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I May Not Be Queer, But That Won’t Stop Me From Challenging Homophobia

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I am a cis-heterosexual woman and being one, I may not know the pain related to being stuck in the closet. We have a long way to go before the society collectively accepts diverse sexual orientations and sexual identities.

Being a hetereosexual in a conservative household, I know the kind of insensitivity shown towards homosexual people. As a child, I was made to believe that homosexuality is a mental health issue. I was told by my peers that “gay people are mad!” My parents found the idea of explaining different sexuality disgusting. What else do you expect from a society which stigmatizes conversations related to sex?

At times, the idea of same-sex relations led me to many questions; What is homosexuality? Why homosexuality? Is it a choice? Is it a state of mind?

In 2013, I came across The Ellen Degeneres Show on YouTube and admired Ellen’s performance in each show. She is entertaining, charming, and mesmerizing. I found out that she is a lesbian woman who fought for gay rights. One of her career highlights is that she tried to bring conversations related to homosexuality to mainstream with her sitcom character Ellen Morgan. Her story inspired and helped many women and men who were living in the closet to not only come out but to be themselves. I guess I was able to understand the LGBTQIA community through that and Ellen is one of the major reasons why I, as a person, am no longer homophobic and a proud ally of LGBTQ rights. Because I finally found the answer to the above mentioned questions; does it really matter? Sexual orientation in just like gender identity, it is something you are born with.

LGBTQIA rights have been under the cis-heteronormative patriarchy who regulated the same. Just like how African Americans were oppressed under the white regime, the Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi (DBA) community under Brahminism, and women under patriarchy, all of which is well visible in the society even todayA large part of the population is still in the closet because of the same. I remember when the Delhi High Court read down Section 377 in 2009. Since India gained independence in 1947, it took 62 years to repeal the law that criminalizes gay relationships.

Section 377 states: “Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

But then, on 11th  December 2013, the Supreme Court upheld Section 377, and to me the idea of a democratic nation walking backwards like thi is just horrifying. Ironically, a lot of men spoke about the potential sexual harassment they might face from homosexual people. Yeah right. But the major opposition towards gay rights, I think, is from different religious groups.

Sec 377 was introduced in 1860 by the British government during the British rule of India, and then years later the same law was repealed in England, where LGBTQIA rights are celebrated. Now the English introduced the law based on Christian beliefs. If we look at the cultural and religious angle to the same then same sex desires were celebrated in Indian culture, probably long before foreign rule. When you look at the origin of Section 377, the country England, the  anti-gay laws have done enough damage in England where over 41,000 gay men have been punished, one of whom is a man who played a very important role in terms of saving England as a nation during World war II, who also laid foundations for modern day computer science – Alan Turing.

We know that it is not just Section 377 that is denying the LGBTQIA community their rights. Queer people are constantly stereotyped and vilified, in ways apart from the patriarchy-induced fear and religious oppression. There are countries that punish homosexual people for engaging in consensual sexual behavior more brutally than rapists. Popular films have done enough damage in terms of stereotyping, and not even poster boy of Bollywood Karan Johar could help with the same. In Hollywood until the likes of Ellen DeGeneres took a stand, the majority of homosexual characters were either vilified or made fun of. People who supported gay rights received threats.

Homosexual people are perceived as child-molesters and those who spread AIDs. Which is one of the reasons why Kevin Spacey’s coming out (combined with allegations of sexual harassment) lashed severely on him.

What can we do as a society to make things easy? What can we do to make different sexualities acceptable?

First of all, as always, school does play an important role. We have seen how school played a role in terms of feeding both casteism and misogyny.  If we an create a safe environment for queer people in school then we can tackle all these socially constructed oppressions at the grassroots level. Sex education classes should talk about homosexuality in a way that students will find it easier to accept. Even if there are debates then it should factual and based on proper regulations. At the same time, homophobic phrases should be put out of used. Then, the difference between violence and consent should be taught.

One of the factors that feed homophobia is the individual’s inability to understand what consent is. When the US legalized gay marriage, I remember having an argument with a mutual friend of my junior. She, as always, dragged in religion to justify homophobia. Then, later in a sarcastic context she began to use rape as a counter argument.

“What are they going to do? Legalize rape next?” she asked. I tried to explain to her what gay rights activists are saying: “Think of it this way, people could live as themselves. Why not see the positive aspect of it?”

She countered me by saying, “Why not see the positive of gang-rapes? Think of how much fun the rapists have had?”

I was horrified at her reply. It showed in a raw form how both education and religion failed to teach her the difference between love and hate, consent and violence. I accentuated on how disgusted I feel at her mindset and ended the conversation.

At one point, a religious fundamentalist, hailing from a country that denounces both women’s rights and LGBTQIA rights, personally attacked me while I was speaking about birth control by pointing out my support for LGBTQIA rights. If I, as a heterosexual person, face that kind of hatred then I could only imagine what the LGBTQIA community has to face on a daily basis. Another disgusting thing is when people try to justify pedophilia by calling it a sexual orientation.

All the above instances can be corrected with proper education about consent and sexuality, including genetic structure of trans and cis people.

These are things we could do. At the same time, I hope that the government will look beyond the patriarchal structure and religion to listen to those who are at the receiving end of oppression.

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        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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        Find out more about her campaign here.

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        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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