By Kokila Bhattacharya for The YP Foundation:
During LGBTQ awareness sessions in college, I was asked, “Bhopal mein Pride kyun nahi hua?” So, a group of us took on the mission! During that process, we learnt a lot, and we thougth we should share it with everyone! So, here’s some gyaan.
Too often people create these events with an imaginary date and time! It’s a big no. Also, don’t make a pride poster for said mythical event!
Plan your Pride March on a date that is suitable for your city. We decided on the evening of May 17 (International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia) for Bhopal Pride to ensure that we would have clear skies and easy traffic.
Choose your partners carefully. Citizen’s Action Network (Bhopal CAN) was initiated to fight corporate crime and is not an NGO. We strategically did not want to involve a registered entity for testing waters as many volunteers have been threatened before. It is our safe space and blanket to put forward our ideas without attaching them to faces.
Relying on queer dating apps is not a good idea. Avoid making fake profiles and pursuing people till they turn up for a date with you, just so that you can coax them into helping organise a Pride Parade.
Use technology, apps and meet-up groups to plan small meetings. In Bhopal, a bunch of wise folks did so and created Harmless Hugs on MySpace to talk about their issues and find support in each other.
Mobilise, organise, and get people together! If yours is a smaller city and communities don’t gather easily, travel and meet new people and groups. Hear them out and make them feel like there are more people involved. Word of mouth works wonders in smaller circuits, and physical meetings offer more faith than telephonic conversations. Bhopal Pride was essentially initiated by straight allies till we found many, many beautiful queer people to join us and take on the mantle!
Collaborations are essential for a successful Pride Parade. Find activists, social workers, communities, professors and influencers who believe in equal rights. Any sane person, it is safe to assume, would believe in equal rights for the LGBTQIA community, and would help you spread the word. If possible, get many diverse people to the meeting to brainstorm prospective problems and solutions. Once a core team has been established chalk out a draft of your demands or agenda.
Most importantly, listen. Our preconceptions were proven wrong when we met local groups of trans people and Hijras at gharanas. Their issues, motivation, and demands were very different from what we were assuming them to be. Chances are that your status, background, or life may cause you to make immature judgements. For example not many people use “LGBT” to refer to alternate sexualities—some prefer using abbreviations for specific groups like MSM (men who have sex with men). Remember that all communities, geographies, and cultures are different and do what’s best for the ones you are working for.
Based on this, we decided that the Pride Parade would not protest against Section 377, since at that point, its implications were not fully understood. Sexual rights and privacy rights were a bigger priority for us. Based on this understanding, we drafted a manifesto for Bhopal Pride, in collaboration with Centre for Social Justice.
We invested a lot of our time in outreach and advocacy in schools and colleges. Along with members of local trans groups, we visited many institutions. While it is difficult to dismantle regressive authoritarians views, acknowledging their existence and influence helps us decide what language we should use and the sequence in which we should provide information. There was a great need for this, since these were the assumptions young students had.
“…but our professor said that porn makes people gay.”
“…but ‘gay’ people wear sarees and ask for money at traffic signals, why should we support them?”
“If we come to the Pride, our parents will think we are homosexual.”
“What body parts do Hijras have?”
Sometimes an easier way is to start is with the question “What is the difference between sex, gender and sexuality?”
These are the things one shouldn’t do, but that brings us to what one should do instead. And these are:
While publicising the parade use every avenue you can. Plan many small build-up events before the Pride.
For Bhopal, we made a schedule, which included several events. In collaboration with Alliance Francaise, we had an art and photography exhibition featuring the work of a number of local artists. Then we worked with Kaafila and ANSH Happiness Society for a street play at DB Mall. There was also a panel discussion (in collaboration with the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya) and a film screening, with the help of Humsafar Trust. Finally, Dylogg Coworking (the organisation I co-founded) partnered with Bhopal Pride for an open mic night.
“Magar paise kahan se ayenge (But where will the money come from)?” you ask.
To fund Bhopal Pride Week, we chose to avoid approaching big businesses and opted to raise money through crowdfunding instead. We are very very grateful to each person who contributed to our campaign.
(Psst…We are still broke.)
You will confront many self-proclaimed ‘custodians’ of religion. Dealing with them is overwhelmingly exhausting and will leave you with scars. However, buck up and get back in the arena, and fight irrationality with reason, and negative emotions with positive ones. Remember, homophobia is conditioned. Carry handy proof when logic is questioned, such as:
“Homosexual behaviour is natural in all species.” “Ancient stories and art have depicted same-sex intercourse.” “Sex is not unnatural.”
Repeat these mantras as and when required.
The party, I assure you, would’ve started without you. However, there should be unanimous clarity on the starting point and ending point of the march, post-march plans, slogans, and banners. Make sure you have amenities, security, documentation help, scream-the-slogans volunteers and pacifiers.
Also let’s make sure we are not speaking for someone else, or making assumptions about their identity.
Finally, get lots of masks and props for people who aren’t ready to come out as yet.
Pride is for everyone. Therefore, intersectionality and inclusivity is key.
And there you go. A few simple Dos and Don’ts to follow!
Pride may or may not be a one-time event. Our efforts definitely cannot and should not end there. We must consistently push privileged ignorant people to open their eyes. This one was a hard pill to swallow for Bhopal, but we were not guilty about serving it.