After the Supreme Court of India delivered a historic judgment, decriminalising Section 377 in 2018, India moved one step ahead toward becoming a queer-friendly nation. However, we still have a long way to go. The Naz Foundation (India) Trust, an organisation that works on HIV/AIDS and sexual health issues, was the original petitioner in the constitutional challenge to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Their team has been at the forefront of spearheading the fight to ensure that homosexuality isn’t treated as a crime in the country and that queer individuals are able to procure the rights they deserve.
In this interview, we speak to Anjali Gopalan, founder and executive director of Naz Foundation, about the journey ahead in claiming rights for the queer community as well as the work that their East of Kailash-based organisation has been doing for LGBTQ+ people. Excerpts…
When we look at the LGBTQ+ rights in India, how far have we reached and how much is yet to be attained?
We haven’t even started the journey on rights. All that has happened after repealing Section 377 is that homosexuality has been decriminalised. Except for the trans community that has been granted certain rights, the gay community has no rights. Unfortunately, people think that just because it [Section 377] has been decriminalised, people have been given their rights. That is not true. Rights as citizens of the country that all of us should have are denied to them [people from the queer community].
You have been working for the queer community since the last 20 years. Is there a change you have seen in the way the community is being represented?
Yes, I see a huge difference which also gives us the strength to do what we are doing. One thing that happened with decriminalisation of Section 377 is that we can no longer sweep this issue under the carpet. We can’t say “Oh, it’s not an Indian thing, it’s a Western phenomenon” as it was being done until a few years ago. I don’t hear this much now.
The way the media reports on LGBTQ+ issues has changed a lot. The way the gay community is depicted in films has changed. Earlier, it would be just about jokes; now it seems to be a lot more respectful. There is a very positive response from corporates—they are talking about diversity and inclusion. But like anything else in the world, change takes time. I think there is still a huge gap, for instance, rights. It is sad that we are in a democracy but a bunch of our citizens are denied basic rights.
The Foundation has launched Naz Dost helpline. What is the response that you have received?
The Naz Dost helpline is meant for people to clarify their doubts or to talk to a counsellor about their issues. The kind of calls we have been getting have to do with coming out, dealing with violence, lack of acceptance, how to get one’s parents to acknowledge one’s sexuality, or dealing with the feeling of being low and depressed. The idea is to create a space where people find acceptance, there is someone to listen and clarify their doubts.
You have also been conducting training sessions with the Delhi Police on gender, sexuality, and issues of the queer community…
We have received a good response from them. Delhi Police has made it a part of the mandatory training. The officials have a lot of questions because no one has ever talked about these issues with them.
The way forward is to secure rights for the community. For Naz, we are working on building a physical space for the [LGBTQ+] community where all the services such as support groups, doctor, legal counsel, psychiatrist—everything is available under the same roof.
June is celebrated as Pride Month worldwide. Watch this space for stories from the LGBTQIA+ community