It is not easy being a LGBT person in India. Over and above that, if someone is LGBT as well as popular, they might as well pack their bags and find a more progressive and accepting society to live in. But the people in this article did not choose to do so. They stayed where they belonged; they stayed to tell their story honestly and embrace it.
It took a lot of courage and determination to do so, in the face of degradation, discrimination and disrespect. But they chose to take to the stage, stand up for themselves and inspire many who connected with them.
Here are some of the Indian LGBTQ+ individuals in different fields who broke the barriers again and again. The list is by no means exhaustive.
Ashok Row Kavi – Activist
Ashok Row Kavi, other than being the chairperson of Humsafar Trust of Mumbai, is the most prominent LGBT activist of the country. Monk-turned-journalist Ashok Row Kavi was encouraged by a senior monk of Ramakrishna Mission where he was studying theology, to freely explore his sexual identity. Before that he had to drop out of engineering college because of violent reactions to his homosexuality.
Source: Outlook India
That decision changed his life as well the lives of many others who have felt identified and accepted by his works over the years. India’s first gay magazine Bombay Dost was his creation as well, before Humsafar Trust was founded. Many parallel projects run under his supervision helped in spreading and prevention of HIV/AIDS in Mumbai-Goa region.
Vikram Seth – Author
Winner of Sahitya Academy Award and Padmasree in India and OBE in the United Kingdom, Vikram Seth has been a renowned face in literary circle and known best for his 1993 novel A Suitable Boy. His mother, Leila Seth, the first woman Chief Justice of an Indian High Court (Delhi) has been a strong support and has also mentioned her coming in terms with Seth’s sexuality in her own memoir.
He has been an openly gay author in India and a successful one, which is undoubtedly a difficult thing to do. In protest of Supreme Court’s infamous 2013 decision on Section 377, Seth penned down a heart-touching poem, titled Through Love’s Great Power.
Through love’s great power to be made whole
In mind and body, heart and soul –
Through freedom to find joy, or be
By dint of joy itself set free
In love and in companionhood:
This is the true and natural good.
To undo justice, and to seek
To quash the rights that guard the weak –
To sneer at love, and wrench apart
The bonds of body, mind and heart
With specious reason and no rhyme:
This is the true unnatural crime.
Manabi Bandyopadhyay – Educationist
Manabi Bandyopadhyay is the first Indian transgender person to complete a PhD and become a principal in a college. She was an associate professor of Bengali at Vivekananda Satobarshiki Mahavidyalaya College and took office as principal of Krishnagar Women’s College in 2015.
Source: Caravan Magazine
Her life story has inspired many others like her from eastern India to embrace their gender identity and to fight the taboo that transgender people cannot reach the highest platforms of society.
Manvendra Singh Gohil – Royalty
How often do we hear a prince or princess coming out as gay? The answer is very rarely. 2018 saw a historic gay marriage in the bloodline of the British royal family. But years before that, an Indian prince Manvendra Singh Gohil from Gujarat’s Rajpipla province came out as gay. He has been openly gay since 2006 and has faced many obstacles for being true to himself, including getting disinherited by his royal family.
But things changed a bit over the last one decade or so and people have started to acknowledge his work. Recently, he announced that his ancestral palace in Rajpipla will be used as an LGBTQ resource centre to provide health, legal and financial assistance to the community as well as homeless services, educational and spiritual classes, yoga and language courses. All these will be financed by his charity Lakshya Trust which he founded for sexually marginalised people way back in 2000, even before he came out. Prince Manvendra was helped in his journey by another name on the list, Ashok Row Kavi.
Laxmi Narayan Tripathi – Actor/Dancer
A transgender Bharatnatyam dancer-actor and activist, Laxmi Narayan Tripathi was mocked and abused in her growing years for being effeminate. But her adulthood went working for the community she represents so that others do not face the same fate as hers. Dai Welfare Society is an organization of which she is a co-founder, that has worked for the trans-community since 2002 and also represented Asia Pacific in the same issues at United Nations in 2008.
Tripathi has a PG degree in Bharatnatyam, has appeared in many Indian TV shows and launched the Indian Super Queen beauty pageant for transgender people across the country.
Shonali Bose – Writer/Director
Less known for her sexuality and more for her professional work (like it ideally should be) Shonali Bose of Margarita with a Straw fame identifies as bisexual.
Source: Jai-Pur Journal
A celebrated writer-director in the non-mainstream Indian cinema, Bose is a National Award winner and critically and commercially acclaimed for her story of differently-abled Laila (Margarita with a Straw) and her exploration of teenage sexuality with another woman, which broke the stereotypes on many levels.
Padmini Prakash – Media person
Disowned by her own family at only 13, Padmini Prakash completed her transition to a woman in 2004 and also got married to her husband Nagraj Prakash, with whom she has adopted a son. She went on to become the first transgender person to be a news anchor on Indian television after the landmark NALSA judgement was passed.
Source: Your Story
She is also a classically trained Bharatnatyam dancer and winner of Miss Transgender India in 2009.
Rituparno Ghosh – Film Director
Rituparno Ghosh, lovingly called Ritu by loved ones, was an icon in the world of Indian cinema as well as for the LGBT community. The multi-talented personality was unabashedly non-conformist.
Source: The Wire
Many said Ghosh was gay; many said he was transsexual or gender-queer. But Ghosh never labelled oneself with any gender or sexuality, sporting a nearly-hairless head and kurta-pajama with kajal-lined eyes and earrings in equal grace. Rituparno Ghosh was a phenomenon and the director’s demise was an irreparable loss, both to society and Indian cinema.