The month of June is celebrated as the Pride Month so as to commemorate the struggles, contributions and victories of the LGBTQIA+ community all across the globe. While celebration then becomes a way to endorse one's identity, embrace one's being and subsequently, become assertive about the aforementioned, however, looking at the Pride Month with solely this perspective misses the point. It then becomes important for the LGBTQIA+ community, allies and everybody to educate themselves of the ideals that the pride movement has always stood for, apart from the celebration it comes along with.
Tracing the Historicity
June came to be recognised as the Pride Month only after 1969. This was the year that marked the Stonewall Uprising back in New York City. Soon, both June and Stonewall came to be seen as symbols of resistance and pride for the LGBTQIA+ community.
Back in 1969, so much so as it is today, there prevailed a great deal of stigma around the LGBTQIA+ community and were looked down upon as anomalies. It becomes imperative to note here that there are laws related to homosexuality or trans-identity that are a rather novel phenomenon; homosexuality or trans-identity, on the other hand, have been in existence since time immemorial. It was a result of this unfortunate contradiction that the LGBTQIA+ community had to find (or even make) safe havens for themselves wherein they could express themselves without any fear of the state, of the laws or of the society. Back then in 1969 in the US, bars and inns became such safe havens for this community. It was in this backdrop that the Stonewall Inn became one of the places for the LGBTQIA+ community to express themselves with liberation, to shun the rigid walls of the social closet that they had been coercively packed in. However, these safe havens could never guarantee utmost security to these people since they always used to be under constant speculation and oppression of the state. It was only natural to expect out of a heteronormative state to call for regular raids and obstructions of these inns and meetings. The Stonewall Raid, however, was different in the sense that it, to the disappointment of the state, saw resistance not just from the LGBTQIA+ community but also, the patrons, only to spark a series of protests and demonstrations.It is believed that this event ignited the modern LGBTQIA+ movement. Therefore, it can never be emphasised much how pride was a protest, pride was a riot. This becomes categorically important to be remembered in today's time, when efforts are being made to de-politicise pride and reduce it to a mere source of celebration. Pride, from its very inception, has been political, a symbol of resistance, a political demand for justice and equal rights, a social endeavour seeking liberation from the shackles of stigma and hatred.
Tracing the Status Quo
The LGBTQIA+ community continues to face stigma, alienation and systematic oppression and they continue to resist, protest and celebrate their being notwithstanding. However, in order to appreciate the peculiarities and the resilience of this movement, it first becomes important to acknowledge the myriad areas where this community faces discrimination and injustice in the status-quo. While to our misfortunate, such areas are innumerable, four such areas are highlighted here, viz., homes, university spaces, workplace and the law. It is also crucial to note that while these struggles are pervasive, their nature changes from region to region, from country to country. For the sake of being specific, it is the Republic of India that is kept as the epicentre of focus here.
It makes sense to begin with homes since that is where almost every social phenomenon begins, owing to it being a primary source of socialisation. Families that themselves grew up in a social environment characterised by stigma and silence over the LGBTQIA+ community, an environment that perpetually pushes a belief that the only socially validated norm is the gender binary that inhumanely divides us into masculine or feminine, an environment that perpetually pushes a narrative that the only socially validated norm is heteronormativity, that there are two (and no more) sexes and the only "normal" thing is for these two sexes to be attracted towards each other and absolutely everything else is atypical, abnormal, unacceptable; families that grew up in an environment like such ingrain these beliefs and narratives so fundamentally that when their child depicts anything that is socially "atypical", either they lack appropriate nomenclature to process it, owing to the culture of silence or end up speaking hateful things, owing to the socialised hatred and stigma. What makes this worse is the fact that many families don't stop here; cases of children belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community being abandoned by their own families are anything but infrequent. Lack of familial and parental care in the childhood only worsens the mental state of these children, pushing their mental equilibriums to a state of distress and isolation.
Secondly, this oppression becomes all the more systematic and structured when we trace it inside the university spaces. It is striking how explicitly visible the gender binary is, especially within the universities. A testament to this comes from the fact that even in the most reputed and renowned universities of India that hold the highest of rankings to their name, one is unlikely to find gender-neutral washrooms. There's a greater propensity to see the gender binary reflecting itself in the case of washrooms as well which often deems the people of LGBTQIA+ people which includes non-binary/gender non-conforming people non-existent. This structural erasure of any other gender/sexual identity than the ones deemed socially acceptable only aggravates when it comes to the accommodation provided by the universities as hostels wherein the people belonging to the transgender community are brazenly denied without impunity. This often leads to an implicit denial of the right to education to these students as in cases not infrequent, students having no other option, drop out.
People belonging to this community face dual problems when it comes to the workplaces. Firstly, the systematic denial of jobs to them that often roots from the psychological stigma that the job industry which is essentially characterised by straight-het men being in power more often than not, comes with but also secondarily, the monumental amount of discrimination they face even after somehow making it through the highly scrutinised (and especially for them) job market. This results owing to the innumerable risks that they are confronted with the moment their visibility takes the forefront. Consequently, many people belonging to the community rather choose to live within the security that invisibility tends to offer them within their workspace. However, this considerably adds on to their psychological distress and to the undesirable feeling of alienation from the workspace. Furthermore, cases of workplace assault against the people of this community have been nothing but appalling. It is in this backdrop of grave workplace discrimination that the demand of horizontal reservation for people belonging to the transgender community has been on a rise. However, only one state, viz. Karnataka, till now has conceded to it yet and that too by making a provision for 1% reservation for the trans community.
Lastly, yet fundamentally, we come to law. In a world where nation-states run by constitutions and laws are a norm, laws become hope for many; hope that many hold onto in times of distress and discrimination. However, the LGBTQIA+ community has been one such community that has over and again faced grave discrimination and erasure from the law itself. After the decriminalisation of the same-sex relationships by revoking Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code back in 2018, there came waves of hope loaded with the aspirations of justice and equality for the LGBTQIA+ community. However, 5 years down the line, even today in 2023, the question of giving legal recognition to same sex marriages is still being debated in the apex court of this country. It is when the same sex couples don't get legal recognition for their partnership that they can't also claim the same rights that a heterosexual partnership, duly recognised by the law easily can; it is when these couples are legally denied the right to adopt, the right to have a combined medical insurance among a plethora of other rights that are elsewise given to married unions that we see how law too is a long way from being just for everybody and not just those who're socially deemed "typical".
Tracing the Way Forward
It becomes important, therefore, that this pride month, along with celebrating our being and identity, we avowedly defy the social systems that have prohibited our liberation since centuries and ask for equal rights with resistance and resilience. Since everything begins at home; since everything begins with socialisation; it becomes crucial to ensure that the heteronormative, gender-binary-approved patterns of socialisation break to ensure which, it is important in-turn, that the culture of silence around the LGBTQIA+ community breaks and there occur serious and meaningful discussions and discourses around the same so that the social definition of 'typical' can be broadened and made more justified. These conversations that should technically start at homes shouldn't stop there though. Bringing seemingly trivial changes such as, asking for "parents' names" instead of that of a mother and a father, normalising stories with homosexual couples and building gender-neutral infrastructure inside schools and university spaces will go a long way in changing the general psyche which, in the status-quo, has been limited detrimentally. Only structural changes can bring a meaningful end to the inequalities and injustices that are audaciously perpetuated by structures. Changing the heteronormative language of our law becomes an imminent step in this direction. Furthermore, giving horizontal- and not vertical- reservations to the people of transgender community is a step, the importance of which, can possibly never be overstated. This would ensure a greater representation of the LGBTQIA+ community in the workspace. Furthermore, appropriate gender-sensitisation needs to take place within the workspace and any sort of discrimination against the community needs to be held accountable. Additionally, it is fundamentally essential to ensure that the law which promises equal protection to all the citizens is delivering that promise with efficacy. Lastly yet most importantly, it is undeniably and fundamentally important to remind ourselves that pride was, and will remain, a protest, a symbol of resistance and defiance along with being a celebration of who we are.
By Aishwarya Nagdev