In September, 2018 the infamous Section 377 was decriminalized by the Supreme Court of India in a historic decision. Even though it had been long overdue, members of the LGBTQ+ community and civil society at large welcomed the judgement, hoping for tangible changes on the ground. Three years have passed since then but the situation does not seem much better.
One of the most visible areas in which members of the community had found themselves discriminated against was availing houses/flats on rent. Queer individuals or couples often missed out on getting accommodation because of their identity and sexual orientation.
Owners and landlords often refuse their spaces to queer folks, citing nonsensical reasons. In the absence of any uniform legislation that prevents discrimination against communities, there is not much anyone can do, let alone raise their voice.
“Decriminalization has made some difference – earlier Section 377 could be misused but now it cannot. However, there is still no law against the discrimination queer people face. House owners are free to refuse accommodation to queer people and there’s no redressal mechanism for it,” Vidya, a resident of Mumbai told YKA.
A host of factors that include internalized homophobia, negative portrayal of LBGTQ+ community on screen and stereotypes have played a significant role in deteriorating the situation. Individuals often try to not talk about their identity or be outspoken about their sexual orientation as it tends to affect their chances at availing an accommodation. Moreover, it is worse for younger and childless folks.
“I had a relatively smoother experience because I moved to Mumbai which is relatively more accepting. I have a child and I am in my thirties, so, both these factors make it a bit easier for me than for someone in their twenties. I live with my partner but we haven’t openly said that we are a couple. Thankfully, no one bothers that much if two women are renting a house,” Vidya added.
The entire hoopla that a queer couple has to undergo for availing something as basic and fundamental as housing is emblematic of larger issues – as a society, we are still scared of people’s right to love whoever they want.
A home is supposed to be a safe space, somewhere you can belong and be yourself. There is no need for ulterior masks inside a house. However, for thousands of queer individuals who are starting off their lives in a city, it is a distant dream. Beyond the systemic harassment and disabilities, they have to face at work, educational institutions, they also have to live a life of lies to ensure they have a roof over their head.
It is not just accommodation, however. As people fail to afford safe homes, it starts to reflect in their workspace, social life and a dozen other aspects. The chain reaction that prejudicial house owners initiate ends with a structural roadblock for people from the LGBTQ+ community.
“Accommodation is one of the most fundamental needs. If one can’t find a reasonable accommodation despite being able to afford it, other factors like safety, comfort and peace of mind get affected. If someone is forced to live in an unsafe environment, it amplifies the risks they face, especially if someone is forced to live with homophobic or transphobic family members/friends,” Vidya stressed.
What should have been a game-changer in affording basic fundamental rights and social services for the queer community has remained just a legally binding decision, without any takers. As we celebrate the third anniversary of an unprecedented legal judgement, we could surely do better to create empowering social frameworks and enabling a discussion on LGBTQ+ rights that has been long due.