Pride celebrates equality, inclusivity, and a culture that has been growing and thriving. But while we’re at this party, let’s address the elephant in the room. Are women being sidelined even in the LGBT movement?
In December 2016, an LBT- led group declared that it would organize a party for the LGBTQ pride month in Mumbai. The fallout of this event was a revelation on the dynamics of LBT rights within the community.
LBT persons in India have had an uphill journey. The foremost stigma is that of being a female-bodied person in a patriarchal society. By this, I mean that it is commonplace to every female movement monitored and controlled. Right from the way they sit, to their clothing, their education, marriage, every decision is made on their behalf. The concept of choice is an illusion. In such a situation, asserting yourself and obtaining the freedom to meet and date other people is a challenge.
LGBTQ Pride month in Mumbai is organized by a collective called Queer Azaadi Mumbai. Anywhere between ten to fifteen organizations and individuals participate in meetings to discuss the workings of Pride. The collective decides the Pride calendar, the events, the happenings on march day, and also, the post-pride party. Most years, the party had been organised by a prominent gay group, Gay Bombay. However, this by no means meant that it was the only official post pride party in the city. Thousands would attend the party but with only about 10% LBT persons representing.
Since 2015, there has been some discussion about having more than one post-pride party to be more inclusive to those who don’t feel welcome at the parties organized by and for gay men. So, finally, in 2016 one prominent LGBTQ group, Gaysi, came forward with the idea to have a party organized by LBT persons, for LGBTQ.
Gaysi organizes about 8 to 12 events a year including the very successful 2x2 Bar Nights and Dirty Talk. The party details were published on Gaysi’s social media handles. It was to be celebrated at Baraesti, Tardeo on the 28th of January 2017, after the QAM Pride Parade.
While the word went out, reactions were mixed. While the LBT persons were ecstatic, gay men did not seem happy. “I felt uncomfortable when I learned that there would be women at the party. I felt it reduced the feeling of Pride as such. I also thought it was unfair that you had to come in with an LBT person you knew. What about people who didn’t have LBT friends?” asks Sheldon Henriques. His opinion was echoed by many who felt that they would feel uneasy at an LBT party. The heated social media debate revealed the phobia within the community.
“The controversy began when the said party was labeled the official post pride party in town, and a lot of gay men who had attended post-pride parties previously, felt that they were not welcome at this party; only a few noticed that the organizers had repeatedly said men were also welcome, so long as they came accompanied by a woman”, said Balachandran Ramaiah, head of Gay Bombay.
Sakshi Juneja, one of the core members of Gaysi, says, “We never said no to gay men. But we did believe that it is a problem that LBT persons have not been coming to these events. There is something about the space that is not inclusive, welcoming, or encouraging. So, you can’t keep standing by your door and say you are open to all. Our goal was to stand up and make it known that this is a safe space, inviting and equal.”
What they did not expect was the backlash. She says, “Initially it was pretty discouraging but over the years we have become thick-skinned. We asked ourselves what we wanted and whether we were doing enough to make it happen. We knew we wanted a more inclusive space, and so we went out with that message and acted on what we promised.” At parties organized by Gaysi, one can now see crossdressers, younger LGBTQ people, gender fluid, and genderqueer people attending in large numbers.
Sheldon Henriques ultimately did attend the Gaysi party and was pleasantly surprised. “ I was dumbstruck by the number of men there. However, I still think that the official party cannot be an LBT party. There should be separate parties. I think it is unfair to those who did not have LBT friends.” Kartik Sharma, co-founder of Qgraphy was also at the Gaysi party and said, “I think it was pretty much the same as any party, except that all colors of the rainbow came together. LBT persons do a lot for the community but it goes unseen and unspoken. Gay men dominate this space.”
Pearl Daruwalla, a party organizer for LBT persons said that “There are very few spaces for LGBT people to be themselves, within these the LBT has even fewer. There is no way for them to meet, socialize, and get closer to each other. In this digital age, my parties create a space for people to get off their phones, come out, and meet people. It is a male-dominated society, even in an LGBT space, the G (gay men) and T (transwomen) dominate.
Although the controversy was short-lived, it exposed the politics of space for the LBT community. There is a need for space, not only for dating and hookups, simply for a space to talk and to express yourself without judgment. This would not be possible for women in a space where they are constantly outnumbered. The arguments for having a safe space and separate party were not just for safety reasons as some would think, but also because LBT persons are simply looking for someone to connect to. For gay men, these avenues have been open and are steadily getting larger over the years but for women, negotiating these spaces is still a challenge. Gaysi’s model is meant to promote a “separate but equal” approach, the effort is to make it open and accessible to all identities.
Image Credit: Google