We don’t get to choose whom we love – said a misunderstood knight once, on one of the most popular television shows ever. While he was referring to a very different kind of relationship, the quote holds true for anyone and everyone.
Falling in love with someone or feeling attracted has a lot to do with one’s own gender identity and sexual orientation, two very underrated and obscure terms even in today’s world.
By general consensus, gender identity is the belongingness to a particular gender – a man or a woman. They are accordingly tagged masculine or feminine. But much to a large part of the society’s agony, that is not where the list ends. As we know, there are as many agender or gender-neutral, bi-gender, transgender and even gender-fluid people all around us as there are cisgenders, all existing as a part of the big crowd.
So in reality, gender identity is an intrinsic sense of self and this innate identity of a person has nothing to do with their biological sex or the sex assigned to them at birth, which kind of scares the conservatives.
Sexual orientation, on the other hand is the inclination of one’s romantic or sexual attraction, or the gender type one prefers to have a romantic partnership with. Once again, crossing the borders of socially accepted heterosexuality by far, there exist a number of other forms of it, homosexuality, asexuality and pan sexuality being the prominent terms.
But here’s the catchword: exist; and just because something exists naturally does not mean it will be accepted, or even believed in the first place.
Yes, we are talking about the people who still think of gender-binary or non-normative sexuality, in short the entire LGBTQ community as, brace yourself, ‘a passing phase’.
This is where the Rainbow Pride Paradecomes in.
The pride parades (also known as pride marches, pride events, and pride festivals) are events celebrating LGBTQ culture and pride. The events also at times serve as podiums for legal rights such as same-sex marriage and work-place equality. Most pride events occur annually, and many take place around June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, a pivotal moment in modern LGBT social movements.
Early on the morning of Saturday June 28, 1969, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning persons rioted following a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in the Greenwich Village neighbourhood of New York City.
Around the same time next year, a commemoration parade was organized in L.A, California after much disagreement with the police department and overlooking risks of violence, under the leadership of Morris Kight (Gay Liberation Front LA founder), Reverend Troy Perry (Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches founder) and Reverend Bob Humphries (United States Mission founder). One of the three leaders had even received death threats. But the event was a success and turned out to be a milestone. The Advocate had reported:
“Over 1,000 homosexuals and their friends staged, not just a protest march, but a full blown parade down world-famous Hollywood Boulevard.”
The rainbow flag, the symbol of peace, unity and colourful diversity of the LGBTQ community came into existence a few years later following this event. Gilbert Baker, an artist and gay activist of Kansas met Harvey Milk, an influential gay leader who had challenged Baker to come up with a symbol of pride for the LGBTQ community. The originally devised rainbow flag first flew in the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade on June 25, 1978.
The pride parade has marched a long way since then, and today many major cities of the world organise pride parades once a year to proudly celebrate the diversity in gender and sexuality.
The Friendship Walk, Kolkata, 1999 (credit: wwwgaylaxymag.com)
The oldest of its kind not only in India but in all of South Asia, is the Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk. It started as an obvious consequence of the Indian Queer Movement that started in the early 1990’s. The first walk for equality in Kolkata was held in July 2, 1999 where only 15 people had participated. It was called Friendship Walk back then and it got a lot of support from other South Asian countries.
Owais Khan, one of the prominent figures of the the Friendship Walk quoted:
But yes, I have found that being open about my sexuality has had a liberating effect on me. I am able to give more than what I earlier could: to my family, to my job, to my friends, to the movement, to the World at large. Perhaps, only because I have to spend less time inventing a fake life behind which I could convincingly hide my sexuality. Perhaps, also because I am much happier with myself and I can now look at battles further afield. Perhaps, I can now play more, and, yes, lose more, but on the whole, win more.
After 1999, the walk was not organised till 2003. From 2011, Kolkata Rainbow Pride Festival, a non-profit collective of individuals and organisations started to organise the walk. Since then every year, the pride walks have been associated with movie screenings, exhibitions, fundraisers, and interactive sessions; of course, lots of posters, chanting and festivities are always a part.
The movement and the parades in India hit a milestone when the Delhi High Court ruling of July 2, 2009 that declared Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code unconstitutional on grounds that it unjustifiably criminalized queer people. The court was responding to a public interest litigation filed by NGO Naz Foundation (India) Trust in 2001 and supported by co-petitioners. It was immediately opposed by a number of religious outfits in the Supreme Court on the ground of social morality. Though the Supreme Court is yet to pass any verdict about it, many petitions in its support were submitted by many NGOs, mental health professionals and common people who support the cause.
The most recent Kolkata Rainbow Pride was held in December, 2016, with a week of screenings and interactive sessions leading up to a Walk on the 11th. The lanes of Kolkata heard the loud protests against discriminations and gender-bias and calls for peace and equality. This time the walkers laid down some specific demands in their program:
- Withdraw the transphobic Transgender Persons’ (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016 and introduce a new Bill taking community needs into account. Honour the NALSA verdict
- Read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code to exclude consensual same-sex activity from its purview
- Institute a thorough judicial enquiry into Tara’s murder, a trans woman whose body was found burnt outside a Chennai police station in November, 2016.
At the very core of these walks lies not just a protest for a burning social cause, but a sense of solidarity. Many believe that these walks are populated by only the LGBTQ community members, but that is fortunately not true. People irrespective of their gender, sexuality, nationality and religious belief gather together to make their voices heard against the rigid social and sometimes constitutional rules that victimises and criminalises the LGBTQ people. The walk is also about honouring the struggles and efforts put in together by the queer people and their supporters over the years fighting every social stigma and endless discrimination.
But most importantly these walks are about asking some questions, to whoever is listening. Questions like who can decide what is normal and what is not. Questions like why a personal choice like lover or partner should make a criminal out of the person. Questions like why is it so difficult to comprehend that one’s gender and sexuality is not to be decided by some preconceived notions. Questions like why should anyone ever have to choose whom they love.