deep inside he continued to battle for the acceptance from the people.
Today, Ghosh is not only remembered as an established filmmaker and actor but also as an important icon of the LGBTQ community of India. Through his award-winning films, not only did he break the conservative sensibility of Indian viewers on sexuality, he also educated us on how it is like being a homosexual. He was what can be called a cultural activist. His cross-dressings, his films, his razor sharp intellect cut through the moral morass of the society.
Queer parades: yes, we are gays and we exist
Gay parades are becoming increasingly common. People marching hand in hand on the streets and roaring slogans out loud, demanding equal status and the rights they deserve. Even a decade ago this was not a common sight. But now it is. From Paris to Tel Aviv to Lucknow, LGBTQ community in colourful costumes has been coming out openly, marching in the streets, announcing and celebrating their identity. The goals such parades serve are to make the rest of the society sensitive to their demands for acceptance as well as help LGBT individuals to open up about themselves. Coming together helps the community members to realise they are not alone even if mainstream society go on showing reluctance in integrating them.
Israel parade is a perfect example of such solidarity act. Tel Aviv has conducted a massive and impactful pride parade couple of days back on the theme "Bisexual Visibility", making it one of the largest parades in the Middle East and Asia celebrating bisexuality. Thousands of activists and revealers gathered, donned in rainbow colour outfits and LGBTQ flags in hands. Israel is one of the most gay-friendly country in the Middle East, where LGBT community members have even rights to serve in the military. However, there are individuals who lash out against such parades. One Kazi Azizul Huq tweeted “I am saddened by Sodomists “Pride” allowed in the Holy Land. It delegitimises Israel”.
Kazi Azizul Huq tweeted “I am saddened by Sodomists “Pride” allowed in the Holy Land. It delegitimises Israel.
The LGBTQ community has drawn attention through fascinating and outrageous quotes, such as "What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it's curved like a road through mountains." (Tennessee Williams). Another quote goes: "Why is it that, as a culture, we are more comfortable seeing two men holding guns than holding hands?" (Ernest Gaines). Or through chanting slogans like "377, Quit India", as section 377 of Indian Panel Code considers being gay to be an immoral act, which violates the innate sexual process and is against the law of nature.
"Give me a support so that I can take off my mask" is another slogan that evokes the emotional urge of the queers. Such slogans signify that there is a larger volume of people out there, hiding in their closet who are, however, unique in their own way but drowning in the fear of rejection.
Success and failure: LGBT rights battle in India and beyond
After going through numbers of the heated debates on giving legal recognition to same-sex marriage, Netherlands became the first country in the world to grant same-sex couples their basic human right. Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Israel are other few countries to legalise homosexuality and same-sex marriage later on.
However, countries in the Middle East, Asia, and most of Africa, as well as St Lucia, Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana and other Carribbean Sea countries, have criminalised homosexuality and same-sex marriage as per their respective laws.
Anjali Gopalan is a noted name today for her contribution towards the LGBTQ community. Her organisation Naz foundation is working against the colonial era law which defined homosexuality as “carnal intercourse against the order of law”.
India still has a long way to go because in term of achieving rights for the gays. The LGBTQ community is ceaselessly in catch-22 situation. They are harassed and discriminated, their murders go unreported, they are abandoned by their families and along with emotion abuse they also face physical assault. But what for, just for being different?
Achieving integration is the need of the hour, particularly because we are talking and debating basic rights every other day. Then, why are gay rights not to be acknowledged? The philosophy of Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam (the world is one) is the need of the hour. Real integration can only be achieved through building inclusive societies across the globe. To avoid incompletion, we have to accept the gay individuals as one of the shining colours of rainbow in the sky.