It goes without saying that the Supreme Court reading down Section 377 this day last year was a historic development. The significance of the order cannot be understated, especially for a generation of young, queer people who can, hopefully, grow up certain in their orientation.
Then there are many LGBTQ people who had experienced four years of ‘freedom’ between 2009, when the Delhi High Court gave us legitimacy, and 2013, when the apex court took it back.
For me, and many of my time, the September 6, 2018 order was, of course, a relief, but it hasn’t made much of a difference to our lives personally. We had gotten so used to hiding, to finding safe spaces, used to the hostility around us and the struggles that we faced, that the reading down of Section 377 was nothing more than what it actually is—that we are no longer criminals every time we have sex.
Having said that, I did cry. I wept uncontrollably a day after the order. My tears, however, had more to do with the loss of time, of almost a lifetime just trying to be unapologetically who I was as a person—a gay man! Life was such that the energy spent on building oneself left many like me with little time and strength to spend on the rare opportunities of love.
I have lost friends to other countries as they sought safety and space to live their lives as queer men. Others were forced into heterosexual marriages. And quite a few died by suicide.
To believe that one court order could change all this in one go is purely a dream.
No doubt, there is a huge change that now we talk more about sexuality and sex much more vocally than before. Several political parties now refer to our rights. Even sections of the corporate world have claimed they want to hire LGBTQ talent. There are more media reports about us. And many individuals have come out, telling their parents that they are no longer criminals.
But if we scratch the surface a bit, the sad truth is that a hell of a lot hasn’t changed. Between last September and now, I have lost three friends to suicide. Just before writing this, I was told that a former colleague was pushed into a marriage with a woman. Friends at the Humsafar Trust tell me that cases of near-suicide and depression have been on the rise and not on the decline.
Visibility, they say, leads to increased hate and this is what has happened for many in the community, forcing them to take their lives, go into depression or even run back into the closet.
This, clearly, is a reminder that while September 6, 2018 is historic, it is not about love and more about basic rights, not about equity or equality but more of an allowance to have sex.
So while we recall the historic date, we need to remind ourselves of history as well as the current reality—that we continue to be discriminated against, not even schools and colleges are safe enough for queer people as there isn’t a single anti-discrimination law to protect us. This holds for the workplace as well. We can have sex but we can’t turn that act into a fulfilment of a union of love as the civil rights attached to marriage are still denied to us.
I know I probably sound bitter, but believe me, even I will cut a cake to celebrate a year since the order, hug my family and friends, and remember our past without forgetting today. We may even discuss next steps and wonder whether we can get back together, regroup and tackle all that needs to be done.
Sharif D Rangnekar is a communications and workplace sensitisation consultant, singer, songwriter and the author ofStraight to Normal: My Life as a Gay Man.