Standing up for queer rights

Ahead of the sixth queer pride march that is slated to happen on July 11

Life becomes a series of must-go-through stages when you are a homosexual in Kerala. There is that self realisation stage during early teenage, when one feels attracted to the same sex, a self-loathing stage because others around you don’t seem to feel the same way. When it happened to Jijo Kuriakose, he hated himself, not knowing what homosexuality was and what it meant to be gay. He did not have the ‘encounters’ that many narrate. It was like how any teen would learn about his / her sexuality for the first time. But it is much later, in his college years when he went on the internet, that he would learn more about man loving man. There he watched the video of Ricky Martin ‘coming out’ and about other celebrities like Martina Navratilova.

Jijo had still not felt brave enough to reveal his sexuality. He was going through another stage of convincing himself that he could be heterosexual and marry a woman. He almost did, the engagement was over and the wedding dates fixed. But he couldn’t suppress it any longer. He spoke out. The family could accept it but they didn’t want him to speak out in public. But Jijo did, because by then the cause had become more important. He took part in the Queer Pride marches that he had only watched as an observer earlier. He became one of the organisers, he founded Queerala to support the LGBT community in Kerala. Queerala is one of the organisations taking part in the Queer Pride Parade taking place on July 11, in Thiruvananthapuram. “It is being organised by the umbrella group Queer Pride Keralam which is made of many support groups, human rights organisations and activists,” says Jijo, who is now openly gay.

What changed? How did Jijo get the courage? How did Sabari Kishore, another gay man come out, having lived in Kerala all his life? Sabari, who works as an overseas education consultant, had his realisation when he began getting proposals from girls. He couldn’t imagine a woman becoming his life partner. “I researched and explored myself. And I took to social media to come out... I am still not open about it with my family,” he says.

There are many like Sabari, who have relied on social media to come out, to reveal their sexualities. Shana Susan Ninan, a lecturer in the communication department of the SH College in Thevara, has watched and analysed Facebook become a platform for queer voice, in the past few years. “With the ban in place (Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code), there is not much the mainstream media chooses to publish. But with social media, the queer community is reaching out and connecting with each other and the general public. People have opened up to reading and understanding about this otherwise closeted group of people. Only flipside is that social media tends to make the readers passive — there’s no immediacy to respond.”

But then like Sabari, the sexual and gender minorities are not compelled to leave the state like they had to. A lot has changed in the past 10 or 12 years, says Deepa Vasudevan, a queer activist who founded Sahaytrika, an organisation that works for the rights of lesbians in Kerala. She left Sahaytrika but continues her activism work. “When I came here many years ago from Canada I found the LGBT community isolated, there was not much awareness. It was hard to start Sahayatrika because even progressive groups did not recognise the gender minorities. It had been an invisible issue. And then the movement itself changed. There was the 2009 verdict when the Delhi High Court struck down Article 377 (which was later reversed by the Supreme Court) decriminalising gay sex. Kerala has become more aware.”

And more accepting, Sabari will tell you, especially of women. “Maybe because women with feministic thoughts had to fight for their equal rights too, and maybe it is because they feel very comfortable with gays. They know gays don’t cross limits.”

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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