What is an afternoon of pride for a lifetime of shame and bias?
Thousands of people came together under a smoggy sky for the 10th annual Delhi Queer Pride – a remarkable celebration for a community funded event that has thrived for a decade, attracting students, journalists, workers, professionals and academics.
The idea of pride germinated from a riotous protest in 1969 in New York against the law and police, led by transwomen of colour, but has slowly metamorphosed into a celebration of the community, of its existence, and progress.
The past two decades have witnessed tremendous strides by the community – from getting marriage equality in several countries to getting LGBT legislators and public officials elected and anti-queer laws repealed. This has also pushed queer folks front and centre in popular culture – in movies, songs and advertisements, albeit in low numbers, a search for LGBT characters isn’t the nightmare it used to be.
This mainstreaming has come at a cost; in many countries, queers are increasingly represented by hitherto dominant communities – white, affluent, male, cis-gendered, urban and able-bodied. Prides in many cities such as London are now ticketed that ensure poor people stay out, and the spectacle of beautiful bodies decked in colour isn’t ruined by less than affluent, disabled individuals. In many cities in the United States, black and indigenous people have boycotted pride celebrations, calling them exclusionist.
In India too, the community has stumbled in the courts but has made impressive strides in turning the tide in social opinion, especially with younger people who don’t view queer people with a mix of suspicion of hatred like their parents did. Pride is now held in 15-plus cities, including smaller towns such as Chandannagar in West Bengal – the proliferation of the celebration itself held as proof of the community’s progress. For a people who fight bias and criminality everyday, celebrating the expanse of their gender and sexuality is a powerful moment.
But for many LGBT people, the afternoon of pride is a short gasp of breath in an otherwise choked environment. The ones who march in pride with rainbows painted on their necks return to homes of violence where they have to hide who they are, travel in buses and metros where people leer at and abuse them, or change urgently out of their colourful outfits to staid denims in public toilets because their genteel homes in south Delhi are bent on stifling their gender. To recognise this dissonance is key.
Prides have tried to address this. Delhi’s queer community, for example, have taken stands against anti-Dait atrocities, against violence inflicted on trans bodies and anti-minority bias. But a broader understanding of queer folks as occupying multiple axes of oppression remains to be built.
Queer people are also Dalits, who wake up the next morning to a lifetime of struggle of dignity. They are minorities who fear for their safety. They are people who own shabby clothes not enough to cover bodies unsuitable for cameras scanning the march for the next spectacle. They are women who find little space in even their own communities. They are transpeople who find every door of education and employment closed. They are disabled and cannot come to pride. They are poor and cannot afford pride.
For far too long, many of us in the queer community have been focused on the law and prides. Legal recognition is important, yes, and section 377 is a reprehensible law that must go, but our social and cultural spaces must become more inclusive.
Pride is a moment of celebration and protest that shows the world that a community is rejecting stigma and shame heaped on it. It is up to us to ensure the pride doesn’t forget who it was built for. Let this space be for all.