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India’s gays set for first nationwide pride marches June 27, 2008

Posted by nitinkarani in English, LGBT, Online/New Media.

Another AFP story, on Google News: India’s gays set for first nationwide pride marches

NEW DELHI (AFP) — Homosexuality is officially illegal in India but the country’s lesbians and gays say that will not stop them coming out for the first nationwide pride marches this weekend.

For the first time gay men, lesbians, transgendered individuals and their friends and family in several major Indian cities will join global gay pride events.

“That the march is happening now and not before is an indication that people are finally feeling brave enough to come out for that kind of celebration,” said Lesley Esteves, 32, a gay rights activist who is one of the organisers of the parade in the capital New Delhi.

“It’s only now we feel we have the numbers to do this.”

A British colonial-era provision in Indian law prohibits “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” and activists say this allows authorities to treat gay people like criminals.

Under the statute, known as Section 377, unlawful sex is punishable by a fine and a 10-year prison term.

Activists say that while few people are arrested or convicted under the law, many gays and lesbians prefer not to come out.

“On the one hand there is criminalisation. And there is no non-discrimination legislation, no protection, no recognition of same-sex partnerships,” said rights activist Gautam Bhan, 28, who plans to march in Delhi on Sunday.

“While the law exists all our hands our tied. Everything you do can become suspect.”

“There’s not that much to be happy about,” said Bhan. “Everyday life is still very hard. That’s one of the reasons why the march ends in a vigil.”

Small gay pride marches of several hundred people have been held in the eastern city of Kolkata before, but this year is the first time events will also be held in New Delhi and in the southern city of Bangalore.

Gay rights activists say this shows India has come a long way since 1999, when the first attempt at a pride march was made in Kolkata.

“Just 15 people came out. It wasn’t even a march really,” said Pawan Dhall, who works for HIV and gender rights organisation SAATHII and has been a key organiser of the march in that city.

There have been other steps forward.

Films have touched upon gay stories and the English-language media increasingly covers gay issues “positively,” activists say.

Cracks have even appeared in the government’s stance to homosexuality during a long-running court battle to overturn Section 377.

While the home ministry holds society is not ready to drop the law, India’s state-run AIDS organisation went on record to say the move was necessary to help in its efforts to fight the disease.

The parade in the capital, which is expected to draw a few hundred people, comes just days ahead of the next hearing of final arguments in the case before the Delhi High Court on July 2.

Gay pride events are traditionally held around June 27 to commemorate the riots that broke out in 1969 in New York City’s Greenwich Village after police raided a gay bar, the Stonewall Inn.

Activists in Bangalore say they expect at least 600 people to turn out Sunday.

“Delhi decided to do it and we decided it’s high time we also got in on the act,” said Bangalore-based human rights lawyer Siddharth Narrain, 29.

“People feel the need to actually come out in the street and publicly affirm their identities.”

The marchers, who have already obtained police permission, plan to wave rainbow flags, play drums and maybe even dance in the streets. Some, however, are also expected to wear masks to avoid being outed by television coverage.



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