Pride prep amid phobic posts

Activists and members of the LGBTQIA+ community talk about queerphobia in the state that poses a threat to the pride parade
self-respect parade
self-respect paradeILLUSTRATION: Sourav Roy

CHENNAI: The preparations for the 16th Tamil Nadu Rainbow Coalition Self-Respect Parade are in full swing. Splashed with bold hues and adorned with messages of love and equality, the placards are being designed by the members of the LGBTQIA+ community. But, on social media, these colours of celebration are targeted by stark black letters dripping with prejudice and queerphobia. When Orinam, a prominent LGBTQIA+ collective in the city, announced this year’s pride parade, the virtual realm erupted in a flurry of hostility and negativity. Taking note of the situation, they posted, “Alerting @chennaipolice_ to this outbreak of online anti-LGBTQIA+ hate on social media after this year’s Pride march announcement. We have much appreciated the support of Chennai police over the last 15 years of the Pride march in Chennai, and hope this year will be safe for us too.” on their X (formerly Twitter) account.

Ironically, this is the year that the Chennai Police put out on posts about gender-based violence on their social media platforms. They included cis-women and LGBTQIA+ community. Dr L Ramakrishnan from SAATHII, a volunteer at Orinam says, “While we are happy that the Chennai Police have taken note of the community, it is very disconcerting to see all of this hate. In previous years, we haven’t seen this amount of homophobic abuse. In the early years, we can argue that not many people were there on the Internet. The Internet population (users) has increased now. Many more young people are from the community and use the Internet as a virtual kind of support system. But we also see another set of young people who are homophobic and use the Internet to register their hate or discomfort. With the rise of visibility, there is also the rise of hate.”

Persistent protests

The first self-respect parade in Chennai was in 2009 at Marina Beach. Jaya, LGBTQIA+ activist, GM of Sahodaran, says, “The unique aspect of the parade in Chennai is that shortly after it, on July 2, 2009, the Delhi High Court made history by overturning the 150-year-old Section 377, thereby legalising consensual homosexual activities among adults.”

Highlighting the remarkable developments for the community since 2009, especially in the state, Jaya states that acceptance at different levels triggers a lot of people who want the community to remain oppressed. She says, “In 2018, the judgement of the Supreme Court of India overturned its verdict in Suresh Kumar Koushal vs. Naz Foundation, hence declaring all private consensual sexual acts between adults legal, including homosexual ones. After the verdict came out, at least in a few families, queer members were welcomed. In 2021, a landmark decision of the Madras High Court in S Sushma & Anr. versus Commissioner of Police & Ors. prohibited practice of “conversion therapy” by medical professionals in India. Justice N Anand Venkatesh put forward the need for LGBTQIA+ inclusive curricula and sensitisation programmes in schools, other educational institutions and offices. This year, the Madras High Court praised the State government for developing a draft Tamil Nadu Gender and Sexual Minority (LGBTQIA+) policy. This policy includes several suggestions, such as establishing a statutory State Commission for Sexual and Gender Minorities.”

Despite these positive developments, a lot of queerphobic cyber-attacks are targeted at people who create awareness. Dr Ramakrishnan says, “This is not an issue affecting only our collective. There are non-LGBTQIA+ collectives who use the Internet to spread scientific knowledge on sex and sexuality. There is an Instagram page called Karpom Karpipom. They have also been the target of a few hatred messages.”

Pride march, since its inception, has always been a protest. Srijith Sundaram, LGBTQIA+ activist, founder, and director of Kattiyakkari says, “In the first march itself we received a few threats. Some Hindutva group members threatened to throw stones at the community if we conducted the parade. We completed 15 parades successfully and still, there is hatred from a few percent of people. A few people spread the narrative that it is not safe for women to participate in the parade after seeing an increase in the number of women attending the parade.”

This cyber bullying is especially hard on young queer people. Dr Ramakrishnan says, “For young people who are not in cities and towns where there is a physical support group, they rely entirely online for their support system. This is also something that mental health professionals need to take cognisance of.”

Advising that the brewing queerphobia is not an issue that concerns only the community, advocate Manuraj Shunmugasundaram says, “People who are not in the community need to step up and take note of all these hate speech and threats that take place online and also society at large. We cannot only expect the community to keep fighting. This shows why the pride march and pride month celebrations are so important.”

Safe and spirited space

For people who are afraid or skeptical about joining the parade, the members assert that it is a safe space of celebration. Srijith says, “Parade is where all the members of the community join together without any differences of caste, religion, wealth, class, gender, and so on. Last year, more than 5,000 people attended. This year, we are expecting double it.” Dr Ramakrishnan advises prioritising individual safety. “There are some people who advocate coming out at all costs but I think that safety should be the first consideration. If you are not sure or if you are in a situation where you are vulnerable, your parents are not supportive, or you don’t know much about the consequences of coming out, seek support. There are a lot of online counsellors.”

Having attended the parade for the last 15 years, Felix, volunteer at Orinam says, “I have a lot of faith in the Tamil Nadu Police and Chennai Police. If you are somebody who is coming for the first time and worried about your identity being put out in the media, wear a mask and ensure that your identity won’t be compromised. If you think that it is going to affect you and your mental health, it is okay to take your time and come to the march. I am very sure that the pride march will be a success with absolute security.”

The members have worked with local corporation and ensured that the route is accessible to all. Felix says, “The route generally is cloggy and the wheelchair access is bad. We have been trying to do that for a couple of years and this year we spoke to the corporation and they have assured us that the place will be cleaned up.” Like last year, Srijith ensures that vehicles will be arranged for families with kids who attend the parade. “This time, we are organising a lot of vehicles and also there is a surprise which will be unravelled at the event on Sunday,” he adds.

Despite all the hate, self-love and love for the community triumphs. Jaya says, “There might be a lot of hatred but we have to overcome that together. We have rightfully named it the self-respect parade. It is a march of self-acceptance. Pride marches are not only a celebration but also a protest. We shouldn’t confine this to pride month. The revolution will come one day as we continue to sensitise and spread awareness. We are not begging for acceptance but we are telling people to view us as human beings.”

The pride march will take place on June 30 at Rajarathinam Stadium from 3.30 pm.

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