Indian LGBTQIA+ community looks at their future: Clear or Cluttered?

While Thailand became the first Southeast Asian country to legalise same-sex marriage last month after Nepal, the Indian LGBTQIA+ community talks about their future amidst the new laws, lack of rights, challenges, demands, and foreseeable litigations.

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While going to her office on October 17 last year, R Balaji, a 34-year-old who identifies as queer, was hopeful that the Supreme Court’s verdict on same-sex marriage would turn in favour of the LGBTQIA+ community. However, by the time she arrived, the scenario had already changed. “There was nothing in our favour and it seemed like a game of passing the parcel,” says Balaji, who works as a head of Talent Management at a Mumbai-based firm. Amidst the news breaking from Thailand for being the first Southeast Asian country to legalise same-sex marriage and the unclarity over Section 377 in the new Indian laws that came into force recently, all that the Indian queer community can hope for is to navigate for a better future eying demands and solutions for the countless battles.

R Balaji believes that nothing was in the favour of the queer community in the judgment last year.

In the 3:2 judgment, the apex court of India had declined to legalise same-sex marriage placing the decision on the parliament and state governments. The court could also not reach a consensus over giving adoption rights to same-sex couples. Not to be forgotten these were the most talk-points in the Indian LGBTQIA+ community last year and it was looking forward to these with the positive hope that had been quashed with the judgments. As a matter of fact, however, as much as the community still expects these two rights to be conferred on same-sex couples, there are multiple pressing matters that the community demands to be heard by those in power.

Safety and reservation: Current talk points among transgender persons 

Being upfront about the disappointment with both, the court’s ruling and the government, Balaji says that she does not know “where is the future going for the community”. She says, “We are bullied everywhere; at workplaces and on roads, and hardly have an idea about how effective it can be to go to the police.” For the same reasons, Balaji says that stringent laws of safety are needed for the community. Talking about whether she could think of going to other countries to live a married life, she says, "I want to get married in my own country but I don't know till what extent can that be true even in the future."

Hyderabad-based classical dancer and drag artist, Patruni Chidananda Sastry calls it a “murky” future for the community in India. “With the new law, (The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) Bill, 2023), there is no clarity to protect the men,” he says referring to the exclusion of Section 377. The section, which criminalises non-consensual sex between adults of all genders and orientations, was decrimilasied in 2018. However, the new law does not retain the provisions, and the new omitted bill, hence, leaves rape of men and transgender individuals non-offensive. “It is scary,” the 32-year-old says. 

Patruni Chidananda Sastry eyes horizontal reservation for transpersons.

Talking about what potential petitions can be filed from the community's side next, if ever, he says, “The horizontal reservation for transpersons in jobs and education is important.” Adding to this, he says that queer couples often have to pay extra for houses and there are no anti-discriminatory laws in India to safeguard them. “I am a trans, non-binary person, but if I claim my ‘transness’, I may not be able to enroll my child alongside my partner for medical facilities,” he laments. Going forward, however, he says, “One of the brutal laws that no gay, bisexual, or transpersons can give blood needs to be struck down.” Sastry, who also advocates for LGBTQIA+ rights on digital platforms, is of the view that the coalition nature of the current government might work in favour of the community in hearing their demands.

Rayyan Monkey, a pansexual transwoman from Mumbai, believes that the apprehensive nature of the community towards voting the BJP government back to power could have contributed to their comparatively poor performance in the recent Lok Sabha elections. “For the last two years, our concentration has been on employment for transpersons as they are not given jobs even if they are educated,” she says, reiterating the importance of horizontal reservation for them. “Due to lack of representation in various professions, people don’t accept transpersons,” says Monkey, adding that the government needs to hear the voices of Dalits and Muslim queer folks.

Rayyan Monkey says that reservation in education and employment is important.

Last year, the center had told the Supreme Court that transgender persons could avail themselves of any of the existing 50% reservation in admissions and government jobs that are already available to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Socially and Educationally Backward Communities (SEBC) across the country. Recently, the Madras High Court also asked the state government to finalize the policy to provide transgender persons with reservations in public employment and education.

Alesha Nathaniya (extreme left) with the college mates. She is the only transperson in her college.

Monkey has observed that the condition of English-speaking transpersons is still better, while down south in Kerala’s Thrissur, Alesha Nathaniya, a transgender woman, also talks about similar observations. "People take us seriously if we speak in English," she says. Amidst the clutter of language superiority, however, for Nathaniya, life gets difficult in villages where people are not aware of the existence of the LGBTQIA+ community. Even in the College of Fine Arts (Thrissur), where she is pursuing graduation after halting her career in fashion styling and modeling, she had to face various forms of discrimination as the only transgender woman, but things improved over time. Owing to the biases faced in society, from Delhi to Kerala, Nathaniya pleads for the government to intervene in the societal structure by mandatorily organising sensitising sessions for people.

Yash demands discussions about the community from the government.

The founder of Official Humans of Queer, a digital initiative to bring queer stories, Yash says that while the Supreme Court has recognised the idea of queer relationships, it has not been able to “protect” them from society by granting the laws. “After 2018 (referring to the decriminalisation of Section 377), the visibility of queer persons has increased but thus, we have also become much more vulnerable to violence,” the 25-year-old says adding that the community needs the law-making bodies to implement laws for their safety. 

“The bigger motive behind striking down Section 377 was to ensure safety and hence, we demand the same from the court and the parliament in the form of employment, health care services, houses, reservations, and education,” he further comments. In a message to the law-making bodies, Yash says, “Talk about us and propose our demands. Otherwise, we will find some other ways but we will continue to fight for our rights.”

Hope for same-sex marriage, and adoption rights alive among same-sex couples

Ankur Bhatnagar (right) and Deepak Sharma (left) look forward to the legalisation of same-sex marriage. 

For same-sex couples like Ankur Bhatnagar and Deepak Sharma, the LGBTQIA+ community in India is facing “uncertainty about the future”. Recently, the Bengaluru-based couple has also started a queer-driven restaurant together. However, he says, “After 15 years of being together, our relationship still lacks legal recognition, denying us basic rights that many take for granted.” Talking about himself, Bhatnagar mentions that not being able to purchase a house together or share property rights with his partner undermines his sense of security and belonging. “We advocate for legal reforms to allow same-sex couples to adopt children, acquire property jointly, and ensure inheritance rights for partners,” says Bhatnagar, who hails from Haryana. “Our aspiration is to build a family and a home, just like any other loving couple, and to be treated equally under the law,” the 36-year-old adds.

Prasanna Sakhadeo says that as society is being aware of the community, it will force government to work for the betterment of queer persons. 

Prasanna Sakhadeo, an economic advisor feels even more hopeful now after the results of the recent elections. He says, "The results have surprised us all. As long as the saffron political stronghold is reducing, we can expect for some relaxations in the laws in the future." The 26-year-old calls India, a land that gives importance to marriages. "The community hopes for a peaceful life and legalising marriage and providing adoption rights will ease the society in looking at the community with a positive mindset," the Gurgaon resident says adding that the more the government resists providing the community with these rights, the more "negative attitude" will keep brewing in the society. 


Deon Demamount from his collaboration with UNICEF. 

Talking to Local Samosa, Deon Demamount, a spoken word poet from Mumbai, asks why the community still has to fight for acceptance in society. The 25-year-old, who works with UNICEF India and South Asia, says, “We realise the problems even more when we talk to old queer couples and see their struggles due to the lack of laws to secure them. They do not have any legal status and oftentimes, we also see somebody's property being passed down to another.” The singer and songwriter calls it a “witch hunt” to file petitions and demand approvals for rights. “If I want to get married in the future, I should not have to go through such hurdles,” he adds.

Another Mumbai resident and the Co-founder and CCO of Much Much Spectrum, an inclusive storytelling studio, Aditi Gangrade, feels a mix of frustration and determination over the discrimination against same-sex couples. As a neurodivergent queer woman married to a cis-het partner, she sees the court’s judgment on same-sex marriage affecting her friends and chosen family. “Being in a cis-het marriage, I see firsthand the legal protections and social acceptance that come with it, protections my LGBTQIA+ peers are denied,” the 25-year-old says.

Aditi Gangrade says that nullifying same-sex marriage and adoption rights was a heavy blow to the community.

When pushing for change, Gangrade says that the community requires laws to protect LGBTQIA+ individuals in workplaces, schools, healthcare, and public services. “Mental health services must be inclusive and accessible, with special consideration for the unique challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ and neurodivergent individuals,” she says, adding that along with the general public, even law enforcement and the judiciary need to be educated and sensitised about LGBTQIA+ issues. The entrepreneur and filmmaker, Gangrade, also reiterates the importance of making gender-affirming healthcare accessible and affordable in India.

A voice from Varanasi

Ayush demands legal protection for a better life for the community in smaller cities. 

Seeking equality for the LGBTQIA+ community becomes even more challenging in the smaller cities of cultural dominance as Ayush, a young queer activist from Varanasi talks to Local Samosa about how the “unfulfilled expectations for same-sex marriage and adoption rights make life harder for the LGBTQIA+ community in smaller cities like Varanasi”. They say, “Traditional and conservative mindsets are more common here. People are less exposed to diverse identities and are less accepting.” They further say, “Without the right to marry or adopt, we feel like second-class citizens. This makes it easier for people to dismiss our identity and right.”

Having experienced verbal and physical bullying while growing up in Varanasi, Ayush went on to advocate for the rights of the queer community right after completing school and even fought for organizing events like pride parades in the holy city after various rounds of negotiations and rejections. However, even for this young leader, who has also worked with UNICEF as an educator, Ayush says that the queer community might come up with demands for the legal recognition of same-sex marriage, adoption rights, anti-discrimination laws, and even better access to healthcare. “Growing up in Varanasi, where tradition is strong, it is already tough to be different. Legal recognition of marriage and adoption rights would help reduce the prejudice we face,” the 19-year-old says while recounting their experiences.

‘Protection from abuse is a must for disabled queer folks’

Nu Misra says that the dependency of disabled folks can be reduced through legal measures.

The demand for stringent safety laws becomes even more needful for disabled queer folks, as the founder of the Revival Disability India, Nu Misra states. Misra, a Kolkata resident shares, “Once my partner had got abusive with me at a public place and I still had to manage with him because I was physically dependent on him for taking me home,” they say, “We need specific laws that protect us from those in power.” Diagnosed with a chronic illness at the tender age of 9, Misra started the initiative four years back aiming to bring in the stories and art of disabled queer persons. “Society has always been against individuals who have non-normative sexuality amongst whom disabled queer persons are less represented,” the 26-year-old says. 

Moreover, Misra also shares the lack of facilities for disabled queer persons looking seeking abortion. They say, "There are spaces uncomfortable with disabled vulnerability, problems like non-existent caste affirmative care in clinics, no health insurance, superstitious casteist beliefs of impurity, inaccessibility of contraception, no information of effects of abortion on trans disabled bodies, lack of understanding of natal family violence, limited places to rest and more." Misra highlights the urgent need for a robust legal system to help the disabled queer folks with abortion and problems related to the same. From their experiences, Nu Misra opines that “disability is contained within the queer culture”. “Even within the community, disabled queer persons are discriminated and we see a lot of hate speeches by own community members,” they say.

Seeking laws for dating apps

Another problem arising from within the LGBTQIA+ community that is doing rounds as a concern, especially for gay individuals is highlighted by Rohit Nallana, an art director and filmmaker from Delhi. Recently, one of his acquaintances lost his life due to an overdose of drugs. “Minor gay individuals on dating platforms like Grindr, Bumble, Tinder, and Blued often get lured for drugs after which they have an urge for acts like group sex and involve themselves in it without knowing the hazards of the same. The dealings are done in code languages like ‘HF’ ‘High Fun’ and various emojis,” he laments. Nallana, 20, stresses the need for government action to address the issue. He wonders if there could be laws to protect minors from falling prey to such situations. “The officials can trace such code words and work with these applications to block such accounts,” he adds.

Rohit Nallana (right) highlights that minors indulge in drugs and group sex through dating apps.

Along with this, Nallana also thinks that the community might file petitions for workplace discrimination. “My suggestions were not taken seriously by the productions teams because of my identity,” says Nallana who identifies himself as androsexual. While he is fighting a legal case against big brands over non-payment issues, he was also duped twice for his scripts for two short films on Hotstar and Amazon Prime. “They rejected my scripts first but used it later and earned good money through the films while compensating me for as minimum as Rs 3,000 per script,” he says keeping the names confidential.

While people such as Rohit Nallana continue to speak against discrimination and fight in the court of law, the present and the future of many queer folks remain safe and secure in their artistic expressions, and writing books is one of them. Shobhna S Kumar, the publisher from Queer Ink who works with queer writers and storytellers has received various manuscripts regarding the current state of the LGBTQIA+ community. “The manuscripts I have been looking at recently revolve around the lived experiences along with fiction based on queer lives and even on the same-sex marriage rituals,” says the Mumbai-based founder aiming to develop archives of books on contemporary Indian queer lives. 

As Kumar guides the writers through the publishing process aimed at making them financially independent and says that the number of writers is increasing, one thing is sure; the Indian LGBTQIA+ community is not just seeking recourses for the denied rights through the laws but also through their creative freedom, perhaps, surely the right that they never have to ask for.


Indian queer community LGBTQIA+ community India