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Being A Gay Visitor In India, And Therefore Illegal

Yesterday we landed in India for a human rights project Shape History that is tackling with the United Nations in China, India and then Brazil, and as we landed two things happened:

1) I was lucky enough to be further east than I'd ever been in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

2) Like Millions of LGBT people across India, I instantly became a criminal just for being who I am.

India's 377 Law makes it illegal to be gay, punishable by a decade in prison. It seems bizarre that somewhere that uses the English language; somewhere so influenced by British customs and somewhere that now boasts an economy the size of the UK would punish it's citizens and tourists just for loving someone. The law itself is a remnant of old-British law, brought back by a leadership that arguably is out of touch and somewhat un-enforced by it's people.

Just a quick google of "Gay in Mumbai" which would usually bring up cultural places of LGBT history in a visited city, brings up lists and lists of men and women of all ages, turning to the secrecy of the internet to fulfil their need for human intimacy.

But there are signs of hope, signs of allied support - in just March of this year, parents of LGBT children formed a public support group and equally the scrapping of Section 377 is repeatedly attempted by jurists.

Denying any small sign of sexuality was so much more of a knee-jerk reaction than I anticipated - something which was strangely so much more rehearsed than I thought it still would be.

I've spent the last 24 hours with the Shape team here in Mumbai, exploring the local area and finding our bearings. The city is stunning, buzzing and full of life - there's not a dull moment at any time day or night, with the jungle's animals seemingly taking over the city when it's human residence go to sleep - and signs of the natural vegetation and wildlife seemingly fighting for existence over the city and people during the day.

But effectively I've had to go back into the closet for a week whilst here.

So much so that when checking into our apartments the staff asked if my coworker and I were "sleeping in different bedrooms?" I felt a quick, cold burst down my spine as I blurted out, "YES" in reply without hesitation. It immediately felt horrible, not because of what I said but because of the speed in which I said it. Denying any small sign of sexuality was so much more of a knee-jerk reaction than I anticipated - something which upsettingly was strangely so much more rehearsed than I thought it still would be. Effectively I was 12 again, hiding my sexuality from the school teachers or parents, for fear of being subjugated, judged or ostracised. A behaviour tragically learnt, for self-protection - something I still didn't have to think twice about.

As I'm exploring and working here, I can't help but be ashamed of my thoughts. I keep remembering how lucky I am to live in a country that doesn't prosecute it's people just for being who they are - and in an experience incomprehensible and unmeasurable to the lived experience of the Indian LGBT community every day - who am I to cast comment?

But thoughts are the one thing un-punishable by any law and whilst they are the first step to making any important change, the next step is the most important of all - supporting those who put thoughts into words and action.

The only way social change can happen is for us all to speak up and have a voice - and those of us with an audience - to use it to try to inspire others to do the same.

Before leaving India next week I'm determined for our team to speak and work with others in the LGBT community as much as possible; the people who live and work here every day. So much more about the lived experience needs to be understood - so we can support as best we can the change that needs to happen in this region.

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