The Supreme Court’s verdict on Section 377 on Thursday is an important moment for the LGBTQI+ community in India. After 157 years, a draconian law that has considered queer people criminals on par with rapists and murderers, for just choosing to live their truth, has been read down. It’s a bittersweet moment for the community, because this is only one step towards social justice for large parts of the community who are vulnerable on many counts. As others have pointed out much more coherently, this does not automatically remove hurdles to employment, housing, healthcare, and a life of dignity for a large number of people.
But that said, this is an important judgment – for all of India and not just the queer community – for the opportunities it presents. The verdict is, for many people, a chance to engage with the issue and learn about the community, and to find ways to counter the discrimination queer people face in the country.
Justice Indu Malhotra said in the Supreme Court, “History owes an apology to members of LGBT community and their families for ostracisation and persecution they faced because of society's ignorance that homosexuality is a natural trait; its penal suppression infringes a host of fundamental rights.”
Yes, the LGBTQI+ community deserves an apology. And the most sincere apology is not just a word. It’s not a throwaway ‘sorry’, or a recognition that things ‘used to be’ worse. A sincere apology is action, and awareness that the battle has only just begun, and that your services are needed – not in some minefield, but in everyday life.
So if you’re an ally, old or new; if you’re a person who has been following the arguments around Section 377 in the last few months, or if you’ve only heard about the law now that it has been read down; if you’re a person who used ‘gay’ as an abuse before and are now realising that this is wrong; if you’re a person who wants to sincerely do something for freedom and equality for queer people in India, in your own way, then these are suggestions for you:
1. Educate yourself: Google is your best friend – if you can find answers to “Who will Chhota Bheem marry?” on the search engine, you can definitely find answers to your questions about the queer community, about Section 377, about the discrimination that people face, etc, online. Be careful to look at reliable sources – as a thumb rule, anything that has been written or produced by a queer person should be a good resource. Here’s an explainer to get you started, and a series that we put together with various perspectives.
2. Be respectful in your questions: All right, so you’ve learnt a little online and you still have some questions – and you want to ask your friends or family members about them, or you want to ask a question to a queer person on Twitter or Facebook. That’s allowed – but remember the rules of consent, and remember to be respectful. No one owes you their life’s experiences for you to respect them. And if they don’t want to talk to you for whatever reason, respect that and move on. Also, if you want to ask questions regarding people’s genitals or ‘exactly how’ they have sex: Don’t. Full stop.
3. Challenge regressive attitudes: It’s easy to be woke on the streets – or on Twitter. But if you really want to be a good ally, you should be challenging your friends and family members when they say and do stupid, regressive and harmful things. Have conversations with them, argue with them about why denigrating someone for being queer is unacceptable. Don’t put up with lewd jokes and bullying – because if you do, you are complicit in perpetuating discrimination.
4. Where you can, help: If you’re in a position to hire people, give queer people an opportunity to find employment. If you own a house, let it out on rent to trans women who want a place to stay. If you have a younger cousin who might be going through a difficult time at school or at home because they identify as queer or don't fit into gender role expectations, offer to speak to them. Don’t simply look the other way when you have an opportunity to do something, and then complain about how the world needs to change.
5. Pass the mic: This one is for every Facebook post, every tweet, every blog, every thinkpiece, every activist space, where a cis straight person is the hero of a story about queer people, about discrimination, about the LGBTQI+ community. No, you’re not the story. Don’t try to make this about you. It’s great that you choose to be a good person when not everyone in the world is – but that still doesn’t make it okay to hog the limelight. Pass the mic – let others, whose experiences matter more, speak.
Views expressed are the author's own.