'We cannot allow govt into our bedrooms'

Anjali Gopalan, Executive Director of Naz Foundation, is one of the prominent voices against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.

Working with a focus on communities stigmatised by society, her and Naz's legal fight to decriminalise gay sex started in 2001 with the filing of a petition in Delhi High Court. She spoke to Shemin Joy of Deccan Herald.

Excerpts:

It has been a legal fight for last 12 years. LGBTs (lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender) tasted success with the Delhi High Court verdict in 2009 but isn't it back to square one with Supreme Court judgement?

It is disheartening. The high court verdict being so situated in our Constitution, many youth found the guts and courage to come out and openly talk about being homosexual. Four years down the line, Supreme Court says sorry go back into the closet, you are criminalised again. It has far-reaching implications on the lives of many people. Making assumptions like there aren't many numbers of gay people is regressive. If there aren't numbers, does it mean that you can stamp them out of existence?

It appears that there are many prejudices against LGBTs.

People equate homosexuality with paedophilia. But most of the cases that came to the fore are that of heterosexual men molesting girls. I do not say that homosexuals do not molest young boys. I am saying that paedophilia is across the board. Another common response is that if you accept homosexuality, everyone will become homosexuals. Does that mean that the world is largely homosexual? This comes from a very deep-seated fear of not knowing how to deal with something you have no idea about.

LGBTs say Section 377 takes away their dignity, privacy and all the rights. Criminalisation of the community also has a risk as it creates problems in the fight against HIV/AIDS. What will happen if the law is not changed?

We will have to ensure that we keep up the fight till this regressive law is removed. Because, we cannot allow the government into our bedrooms. You may be living with a person in a homosexual relationship for many years. You were in a very caring, loving relationship with that person and if that person lands in a hospital or dies, the family can completely deny your existence. You are not even allowed to grieve. You are not allowed to go into the  hospital to take care of him. So can you imagine the level of discrimination that exists and denial just because you are not a straight couple? All of that is taken away from you even if you are in a committed relationship.

A majority of the petitioners in the Supreme Court were religious institutions or those associated with them. How do you see that?

What are they scared of? My heart goes out to them that they are insecure in what they believe in. If you are so insecure in what you believe or in your God or in your religion, that you want to marginalise people, then you need to look within and see that as it is. I think all these religious leaders know that there are enough people in their own religion who belong to the LGBT community who are in their own way religious and believe in their gods. It is not as if they do not have a belief system, that they are some barbaric human beings emerged from nowhere with two horns and a tail. We need to learn to respect diversity.

Those opposed to decriminalising Section 377 say homosexuality is against Indian culture and that it is an abnormality. How do you counter such arguments?

There are many references to homosexuality and homosexual ways of living in our mythology. This law, you should remember, is from 1860, the British era. The terminology of the law is that of Judeo-Christian traditions. It has nothing to do with Hinduism. I do not know from where this argument is coming. The moment you say any of these things, the gurus, if they are gurus –– look at the state of some of these gurus today –– say it is not part of our tradition.

Many parents are coming in open to support their children who have a different sexual orientation. Is it that things are changing?

One of the reasons initially why we challenged the law was because of parents. I do a lot of counselling of parents of homosexuals. So the response of the parents is if it is so normal and natural, why is it seen as a criminal act? You have to give them that space to feel safe to acknowledge it. Many parents have taken a stand and come out in open to support their children and were party to the Supreme Court case.

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