Undoubtedly, one of the most difficult challenges in India is to come out of the closet as homosexual or transgender. Whereas being gay or a trans person is completely natural, it is treated in a totally polar opposite manner in India.
First of all, the schools do not have basic sex education, so forget about the different forms of sexuality and gender varieties. Over and above that, children by default learn to discriminate or treat the LGBT people in a different light from what they see by observing their elders. So even if they want to grow up to be different, a certain bias works in a subconscious level which stands in the way.
The taboos and stigmas do not spare even the popular faces. It is quite a usual thing that in a country as large as ours, we must be having at least a few public figures who belong to the LGBT community. But the real picture is almost unbelievable.
The number of celebrities who have had the courage to come out as gay is perhaps less than 10, and that includes hardly 2-3 people whom the mass can identify. That is a drastic contrast when compared to the western countries where we have quite a few really known faces who openly conform to the LGBT community.
Vikram Seth is a bright example among the ones who did come out. One of the most notable Indian English writers and winner of a great many awards like Padma Shri, Sahitya Academy Award, WH Smith Literary Award and Crossword Book Award, Seth claims in different interviews that indication of his bisexuality was there even in his earliest poems.
Later we got to know about his sexual orientation and his family’s acceptance more clearly in his mother’s autobiography On Balance and we learn that even though it was difficult and initially an awkward situation, his parents eventually gave more priority to their son’s individuality than their own prejudices. She even mentioned his long-time partner Philippe.
He is also one of the crusaders and actively participative members of the nation-wide campaign against Section 377.
Onir, on the other hand, is the sole openly gay movie director in the Hindi film industry. His critically acclaimed and award winning works – My brother…Nikhil and I Am, both has homosexuality as a plot in them.
He has always been vocal about his sexuality, and even though he had the support of his family and friends, and even the industry, there have always resentments coming from certain sections of the society. In one of his interviews with DNA, he said:
“Because I am the only openly gay filmmaker in our film industry, I am vulnerable to all kinds of attacks.”
Another must-mention name is Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, the first ever openly homosexual prince in the world. His story is sad and inspiring at the same time. Being the son and probable heir of the Maharaja of Rajpipla in Gujarat, he not only had to deal with his own lack of proper knowledge and exposure about his sexuality but also the very heavy burden of his royal family name and the risk of shaming it.
After divorcing from his unconsummated marriage with Chandrika Kumari of Jhabua district in Madhya Pradesh, he went into depression and suffered from nervous breakdowns.
After he came out publicly in 2006, the story made headlines around the country; and while many thought it to be a giant step towards progressive thinking as far as LGBT community is concerned, his own family felt like it was disgraceful and humiliating. His mother disowned him with a public notice.
Effigies of him were burnt in his hometown as people were “shocked” and he was harassed whenever he made a public appearance.
However, the prince has no regrets about his step. In October 2007, he appeared on the famous The Oprah Winfrey Show as one of three people featured in the show entitled ‘Gay Around the World’, where he said:
“I knew that they would never accept me for who I truly am, but I also knew that I could no longer live a lie.”
However, all these did not stop him from working for the community.
In 2000, he started the Lakshya Trust, of which he is chairman, a group dedicated to HIV/AIDS education and prevention. A registered public charitable trust, Lakshya is a community-based organisation which provides counselling services, clinics for treatment of sexually transmitted infections, libraries and condom-use promotion.
The trust also creates employment opportunities for gay men and support for other organisations for MSMs, and plans to open an old age home for gay men.
In 2007, Manvendra joined the Interim Governing Board of the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health, known as APCOM, a regional coalition of MSM and HIV community-based organisations, the government sector, donors, technical experts and the UN system.
He inaugurated the Euro Pride gay festival in Stockholm, Sweden, on July 25, 2008.
Since July 2010, he has served as editor of the gay print magazine Fun, which is published in Rajpipla, Gujarat.
The story of these people tell us that no matter how rich, high-class or privileged one is born, social taboos spare no one when they are as deep-rooted as the bias against the LGBT people, or the concept in itself. But that they have overcome those, and no amount of fear could keep them inside the closet is a big hope for the rest of the country.
Maybe someday we will not have to look up at an Ellen DeGeneres or an Elton John for inspiration, but will have some more names closer home in every field.