Pride Month is commemorated yearly in memory of the Stonewall Riots, which started on 28th June 1969 due to a police raid on a gay club and the resultant protests. In India, the first pride march, called The Friendship Walk, was held in Kolkata on 2nd July 1999. Since then, Pride Marches have been held in many cities, now Pride Month, typically June, is dedicated to celebrating and commemorating lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender pride.
In a world that thrives on diversity, the LGBTQ+ community is a testament to the kaleidoscope of human identities, experiences, and expressions. At the core of this vibrant community lies the extraordinary bravery of individuals who fearlessly embrace their true selves, even in the face of a society that may not always understand or accept them. The Pride Month is also an opportunity to reflect on the significant progress made in pursuing equal rights for all individuals while recognising the challenges that persist.
Over the past decade, India has embarked on a transformative journey towards empowering and including LGBTQ+ individuals. The Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling decriminalised consensual sex between adult homosexual men and the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019 have been pivotal in advancing LGBTQ+ rights. These milestones combat discrimination, uphold the dignity, and provide equal opportunities. In addition, while the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage is pending, its outcome can shape a future of greater acceptance and equality for all in India.
We need to recognise that Tamil Nadu has emerged as a beacon of progress in advancing the rights of the LGBTQI community in India, especially with recent initiatives such as self-employment subsidies up to Rs. 50,000 and educational assistance. The state judiciary has also played a pivotal role in recognising and acknowledging the challenges faced by the transgender community in Tamil Nadu. Through landmark judgments, it has taken a stand against conversion therapy and queerphobia within medical institutions and directed the government to prioritise sensitisation on LGBTQ+ issues for school teachers.
ActionAid Association has been actively engaged with the PLHIVs and LGBTQ+ community in the southern state of Tamil Nadu for nearly two decades. The organisation undertook advocacy efforts to enhance awareness, challenge discrimination, and foster an environment of acceptance and equal rights for PLHIVs and sexual minorities. In its battle against HIV/ AIDS, ActionAid Association prioritised vulnerable groups, including sexual minorities.
However, while celebrating these accomplishments, we must not overlook the challenges the LGBTQ+ community continues to face in India, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic exposed vulnerabilities and exacerbated marginalised communities’ struggles, including sexual minorities.
Many transgender people in Tamil Nadu found themselves without Public Distribution System (PDS) cards, rendering them ineligible for the state’s relief measures against Covid-19. As a result, their livelihoods were severely impacted, with some resorting to begging or engaging in sex work for survival. Others relied on small businesses or sold handmade goods, such as garlands, on the streets to make ends meet. The sudden and prolonged lockdowns during the pandemic left them unprepared, amplifying the difficulties they faced. Recognising the dire situation, ActionAid Association complimented the efforts of the government by providing cooked food and dry rations from the beginning of the pandemic until recently
Another pressing issue is the assurance of quality education for gender non-conforming children. Ensuring that all children, regardless of gender identity, have access to an inclusive education environment is crucial for their personal development and future opportunities. Community-based efforts must be made to foster understanding, empathy, and unconditional love within families, enabling them to embrace their transgender loved ones fully. Moreover, livelihood opportunities are vital for ensuring the economic independence and empowerment of sexual minorities. Sustainable income-generation programs, skill-building initiatives, and efforts to combat workplace discrimination can help create an inclusive environment where transgender people can thrive and lead fulfilling lives.
As we celebrate Pride Month we must recognize that it is a collective responsibility to continue advocating for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, addressing the existing gaps, and fostering a more inclusive world where everyone can be celebrated for who they are. We need to recognise that Pride is for all!