ByÂ Anju Anna John:
On the 26th of July, Kochi will see the largest gathering of Malayalee lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Members of the LGBT community living outside Kerala will also be coming down to Kochi on this occasion. This would be the 5th LGBT Pride March happening in Kerala. The march is being organized by the Queer Pride Keralam Group, which includes Queerala (a support group for the LGBT community, their friends and family) and Sahayathrika (a human rights organization for lesbian and bisexual women in Kerala) and others from the previous pride marches.
For the last four pride marches, the venue was in Thrissur, the cultural capital of the state. When asked about the change in venue this year, Jijo Kuriakose (who is a part of the Queerala organization), responded by pointing out that the metro had a large youth support for the LGBT community.
Born into an orthodox Christian family, Jijo knew he was different from his fellow classmates even during his early teenage years. Although terms like gay and homosexual were alien to him, he knew he was attracted to men, the same way his friends were attracted to women. What ensued was many years’ worth of struggle to come to terms with his own identity. During this period, he turned to art as a creative outlet to express his individuality.
When Jijo came out of the closet, many of his friends from college and work stopped contacting him and deleted him from their ‘friend-list’ on social networking sites. It is not unusual for people in Kerala to equate homosexuals with cross-dressers and transsexuals. Jijo recounts that, “There are a few people who have referred to us as anti-social elements for not being part of procreation. Some others have gone to the extent of hating us for not engaging in ‘natural’ acts of sex”.
One of the things he laments about is the fact that the Malayam media generally uses local slangs to refer to homosexuals. It would really help the LGBT community, if the media were to take on initiatives to highlight the plight of the LGBT people. If nothing else, a more accurate depiction of homosexuality would help to clear some of the apprehensions about homosexuals in the minds of many viewers. Jijo goes on to cite Malayalam movies like English and Mumbai Police of recent times and yesteryear films like Rithu and Sancharam which portrayed homosexuals in a more precise manner.
It is heartening to know that there are various online support groups that help young queer individuals when they decide to come out about their sexuality. After the Supreme Court verdict regarding Article 377 last December, Jijo and his friends have been holding workshops and interacting with people in various campuses around Kerala. They have also organized support group meetings in which various professionals and human rights organisations have also participated.
In the run up to the pride march, the Queer Pride Keralam Group are conducting a string of promotional events to grab the attention of the public. The 1st promotional activity for this year’s pride march was the ‘Free Hugs campaign in support of LGBT,’ that took place on the 8th of June at Marine Drive. This was a campaign inspired from the Malayalam movie ‘Bangalore Days’ and was organized in association with the online group ‘Against Ignorance’. The campaign, in Jijo’s words, was aimed to spread the message that a hug costs nothing, and that love is beyond any gender and laws. The organizers aim to hold two more promotional activities before the 26th of July; a gay-themed movie screening and making graffiti art in Fort Kochi.
Through it all, Jijo remains hopeful that Keralites will stop judging the homosexual minority on the basis of their sexual behaviour and accept them as individuals first; highlighting that it is more of genetics at work than a ‘choice’. He is optimistic that the these activities will go a long way in curbing the incidents of bullying in colleges and work place, and that the LGBT community will gain state and legal acceptance and maybe, even the right to enter into civil partnerships one day. Let us hope that the diverse population of Kochi will move on to think progressively on the matter and accept the existence of the LGBT community in Kerala.
Post the pride event, Queerala aims to conduct year-long awareness programs and setting up a Queer resource centre (including a queer library) to bring political, societal and media attention for the cause.