The Rainbow Pride Season commencing on June 1 will be a special one for the LGBTQIA community in Tamil Nadu, and also the time to press for several long-standing demands.
LGBTQIA refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual or allied. The celebration that is in its 11th year will be the first after the landmark verdict by the Supreme Court on September 6, 2018, when a five-judge constitution bench unanimously decriminalised part of the Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which criminalises consensual unnatural sex.
The Rainbow Pride Season, which is marked every year in June since 2009, has become a platform for the community to embrace their identity, seek acceptance without prejudices and spread awareness and sensitisation of the society to make it inclusive.
This time, the celebration assumes more importance as the LGB section along with the transgenders will assert their rights.
Stepping out of the shadows
Sunil Menon, founder-director, Sahodaran, an organisation working with the community for over two decades, said that the actual work begins now.
“Over the years, support has grown with lot of people who are not from the community willing to be by our side. However, the representation from the community in the marches have been restricted to transgenders or gays,” he says.
“Many even had to wear masks to protect their identity. However, now I hope and think there will be others who will be willing to step out of the shadow of fear and doubt since they are not looked at as criminals by the law,” Menon adds.
Menon further says that the actual work has already begun for them to ensure that sexual minorities are not denied education due to societal prejudices.
“MNCs and educational institutions have been extending support during the pride marches. We have to work closely with them to ensure that bullying doesn’t come in the way of education for the community, apart from the true diversification in companies irrespective of identity,” he said.
Demanding progressive Transgender Persons Bill
The transgender community maintains that even as the Supreme Court verdict has given them hope, there are several battles that they continue to fight.
“The Transgender Persons Bill that was introduced by the previous government at the Centre had criminalised begging, without realising that people without opportunities have no other choice but to beg,” says Jaya, another activist from the community.
“We want the new bill to be progressive and inclusive with the essence of National Legal Services Authority of India judgment that looked at understanding the identity of gender through their own and internal experiences — and man, woman, transgender or other identified category,” the activist adds.
The community also feels that the state or central governments have not done enough to spread awareness and sensitise the society towards acceptance.
There have been huge strides in the form of the Third Gender Welfare Board, which looks into the welfare of the community. Many states have followed suit like Rajasthan and Gujarat by establishing similar boards.
Yet, as Sudha of Thozhi, another welfare organisation for the community points out, transpersons have not been dealt with complete understanding.
“While there is lot of understanding and support for men who have changed their gender to women, the needs of women who have undergone gender change to become men have not been addressed,” she says.
The Chennai Rainbow Pride March was the first of its kind in the country. The annual rally has been held consecutively for the past 10 years now with the march marked as a culmination of the celebration on the last Sunday of June.
The month is marked with events that emphasise on awareness, sensitisation and advocacy. This year, the Tamil Nadu Rainbow Coalition will begin the Rainbow Pride Season on June 1.