Anti-Gay India Ruling Sparks San Fran Protests

by Heather Cassell
Thursday Dec 19, 2013
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Bipin Walia joined more than 50 protesters outside the Indian consulate in San Francisco
Bipin Walia joined more than 50 protesters outside the Indian consulate in San Francisco  (Source:Rick Gerharter)

South Asian LGBTs and their allies protested in San Francisco after the Supreme Court in India reinstated a colonial-era anti-gay sodomy law.

The 1861 law was ruled unconstitutional in a 2009 decision. But the Supreme Court said in its December 11 ruling that only Parliament could change that law, known as Section 377 for its place in the country’s penal code. Violators face up to 10 years in prison and a fine if caught.

The decision shocked LGBT rights advocates and their supporters around the world.

"It’s horrifying and despicable, but unfortunately it’s not surprising," said gay San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener. "As many strides that we’ve made in the U.S. and in other countries, this is a reminder that we have so much work left to do for a huge portion of the world’s population for LGBT civil rights."

Despite the court ruling, a San Francisco-based LGBT agency that works to end discrimination in the business community is planning a trip to India soon.

Out and Equal Workplace Advocates, which has a private event scheduled in San Francisco’s sister city, Bangalore, India next month, is closely watching developments related to the court’s decision, said Teddy Basham-Witherington, the organization’s chief marketing officer.

The San Francisco Bay Area is home to an estimated 244,493 Indian Americans, the San Jose Mercury News reported in 2011, many of whom are Desi queers, those of Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi birth who live abroad. It is also the home of the oldest South Asian LGBT organization, Trikone. Over the weekend, Trikone leaders called for two rallies.

About 60 South Asian LGBTs and allies held a candlelight vigil outside of the Indian Consulate in the Inner Richmond neighborhood December 13 holding signs reading, "Love is not a crime." Another group of nearly 30 LGBT Desis showed up in the Castro Sunday night, December 15, rallying in solidarity with Day of Outrage protests around the world against the India Supreme Court’s decision.

"We want the consulate and the Indian government to recognize that there is a significant population here that has been affected by the Supreme Court decision, that we are important and that we deserve equality," said Monica Davis, advocacy director of Trikone, which is working in solidarity with 10 other U.S.-based South Asian groups and with sister organizations in India.

She and others protesting outside the consulate believed that the court’s decision was a "huge step backwards," and made the LGBT community in India vulnerable to discrimination and harassment.

"[It] essentially criminalized their ability to exist in the public," said Davis, an out bisexual woman.

"It’s time for us to show up, be out, and be here in solidarity with what is happening in India," said Harsha Mallajosyula, a gay man and former board member of Trikone.

Speaking with activists back in India, he said they are in "shock" and "despair" about the court’s decision.

"They are very disappointed in their supreme court and the judicial system failing them and not treating them like first-class citizens of the country," he said.

Gay Indians living in the country also expressed their surprise.

"It is an extremely regressive verdict and quite unexpected," Sridhar Rangayan, a 51-year-old gay Indian activist and director of Solaris Pictures in Mumbai, said in an email interview with the Bay Area Reporter . "In one of the largest democracies in the world, we were hoping for a more positive verdict. It reverses all the advocacy work that has been carried out over the past two decades with government bodies, judicial agencies, health infrastructures and the civil society."

Some local LGBT South Asians expressed fear of traveling to India.

"I personally wouldn’t feel like safe going back to India," said Mallajosyula, who is still an Indian citizen but is living in the U.S. "Not only because of what is happening in the country, but also because I have protested in front of the consulate here in the U.S. a number of times and now there is a law on the books that would say I could be imprisoned up to 10 years."

Mallajosyula isn’t alone. Davis said she received messages from some Trikone members who didn’t want to publicly protest the decision out of fear.

"Even though we live in the U.S. they still live in fear of repercussions from their families in India and with this decision it makes it even harder to be out, even here in the U.S.," said Davis. "They are scared to go back to India and visit."

New travel companies specializing in LGBT travel to India, such as Pink Vibgyor, Pink Escapes, Indjapink, and Out Journeys, expressed concern about the court’s decision affecting the emerging queer travel market to the Times of India.

The two-judge panel that reviewed the case, Suresh Kumar Kaushal v. Naz Foundation, decided that the law wasn’t discriminatory and punted the issue to India’s Parliament.

The court was basically stating that there wasn’t any "constitutional right, government can do whatever they want," said Craig Konnoth, a gay Indian attorney who was at the December 13 protest.

Australian High Court Tosses Out Marriage Ruling

The Australian High Court struck down the Australian Capital Territory same-sex marriage act last week, halting same-sex weddings.

In a summary, the judges unanimously decided that the Marriage Equality (Same Sex) Act 2013, enacted by the ACT Legislative Assembly in October, went against the federal Marriage Act 1961, which limits marriage between a man and a woman.

Nearly 30 same-sex couples who married under the law saw their nuptials immediately annulled. Same-sex marriages were halted.

At the same time, the judges found that Australia’s Parliament has the power to legislatively change the constitution to include same-sex marriage.

Copyright Bay Area Reporter. For more articles from San Francisco's largest GLBT newspaper, visit www.ebar.com

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