Although identifying as a member of the LGBT community is an act that carries a strong taboo in Indian society, there are signs that the tides may very gradually be turning. A case in point: this Sunday the western Indian state of Gujarat hosted its first-ever gay pride parade. More than 170 members and supporters of the LGBT community filled the streets of Surat, holding rainbow banners, flags and dancing. A video of the Gujarat LGBT Pride Festival can be seen here.
While this open display of support and assertiveness as a community is a hopeful sign, it bears noting that many among the crowd covered their faces with scarves and masks, underscoring the social stigma surrounding the community. There is still a long road ahead for the sub-continent’s LGBT community, with the nation only decriminalizing same-sex relationships in 2009.
As The Telegraph points out, Gujarat’s LGBT community is not the first to break the silence. Many gay pride parades are held throughout India in urban centers like New Delhi and Mumbai. Further, a growing number of night clubs are holding nights geared towards the LGBT community and Bollywood has addressed the subject in a number of films.
The subject of gay marriage in the region has gained significant traction in the global media in recent months, as New Zealand became the first Asia-Pacific nation to legalize it in August. Although it may seem like a long-shot, there are indications that Asian nations may soon be following New Zealand’s lead. Debate on the issue is intensifying and support for the LGBT community is growing in the region, from Taiwan and Thailand to South Korea and Vietnam.
While India may seem like an unlikely candidate for legalizing same-sex marriage, leaders from the nation’s LGBT ranks are angling to increase the visibility of the nation’s LGBT community prior to the nation’s general elections in 2014. According to Swagat M Shah, organizer of Gujarat’s first march, the reason for the timing of the event is to send a message to politicians: if they want the LGBT community’s votes, they need to be treated as equals. The parade in Surat was particularly significant, as Gujarat is considered a Hindutva stronghold and is the home-state of controversial right-wing politician and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
“People are very conservative on LGBT issues, particularly in Gujarat,” Shah said. I want the gay pride festival to serve as a platform for more people to come out in the open about their sexual preferences.”
“Gay parades do make a difference in spreading the message about the presence of an LGBT community and its rights,” added Manvendra Singh Gohil, a prince of the former princely state of Rajpipla who is considered the face of Gujarat’s gay community. “But a true gay pride parade would be possible only after the Supreme Court issues a verdict in our favor.”
This is only the most recent in a much longer journey. In Surat it was announced that the LGBT community will hold another parade in Ahmedabad in December 2013.
One transgender attendee in Surat told DNA, “More such parades will unite LGBTs and can force the administration to think for our rights. Today’s parade has shown that the LGBTs are pretty serious about their rights.”