Gay India News & Reports 2011 Jan-Aug

0 Law Like Love: Queer Perspectives On Law 1/11

1 Gay magazines in India hint at quiet revolution 1/11

1a Gay love is no different 1/11

2 LGBT march dismantles closets, one step at a time 1/11

2a Dear Reader… 2/11

3 Men who have sex with men for money 2/11

4 Gay sex law is a threat to family values 2/11

5 Commentary on India Pride in Bombay 2/11

5a Mental health of MSM and Transgender on blind spot 2/11

5b ‘My son is gay, and I’m proud of him’ 2/11

5c Indian TV report outs gay men 2/11

5d The Community Unites – India’s Stonewall? 2/11

6 India bans gay couples from surrogacy 2/11

7 Travel: Warm welcomes and good food in India 4/11

7a The Great Indian Mainstreaming Of Homosexuality 4/11

8 Gay sex became legal in India two years ago, but attitudes change slowly 5/11

8a Living with HIV in India 6/11

8b WHO urges India to address medical needs of gay men, transgenders 6/11

9 Foreign consulates join hundreds at Chennai’s 3rd pride march 6/11

9a Dying Young – The death of two young transsexual women 7/11

10 Indian, foreign firms eye growing Indian gay market 7/11

11 Gay sex is an unnatural disease: Azad 7/11

12 UNAIDS rejects prejudice and misconceptions about MSM 7/11

13 Gay, & happily ever after? 7/11

14 Gay world: Never been better, but bigger fight ahead 7/11

15 LGBTs demand better access to medical services 7/11

15a Certificate Course on LGBT History from MINGLE 7/11

16 Lesbian couple ask court for protection from anti-gay family 7/11

17 Indian lesbian couple win police protection after death threats 7/11

18 A Narrative: Discussing sexual minorities…8/11

19 Feeding on Our Fears: the menace of threat and extortion 8/11

20 AIDS stalks gay and transgender Indians 8/11

01 January 2011 – Yoda Press

Law Like Love: Queer Perspectives On Law

by Alok Gupta and Arvind Narrain
Book Review of Law Like Love: Queer Perspectives On Law.

With the landmark Delhi High Court victory in July 2009, sexuality and the law entered mainstream, legal and public discourse in India inviting both celebration and resistance. How do we understand this conversation? The July judgement stands on the shoulders of a much longer history, argue the writers in this contemporary and critical volume on queering the law.

A longer history that shapes, unsettles and challenges both legal and queer histories and begins new conversations on the intersections between bodies, politics, activism, sexuality, identity and law. Some playful, some critical and others reflective and irreverent, this unique collection of pieces brings the life, structures and institutions of law alive and shine with relevance in the contemporary moment.

Details of Law like Love:? Editors :Alok Gupta and Arvind Narrain along with Editorial Collective of Akshay Khanna, Mayur Suresh, Siddharth Narrain and Ponni Arasu
Publishers : Yoda Press at Year of publication: 2011

January 17, 2011 – AFP

Gay magazines in India hint at quiet revolution

by Ammu Kannampilly (AFP)
New Delhi — When the first editions of gay magazine "Fun" arrived at his stand in New Delhi, Ram Naresh displayed it discreetly to avoid giving offence — but customers have ensured every month is a sell-out. The glossy publication, launched in July, combines pictures of young models posing in underwear with articles on what to wear on a swingers’ date, explicit sexual problems, and the latest cars and gadgets. "We consistently run out of copies," said Naresh. "I will have to order more as there’s enough of an audience for magazines like these."

Such overt homosexual culture remains shocking to most Indians, who often treat the topic as totally taboo. No high-profile Indians are openly gay or lesbian whether in the fields of sport, politics or entertainment. But gay sex was legalised in 2009 and the profile of homosexuals in India looks set to rise as the country rapidly embraces many aspects of Western lifestyles and attitudes. The success of "Fun" contrasts with that of "Bombay Dost" (Bombay Friend), India’s first gay magazine, which survived for 12 years from 1990 but then closed until a recent re-launch.

Other small signs of the gay community’s increasing prominence include same-sex Valentine’s Day cards and the Bollywood blockbuster "Dostana", in which a mother happily welcomes her son’s supposed boyfriend into her home. There are now at least eight print and online magazines aimed at lesbians and gays in India — including "Jiah" (Heart), an Internet publication started last year by Apphia Kumar, 26. "I wanted a medium of communication, not so I could push ads and sell lipstick," she told AFP. "People write in asking me to email them the magazine. "The anonymity of the Internet helps hugely in making people feel safe and part of a community."

Jiah, which is staffed by volunteers, steers clear of nude photograph spreads and bedroom fantasies in favour of poetry and gay-friendly travel guides. "I don’t want to include any visibly sexual content since we have some quite young readers and I want parents to be able to read this as well," Kumar said. Gay pride marches have become good-humoured annual events in several cities but Kumar said many of her readers come from conservative towns where people regard homosexuality as an illness.

In one shocking case last April, Srinivas Ramchander Siras, a university professor in the small town of Aligarh, killed himself after he was secretly filmed having sex with a man. Simran and Sabina, the owners of India’s first gay pride store Azaad Bazaar based in the upmarket Mumbai suburb of Bandra, echo Kumar’s sentiments on respecting people’s privacy.

"We were clear that we wanted to be a family space, people don’t want the sexual angle staring them in the face when they walk in here," Simran said, declining to use her last name."This is not a sex shop, it’s a gay pride store." The fashion-conscious pages of "Fun" are hardly militant campaign literature but Manvendra Singh Gohil, the magazine’s editor, believes its cheeky, confident tone is also quietly pushing the cause for gay equality.

"Indian magazines have always flaunted the female body, now it’s time to flaunt the male body," Gohil, a gay descendant of a former royal family in western India, told AFP. "Things are gradually changing. When I came out in 2006, my family publicly disinherited me. Now I see parents taking part in gay pride marches."

January 29, 2011 – The Times of India

Gay love is no different

by Deepak Kashyap and Jerry Johnson
Okay, Okay I understand that you like to have sex with boys, but I don’t understand how a boy can love another boy? Boys can’t have love between them the way a boy and a girl are meant to have", said Darren’s (name changed) father to him when he came out to him on his 20th birthday.

Do gay people feel the same emotions as straight people when they are in love with their same-sex partners? This question has hounded not only the scientific community, but also the people who find it difficult to understand gay love, for different reasons. A recent brain-imaging study conducted by neurobiologists Semir Zeki and John Paul Romaya of the University College of London may have opened a new window to understanding the complex emotion of love as experienced by men and women of any sexual orientation.

Read article


January 30, 2011 – The Times of India

LGBT march dismantles closets, one step at a time

by Kshitij Bisen, TNN
Mumbai – The masks are down, so is the guard. Mumbai’s queer community came out in droves on Saturday to not just celebrate pride but also to reinforce the message of equal rights and acceptance. The Queer Azaadi March, which was flagged off amid the din of slogans and cries for freedom, witnessed a perceptible difference in the mood of its participants, not necessarily from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.

For one, fewer participants seemed hesitant to reveal their faces. The masks were there, but only to add to the drama, not to hide the people behind them. "This year, we saw many participants remove their masks without the fear of being exposed in front of the media," said Vikram Doctor, an organizer and a member of Queer Azaadi Mumbai, a collective of all the queer groups in the city who come together to organize the march.

Right from the time actor Celina Jaitley flagged off the pride parade, it was evident that the march itself has moved on to a larger platform. Earlier, the event would be organized on one quiet Sunday of the year. However, this year, the organizers chose to hold a week-long Queer Mela, culminating in the march on Saturday-even as the bustling city and its busy citizens stopped in their tracks to

witness the marching motley of colours and voices. Among the many faces seen at the pride parade were those of the kohl-lined, bindi-on-the-forehead foreigners. "The number of foreigners participating in the march has been increasing every year," said Vikram. "Mumbai’s gay pride is getting attention globally."

For parents and families of LGBT members, who have participated in the marches earlier, the changes, however small or gradual, are welcome. "I am happy to see the difference in people’s attitude towards the community. But it’s still a long way to go before the society is not perturbed by someone’s sexuality," said Raj, the aunt of a participant, Harpreet Singh. "I just wish the society understands that it’s not a choice they make. It is who they are. And that’s how they want to be accepted, understood and loved by others," she added. As the participants marched on, the sound of the beating drums drew people out on their balconies to watch the spectacle. While a group burst into dance, another cheered them on. The marchers finally stopped at Chowpatty, but their enthusiasm was far from dying out. Shouts of "We shall overcome" defined their mood, defiant, yet jubilant.

01 February, 2011 – Galaxy Magazine

Dear Reader

With this issue, we complete one complete year successfully!! Thank your for being there with us all along.

From the Icon of the Year to the Entrepreneur of the year, we give out awards to various personalities who remain an inspiration for all of us through the work they have done, and helped the community move forward. We tell you about the launch of a new Bengali Magazine on sexuality issues, and how other magazines fared at the Kolkata Book Fair.With Social Media being an important tool in bringing revolution in Middle East, we talk to the founder of the Facebook group Pakistan Queer Movement and bring you insights. Straight Talk returns in this issue, along with the other columns to keep you hooked.

The issue can be read online for free here

February – SomeThingBlue

Men who have sex with men for money

The photographs presented here offer a window on the subjects in both the private and public spheres. Most of them live ordinarily as men; many have regular jobs and their nocturnal activity is often kept secret from their family and friends. Homosexuality was a crime in India until July 2009 and because of the strong conservative values of its culture, misconceptions about homosexuality, transgenderism and prostitution are still widespread in Indian society. The victory which decriminalised homosexuality in India is actually a historic moment as it controlled the spread of HIV, which was urgently required in a dense, populated country, such as India.

Thanks to a large-scale programme aimed at controlling the spread of HIV and AIDS launched by the Indian government, as well as a number of effective media campaigns by government and NGOs, the majority of the MSM and TG community now knows about the transmission of HIV through unprotected sex and has access to free condoms. However, the use of condoms is still inconsistent and comparatively rare. According to a survey in 2004 by an MSM NGO in Mumbai, 20% of the gay community is HIV positive.

Caton’s photography provides a stunning and intimate portrayal of this little known Mumbai sub-culture. The people are on the very fringe of social acceptability in India and are in a constant struggle to arrive at a clear self-identity while negotiating prejudice and threats to personal safety. While the particular struggle may be exceptional, the images have a more universal relevance – capturing the vacillation between despair and hope that is arguably the defining characteristic of the human condition.

9 February 2011 – Fridae

Gay sex law is a threat to family values: Parents of LGBTs who filed a Supreme Court petition

by Sylvia Tan
A group of 19 parents of LGBTs led by Mrs Minna Saran, mother of a young gay filmmaker who died in a road accident, is among the six parties who have filed petitions in support of the 2009 Delhi High Court ruling that decriminalised gay sex.
A group of 19 parents of LGBTs is among six groups who have petitioned the Supreme Court in support of the Delhi High Court’s landmark decision in 2009 that decriminalised homosexual relations between consenting adults. The Supreme Court on 7 February said it would hear all 19 petitions of which 13 are opposed to the 2009 decision on April 19.

The five other supporting petitions were filed by a group of 13 mental health professionals; 16 academics from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University, Tata Institute of Social Sciences and others; Shyam Benegal, a prominent Indian director and screenwriter; Voices Against 377 and HIV/AIDS NGO Naz Foundation, which initiated the legal challenge in 2001.

Parents of LGBTs: Gay sex law is a threat to family values
Arguing that the "real harm to family values is caused by divisive and discriminatory laws" like Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, the group of parents called on the Supreme Court to uphold the Delhi High Court’s decision. In a press release obtained by Fridae, it quoted the petition as saying: “It is Section 377 which is a threat to family values, as it directly affects the rights of the Applicants to safeguard their families from illegal and arbitrary intrusion from the state authorities. Section 377 invades the sanctity of the family, home or correspondence and allows for unlawful attacks on the honour and reputation both parents of LBGT persons as well as LGBT persons themselves.”

The press release dated Feb 7, 2011 said: "This decision has come under sustained attack from several parties who would seem to have no link to any homosexual person, but who still claim that this decision is harmful. Their most commonly reason is that it will attack the family values on which our country is based. "This biased and misleading response has now been countered in the Supreme Court by a group of people who very definitely do know a homosexual person – their very own child. In a petition that has just been admitted in the case, a group of parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people from across the country have come together to describe the very real harm that criminalisation has caused their children, and themselves."

The three of the 19 parents who were identified by name include Mrs.Minna Saran, mother of the late Nishit Saran, a young filmmaker who documented his struggles in trying to come out about his sexuality, before he died in a tragic road accident; Mrs.Munithayamma, the mother of Veena. S. who identifies as a hijra; and Chitra Palekar, a filmmaker and an award winning theatre actor and director, and mother of Dr.Shalmalee Palekar, an academic who identifies as lesbian. The other parents are said to be homemakers, teachers, an employee of the Postal Department and the head of a co-operative bank.

Mental health professionals: Gay sex laws are "arbitrary" and "harmful"
Thirteen mental health professionals who practice as psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, and behavioural psychologists have also jointly submitted a petition, which has been admitted by the Supreme Court, in which they argue that striking down the verdict will greatly harm LGBT persons. Calling Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalised gay sex "arbitrary" and "harmful", they say that through their years of experience in counseling LGBT persons the law encouraged discrimination, harassment and abuse of LGBT persons, and conveyed the message that they [homosexuals] are criminals.

"By forcing them to hide their sexuality, this law caused mental stress and anxiety to LGBT persons." Read the press statement issued by the group led by psychiatrist Dr Shekhar Sheshadri from the National Institute for Mental Health Sciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore, which functions under the authority of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. It also includes Dr Alok Sarin, head of psychiatric services at the Sitaram Bhartia Institute of Science and Research, and Dr Vikram Patel who works for Sangath, a mental health organisation in Goa.

Academics: Views of ‘religious leaders’ cannot be taken as being the final word
The petition submitted by the group of academics contains 16 signatories including Professor Nivedita Menon, Professor of Political Thought at Jawaharlal Nehru University and Professor Shohini Ghosh who is Zakir Hussain Professor of Media at the AJK Mass Communication Research Center.

The petitioners explained that their initiative is in response to the attacks made against the decision by many self-proclaimed ‘experts’, some of who have gone as far as to file appeals against the decision in the Supreme Court. The parties opposed to the High Court decision and have filed petitions include All India Muslim Personal Law Board, Utkal Christian Council, Apostolic Churches Alliance and yoga guru Baba Ramdev who who claims that homosexuality, cancer and AIDS can be "cured" through breathing exercises.

In a press statement made available to Fridae, the academics argued for the need to consider a diversity of views, especially of people with independently established expertise. "It the views of ‘religious leaders’ cannot be taken as being the final word on the issue which would bind all sections of society." The academics also stated that they have interacted with hundreds of LGBT people in India and witnessed first hand the “harassment, humiliation and prejudice” LGBTs face which is exacerbated by the existence of the law. The law "legitimises an atmosphere that runs counter to the spirit of openness and acceptance of difference that should mark modern academic spaces. Its existence is not only an affront to those who are non-heterosexual, but it is an affront to each and every person in the academy who believes that every teacher and student has dignity that should be respected…"

Since the July 2, 2009 judgment, the government as well as the home and law ministries have indicated that they will not contest the ruling and it would be up to the Supreme Court to decide on the issue. The Indian Express quoted an unnamed senior Law Ministry official as saying: "There is nothing wrong, legally, with the judgment. It is a well-reasoned judgment. There is no purpose in opposing it. The government would like the Supreme Court, where appeals against the HC decision are pending, to decide the matter."

February 9, 2011 – GayBombay Yahoo Group

Commentary on India Pride in Bombay Feb 2011

by Prasad Bhide, GayBombay member
Now that the Pride Week is over and the March completed and the dust has settled I thought of making public some of my observations and expect exchange of views. I may not be the only one to notice these things but I did not see anyone else writing about it here in this forum.

1. It was unfortunate to see that some of the community members were already under heavy influence of alcohol when they reached the August Kranti Maidan. It was shocking to see that they had got pre-mixed drinks in bottles which they continued sipping through the march. Some members were spotted smoking too. In my opinion, the sanctity of the place and cause for the gathering was violated by this act. This was the place where the call for Azaadi was given by the Father of our nation Mahatma Gandhi and hence the symbolic significance for Queer Azaadi March.

Do I have to mention here his advice of abstinence from alcohol? Can we not wait until the Pride March terminates? And in any case GB organizes a party the same evening for us to go and drink until our hearts stop.

2. While we are all for diversity, freedom and liberty this should not be mistaken for obscenity. A semi hard strap-on dick under a short skirt and then making suggestive pelvic movements in the middle of the street by a girl is not going to help us in our struggle. Or is it? Our effort I guess is towards making the bystanders and general population elsewhere realize that we are as normal as they are. Or is our objective to be outrageous and in the face? Is our purpose to shock and awe? Will we win allies from within the sexual majority by such an act in public? This is not a carnival this is a march for a cause. Some of us miss the point!

3. Banners inciting hate were unnecessary too. Sure, we have been a target of hatred and violence but do we want to pay back in the same coin? Our opposition should be to Baba Ramdev’s views on Homosexuality. What business do we have to target his Yoga and slain his person?

Learning from our experiences the organizing committee may consider preparing and circulating a ‘Code of Conduct’ before and during events. Unfortunately, some need to be reminded, told, taught.

In summary, in my opinion, we should avoid the following:
– Consumption of alcohol during events (except the bar nights)
– Smoking in public spaces
– Obscene expressions in words, images, actions or clothing
– Hateful speeches, slogans or banners

February 14, 2011 – The Citizen News Service

Mental health of MSM and Transgender on blind spot

by Bobby Ramakant – CNS
Depression, harassment, relationship problems, loneliness, and social isolation, were among the few pressing mental health concerns that were highlighted during interactions with members from men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM) and transgender community. The existing services for MSM and transgender people, firstly, are decimal and not reaching a vast majority of community members, and secondly, they seldom serve their mental health needs optimally.

So what do the MSM and transgender people do when confronted with mental health challenges? "We are referred to our friends or community people. We rarely go to official psychologist or psychiatrist" was the response from one of the members of the transgender communities. HIV and STI counselling is more concerned with sexual and reproductive health, and doesn’t adequately address mental health concerns beyond HIV prevention and to some extent care and support issues. There were strong remarks made on the inadequate counselling on HIV treatment, care and support.

"When there is adequate self-esteem and self-respect, there is a natural desire to be healthy, to take care of one self, to engage in safer sexual practice. So none of what we do will be successful if we ignore mental health issues" remarked another member. "Everybody has some problem or the other – depression, etc, but when it becomes so much that everyday life becomes difficult then professional help from psychological counsellor or psychiatrist might be needed" said a member.

"We speak about behaviour change – there is a big gap between acquiring knowledge and behaviour change, there is a gap between information and practice. This is where good mental health might help reduce the gap. When we are healthy enough, when we have adequate sense of what our worth is and how important we are to ourselves and when we have a tendency to take care of ourselves, behaviour may change" said Aniruddh Vasudevan, Director of The Shakti Centre in Chennai to CNS correspondent last year.

"We have artificially set up a hierarchy that attending to physical health is more important than attending to our mental health. Body and mind are not split, rather they are together. So we better attend to the mind too when we are attending to the body" had said Aniruddh. People are often reluctant to accept that they might be needing mental healthcare. "When there is an emotional problem one might be finding it difficult to deal with, somehow we think that taking help is bad, it is a defeat, it is like giving in" had said Aniruddh. "But if there is a physical health issue, we don’t hesitate in taking help and even go to the pharmacy and self-treat at times. But we don’t do this when there is a mental health issue and hesitate to seek help" further adds Aniruddh.

"Even when we have accepted ourselves as we are, there are emotional issues like break-up, or when one of our friends is dying, people will think that we have these issues because we are MSM, transgender. I think we are blaming others in advance even before they say it, because in some corner of our minds, we think we are the source of our problems. Even the best of us who are comfortable with ourselves, in some corner there is a doubt that we are the source of our problems" ponders Aniruddh. "At times, we think that it is because of us, we are causing so many problems to our parents or to our sister who might not be getting married on time. Sometimes the source of the problem is not us, but because we are concerned about the people around us. It is a sign of humanity that we are concerned about people around us. We have extra mental health problem because we are different and that is causing problems around us" added Aniruddh.

Another significant comment Aniruddh made was that the members of affected communities need capacity building and must be competent enough to contribute effectively in programmes addressing their community. "Just coming from a community doesn’t mean that the person is automatically equipped to peer counsel – we have to do something to equip ourselves" said Aniruddh. "At times, it is easier to talk to somebody you don’t know. Professional counsellors or psychiatrists can’t proactively reach out to people and counsel, they can only counsel those who come to them and ask for the counselling. However the peer counsellors can go out to the community and help those who might need help" said Aniruddh.

"Most basic thing in counselling is listening and the person sitting in front of counsellor is most important person. We are not arguing to say that peer counselling can replace professional counselling, but we believe that peer counselling can supplement professional counselling. Peer counsellors cannot handle all cases like suicidal cases at times, so should do referral services to professional counselling" said Aniruddh.

Peer counselling is not about offering solution – because the message that gets across is the person being counselled is not capable enough of finding solutions.

February 16, 2011 –

‘My son is gay, and I’m proud of him’

dabbing her eyes with a tissue. “The pain is too much. But I’m standing by him. It’s something I want to do. I know if he was here, he would’ve been involved.”

So, on his behalf, she awaits the result of her petition — and three others supporting it — which goes up against 15 others filed by motley religious groups and individuals in the Supreme Court on April 19. With most of them decrying the putative “corrosion of family values” that decriminalising same-sex relations will lead to, Saran’s petition, which she’s signed with 18 other parents of children who identify themselves as lesbian, bisexual, gay or transgendered, is a fitting response, made from unimpeachable moral high ground. Its signatories come from various classes and regions — Delhi, Kolkata, Guruvayur, Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune and Chennai — and it is far more widely representative of those “Indian family values” in apparent need of protection. As parents, who have “a direct and immediate stake in the outcome of these proceedings,” they argue that it is, in fact, Section 377 which is a threat and a “gross intrusion into family life”. 

Read article

24 February 2011 – PinkNews

Indian TV report outs gay men

by Jessica Geen
Several gay men have been outed by a TV news report in an Indian city. Channel TV9 Telugu, which is broadcast in Hyderabad, carried out a ‘sting’ on gay internet dating profiles. The programme, Gay Culture Rampant In Hyderabad, saw a reporter logging on to gay website Users were labelled ‘deviants and their names and photos were clearly shown.
Extremely personal information about one man – including his penis size and preferred sexual position – was revealed by the programme. The reporter also telephoned two men from the site to ask intimate questions about their sex lives and where they live and work.

The covertly-recorded conservations were broadcast with images of the men taken from their online profiles. Footage was also secretly recorded inside a gay club. According to an English translation of the script, programme-makers said that students and white-collar employees were becoming “slaves to [a] lifestyle which is against the natural way”. NDTV reported that one young man attempted suicide after his parents saw him on the programme. Gay campaigners and bloggers in India have condemned TV9 and called on gay people to complain to the channel.

An open letter to the channel from gay rights activist Aditya Bondyopadhyay accuses producers of “hunting down” gay people for the “titillation” of viewers. It added that this was a “clear case of entrapment”. The letter asks for a public apology and warns that legal action may be taken.

February 24th, 2011 – Gaylaxy Magazine

The Community Unites – India’s Stonewall?

I had just returned back from my alma- mater after my convocation when I turned my laptop on and saw the link of TV9’s video posted in one of the Facebook groups. A slow net connection only meant that I couldn’t view the video. Tired from the journey and still excited about the newly awarded degree, I posted my comments below the shared video and went to sleep. Till then, only a few comments had been posted beneath it. By the time I woke up the next morning (which was a bit late) there were various posts related to that topic, each with more than 50 comments or so. The Youtube video had been flagged by so many people that it had been removed by then, and the TV channel had been sent a legal notice by one of the support groups. All this, within less than 24 hours!

And no, it wasn’t just the Facebook group that saw some activity. The discussion had been taking place in all the forums that I knew… some that had been lying dormant for ages!! TV9, in the name of journalism (sensational journalism to be exact) tried to “expose” the gay subculture of Hyderabad city by doing a sting operation. In a TV report, each and every spoken word of which stinks of deep homophobia, the news channel “went undercover” and shot with hidden cameras the various parties being organized for members of the LGBT community in the city. It then showed on TV the profiles of various members of a popular dating site and its journalists even posed as users of the site and called up a few other unsuspecting users, asking them intimate questions, recording them, and then beaming them on Television, along with their names and other information. How can attending parties and having a profile in one of the dating sites be unlawful and criminal, especially after the 2nd July 2009 verdict of Delhi High Court decriminalizing homosexuality in India, is something only TV9 can explain.

But what the incident certainly did was bring the whole community together under one roof to fight for their rights. That their life could so easily be infringed upon, with utter disregard to privacy, and that it could have been any one of “us” brought every one out from deep slumber. This time around, there weren’t activists protesting against such homophobia, instead, it was The Community standing up for its rights. The Youtube video couldn’t have been brought down within hours without “mass support”. Even the most dormant of forums wouldn’t have become alive again had the members not felt the urgency to “fight back” and create a movement, the kind of movement that the Middle East is experiencing because people are tired of living a suppressed life. The realization dawned on the community and just like the Egyptian revolution was a faceless revolution, this one also was a faceless revolution (if I may call it so). You couldn’t pin-point a person or a group who started it all, it were The People who did it. I can’t recall any incident in recent memory where the whole LGBT community would have come together in such a big way to mark their protest, anger and outrage. The pride parades may be seeing huge turnovers, but then, that is a well planned activity and is more about celebration of sexuality. On the other hand, the spontaneity with which The Community responded to this incident to register their protest is what marks it out. It was the kind of spontaneity that had been shown by the protesters during the Stonewall Riots. It may be too early to call it the Indian equivalent of Stonewall Riot, but the response from the Indian gay community bears many a mark of that fateful night. Will this particular incident be a turning point in the LGBT movement in India? While that question may be hard to answer at this moment, it is beyond doubt that the community has been united like never before.

P.S. A Peaceful protest is being organised in Mumbai on 25th Feb at 7pm outside TV9’s office. You can get the details here

25 February 2011 – PinkNews

India bans gay couples from surrogacy

by Jessica Geen
India is to ban gay couples from using surrogate mothers. As part of reforms to the country’s surrogacy and fertility treatment laws, only heterosexual couples will be allowed to have children by surrogate. The Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) Regulation Bill 2010 was sent to the law ministry for approval this week. There is apparently nothing in the bill to stop a single gay man from having a surrogate baby, as single men and women will be eligible.

Married and unmarried straight couples who live together will also be permitted to use surrogate mothers. However, women must be able to prove that they cannot have a baby naturally. According to the Evening Standard, a senior Indian official said: “We have to look after the interests of our own citizens as well as handle the tricky matter of the sensitivities of these couples who have not been able to have children in the normal way. “But above all, we have acted to put some kind of hold on the whole surrogacy issue by banning homosexual couples from coming to India to enter into such deals.

India is one of the top destinations for gay and straight couples seeking a surrogate child as it is far more cost-effective than other countries. In the UK, single people cannot gain full legal rights over their children born by surrogate mother – a problem which affects gay single men in particular. Parental orders are used to extinguish the rights of a biological mother and her husband or partner. However, these can only be granted to couples. India’s emergence as a surrogacy hotspot has prompted authorities to clamp down on unscrupulous practices, such as the persuading of impoverished women to rent out their wombs.

This month, media attention focused on a Spanish gay couple who had twin girls born to a surrogate mother. The Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights ordered the clinic involved to explain its procedures and suggested that the transaction had not been legal. Chariman of the commission Amod Kanth said: “As the Indian laws are yet to approve of a gay marital relationship, the commission shows its grave concern over the issue as to whether the gay foreigner couple have the legal status to assign such surrogacy or having the legal status of adopting parents or otherwise.”

The bill states that surrogate mothers must be aged between 21 and 35 and cannot give birth more than five times, even if this includes their own children. Would-be parents will be prosecuted if they refuse to accept a baby with birth defects and foreign couples or individuals will have to appoint a local guardian to care for the baby until handed over to them. Using a surrogate mother in India costs around a fifth of the price of an American surrogate, making the country an attractive option for those interested in the process.

While an American surrogacy costs around $70,000, Indian surrogacy costs around $12,000. This is a huge sum in India – equivalent to ten years’ average salary. Another provision in the bill says foreign prospective parents must have obtained citizenship for their children before bringing them home. Critics say this will be a stumbling block for many would-be parents. Last year, an Israeli gay man was stranded in India for two months with his twin sons because Israel’s Ministry of the Interior refused to issue a paternity test, which is required for the recognition of all children born abroad.

7 April 2011 – PinkNews

Travel: Warm welcomes and good food in India

by Sam Feller
After a 2009 court ruling decriminalising homosexuality, Sam Feller finds that India has plenty to offer gay travellers, including great food and welcoming people.
Mumbai is a vast, over-populated metropolis with a bustling shopping scene, a diverse array of restaurants and street food and some of the world’s most interesting religious buildings. Colaba, the city’s cultural and economic epicentre, is relatively easily navigated on foot, but taxis are so affordable you’d be best hiring a driver to navigate around town for you. But be careful: get a recommendation if you can, as few speak English and many are inclined to rip off the unseasoned traveller.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (previously Victoria Terminus), perhaps the best example of Gothic architecture in the city, is worth a visit. Frequently mistaken for a grand palace or stately home from the outside, it serves as Mumbai’s biggest railway station and headquarters of the Central Railways. The hanging gardens on top of Malabar Hill, the city’s ‘upmarket’ neighbourhood, are a pleasant escape from the city with numerous hedges carved into the shapes of animals and good views over the Arabian Sea. Don’t bother with the Gateway of India: this monument was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay in 1911 and is a crowded tourist trap, with little to marvel at. The nearby Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is far more interesting and glamorous, with exceptional service and a lovely, colonial sort of ambience; it’s a tourist attraction in its own right and serves as a great spot for afternoon tea if you get the chance.

If you wish to sample the gay scene during your honeymoon, think again. Voodoo Bar, one of the very few venues to advertise a ‘mixed’ night on Saturdays, is a dark, dingy, cramped, trashy little venue with high entrance and drinks prices. The venue is only subtly gay-friendly with numerous (straight) hookers and, although the music is fabulously camptastic, is definitely worth a miss.

Kerala in South India is the county’s most literate province, and when we arrived, it almost felt like we were in a different country. After a 1.5-hour drive south, we arrived at the Marari Beach resort, a vast, romantic retreat nestled on one of South Kerala’s most divine stretches of white sandy beach. The resort itself is around 13 years old, spaciously laid out with a private beach and three restaurants. The resort is proud of its eco-friendly approach to the environment: it hosts a butterfly garden with over 20 species of butterflies, a vegetable patch, a waste recycling facility and runs partly on recycled energy sources. It houses a yoga centre, with daily yoga and meditation practices, a grill restaurant specialising in local produce, a reading room, a gigantic, warm swimming pool surrounded by sun loungers and dozens of hammocks dotted amongst palm trees just a stone’s throw away from the beach.

Kerala was really the perfect destination for what we were after: relaxing, welcoming, friendly and without an inch of judgment over our sexuality. In fact, I wondered whether there are in fact many more homosexuals in India than people let on. India is a very religious county, with over 80 per cent of citizens belonging to the Hindu faith. Although Hinduism does not approve of homosexuality, it is a somewhat controversial topic of great debate amongst religious circles namely because religious texts do not explicitly mention homosexuality. Among some of the bigger towns and cities, grown men were seen holding hands and, although I was reassured that this was a local nuance, it certainly made me feel less self-conscious about holding my partner’s hand in public.

Disappointingly, swimming at the hotel was not recommended, particularly when the sea was rough as it was during our stay. The food however was good, with a wide selection of local cuisine (think Indian curries, dosas, roti, naan, relishes, soups and rice) every night and a varying international cuisine with fresh fish including red snapper, Indian salmon, sea bass, prawns, lobster and mackerel. There is a garden restaurant featuring a ‘chef’s table’, where the in-house chef picks vegetables from the hotel’s garden and cooks them before your eyes, engaging with the hotel’s guests and making the evening all the more welcoming.

The staff were extremely helpful and friendly. Not once did we encounter any issue of two gay men sharing their holiday experience together. It was romantic and peaceful, and very relaxing. The only drawback of Kerala is that outside the hotel, there is a limited amount of things to do. Other than renting a houseboat and touring Kerala’s famous inland waterways, the nearest towns are not worth seeing and the nearest cities which are worth seeing are over 1.5 hour’s drive away along a noisy, polluted dual carriageway with heavy traffic.

The Kumarakom Lake Resort, situated on the banks of Lake Vembanad, was a beautiful romantic retreat with an ayurvedic centre, infinity pool and jacuzzi, fitness centre and a host of other facilities. Rather than renting a houseboat by the hour, we took a 2-hour speedboat ride through the inland waterways to sample the local way of life. Some of the waterways were clogged up with weeds and our speedboat managed to navigate its way through the narrow opening when the houseboats would not be able to. The local community use the waterways for bathing, washing, fishing and travelling, and we saw numerous rice paddies, schools and temples surrounded by lush vegetation. This India is very different to the heavily polluted, congested Mumbai.

The food in Kumarakom was excellent, with a huge selection of Indian cuisine and an outstanding fish restaurant. Again, finding things to do outside the hotel was again difficult: we visited Kottayam one day, which was stuffy, polluted and dirty, although we did manage to pick up some ornate souvenirs for loved ones back home and an array of locally grown spices including cardamom seeds, cinnamon, cloves, star anise and the ubiquitous black pepper.

Although homosexuality has only recently been decriminalised in India, it was clear that the vast majority of the Indian people were largely accepting of us and were more concerned about giving us a high level of service than what we chose to do behind closed doors. So next time you’re dreaming of a holiday with someone special, make sure that India is firmly on your ideas list.

Kumarakom Lake Resort. Presidential Villa £865 per night, otherwise rooms from £235 – £335

Marari Beach Resort.
Prices for a garden villa vary depending on seasonal availability, from £100 per night to £220 per night.

British Airways operates a direct flight from Heathrow to Mumbai twice daily.
The lead-in (non-sale) fare is from £557.33 return including taxes/fees/charges.
To book visit /Mumbai or call 0844 4930787

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April 23, 2011 – CSB

The Great Indian Mainstreaming Of Homosexuality

Often I have expressed my anger and frustration about how media was being insensitive when dealing with topics surrounding homosexuality and how we were always misrepresented. However, over the past few months, I see that there has been a drastic change on what’s been written about us. Thanks to the High Court rule decriminalizing gay sex, it seems that the media has now got a new-found courage to not to stick to the usual perceptions and instead, they are now trying to bring out the real stories behind the rainbow. And the best part is they are doing this with no qualms which in a sense I feel as if they are shouting, screaming and discussing the topic like never before to compensate all these years of misrepresentation.

In the month of February this year, for the Sunday magazine of Hindustan Times newspaper – Brunch, the publication ran a cover story titled ‘One Man’s Story’, about the famous stand-up comedian, Vidur Kapur. The article very vividly narrated the troubled childhood and confusion Vidhur had to go through and he couldn’t find any solace from his family either. With every passing day, his self-esteemed dipped making him slip into depression which provoked him to take his life. Even though he didn’t succeed in the attempt, his sufferings didn’t end with this. Soon he had to come out to his family and instead of getting support, he was subjected to even more humiliation – the psychologist they took him to even did chromosome tests on him, to check whether he was a normal male! The doctors, his family and his friends – no one understood him and he shut himself off from the outside world. This moving account then talks about how Vidhur finally made peace with his sexuality, how he tore down all the walls he had built around him, how he found his love and in the end what led to his parents welcome their “son in law”!

To download and read the PDF of the article, click here.

The struggles that Vidhur faced, is experienced by many of us. When I was under depression because of failing to understand why I’m feeling something which was unusual, my parents were not aware. Like many of us, the path of accepting my sexuality was frustrating and tiring, to say the least. And this is why ‘coming out’ is such a big event for us, because it marks the end of a long struggle. This facet of us perhaps was never openly talked about in the mainstream media, until now. And this could be the beginning of the change in their attitudes – sensitizing and enlightening the readers through personal accounts of people like us.

When Delhi High Court decriminalized homosexuality in 2009, certain political and religious groups challenged the verdict and brought the matter in front of the Supreme Court. However, a touching development took place following this. 19 parents of LGBT children from across the country (along with a group of 16 academics and teachers, and a group of 14 mental health professionals) came forward and submitted their petition to counter this homophobic move. The group of parents is led by Mrs. Minna Saran, the mother of late Nishit Saran.

Nishit was an aspiring film maker and in 1999, he filmed his coming out to his mother. Mrs. Saran accepted her son for who he was. Sadly, Nishit died in a tragic road accident three years later. In February, The Indian Express daily carried a full-fledged cover story in their Sunday supplement, Express Eye about these parents who dared to openly support their children. The article’s headline screamed, ‘My Son Is Gay, And I’m Proud Of Him’. A very moving piece, it talks about how they felt when their children came out to them and what they thought of the hogwash propagated by their (our) opposition.

30 May 2011 – The Guardian

Gay sex became legal in India two years ago, but attitudes change slowly
– For most gay men in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, the law change has made little obvious difference, but they do seem to be louder and prouder

by Sylvia Rowley –
The day the high court in Delhi ruled that being gay was no longer a crime was the day that Krishna Gurram Kouda finally came out to his family.
Despite having set up a state-wide network for gay men in Andhra Pradesh, the 39-year-old had never told his relatives about his sexuality. "I live with my parents," he explains as the fan above whirs in an ineffectual attempt to stave off the 40C Hyderabadi heat. "I have a good relationship with my brothers and their children." He looks at me. "I thought they would accept me," he pauses, "but I was a little afraid."

I first met Kouda in 2008 when I was reporting on how discrimination puts gay men at greater risk of HIV in Andhra Pradesh (which has one of India’s highest rates of the virus) for the Guardian’s international development journalism competition. At that time, section 377 of the Indian penal code made gay sex illegal, and strong social stigma drove gay men underground. Now the law has changed, I wanted to know whether their lives had also altered course. For Krishna, the answer is yes. On the day of decriminalisation – 2 July 2009 – Krishna went public, spending hours on local TV and radio, talking about gay issues and rebutting religious leaders. When he got home at 10 o’clock that night, his mother and brother congratulated him. "You speak about your community’s problems so well," they said, recognising for the first time that they knew he was gay. Since then, Krishna and Avinash, his partner of seven years, have received joint invitations to family parties and an annual couples-only Puja [prayer].

But for most of the gay men I met, decriminalisation had made little obvious difference. Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, is 1,500km and a cultural leap away from middle-class activism in Delhi, where the case was won.

"There is no change," says Satish, an outreach worker at a drop-in centre for men who have sex with men in Secunderabad, Hyderabad’s twin city. "Same harassment by police, same harassment by society, same harassment by goondas [thugs]."

"It’s like this," another chips in. "Section 377" – he kisses his teeth and flicks his hand dismissively "only high level people who are going on websites and reading the paper know about that. Not the medium-class people, not the lower class."

Only a week earlier, a 30-year-old transgender sex worker nick-named Charmi was badly beaten by the police at a cruising point in Secunderabad. A distant legal change is not enough to stop rank-and-file officers beating gay and transgender people who they call "bad people" and robbers. Nor is it enough to counter social and economic pressures facing poor men: "The really bad situation is facing the low-income people," says Krishna. "They depend on their family financially, emotionally. They can’t say, ‘I am gay, I don’t want to marry.’ They have nowhere to go." HIV rates among gay men remain high. Although data collection is problematic, one study indicates that one-fifth of men who have sex with men in Andhra Pradesh were HIV positive in 2009/10, compared with one-sixth in 2007.

The legal change may have had limited direct impact, but life is by no means the same as it was three years ago. Krishna’s organisation, Suraksha Society, reports that beatings, rapes and thefts by the police have reduced dramatically in the areas where it works. This is because Suraksha members now make weekly visits to every police station in Hyderabad, and run monthly sex and sexuality workshops with the police. "One day we asked – why are we blaming the police? How many times have we tried to explain our sexuality to them?" says Krishna. "When we told them about our struggles, most were very impressed. They said, really, we didn’t know this kind of thing, we thought you were bad people only." The Suraksha men now have such a good rapport with the police that they distribute condoms to the cops and run HIV testing clinics for them at police stations.

Hyderabad also had its first gay pride march, a 3,000-strong rally in November 2009 called Melukolupu (awakening). The media is becoming more sensitive, and when one channel, TV9 Telugu, exposed local gay men on the dating site, there were protests and the channel was forced to apologise. The legal change has brought no revolution in Hyderabad, and stubborn economic and social blocks stand in the way of greater freedom for many. But, in some ways, things are moving fast. Sitting in Krishna’s office as the stiflingly hot afternoon draws to a close, phones ring and legal documents are swished back and forth, and I sense that the men of Suraksha have become louder and prouder. "Earlier we talked 99% about condoms and HIV. But this is only one part of our lives, a small part," says Krishna. "We also need rights and acceptance, and that’s what we are fighting for."

8 June 2011 – The Guardian

Living with HIV in India

Vijay Nair has been living with HIV for 16 years. He works with Alliance India, part of the International HIV/Aids Alliance global partnership The life of someone living with HIV in India today is better compared with a few years ago, thanks to improved healthcare, provision of antiretrovirals (ARVs) and treatment for infections. People are living longer and healthier lives, but stigma and discrimination remain an issue in communities and within healthcare facilities. It is definitely worse for female sex workers, men who have sex with men (MSM, men who do not identify as homosexual or gay and are almost always married), transgendered people and hijras living with HIV. There is a real need to address the attitudes of healthcare providers and the rampant stigma against these people. It particularly hampers their access to treatment.

Many people with HIV live far from their nearest ARV centre. The distance, time and money required to access treatment, and the fact that the services are not tailored to meet the needs of the communities, are huge challenges. Also, there’s virtually nothing in terms of psychosocial support for those living with HIV. As an MSM living with HIV, I face challenges to access healthcare and feel that I don’t have the same opportunities or social status as others. There is a lack of work opportunities for MSM, transgendered people and hijras living with HIV, which makes them more vulnerable and sometimes leads them to into sex work. Lack of work makes them feel even more isolated and worthless which can create mental health issues.

Meeting the goal of MDG6 is a big challenge in India, though we have made progress. India has successfully started developing strategies with active community involvement and participation. HIV incidence in some states has also started declining, according to the limited data we have. Political and donor commitment is crucial. The goal of the national programme to halt and reverse the epidemic is far from achieved. The contribution from the international community (donors, governments, foundations and civil society partners) has helped India in different ways to control the epidemic. At this crucial juncture, the international community needs to continue to support programmes for prevention as well as care and support for those living with HIV.

The international community can also contribute to the Indian response through policy and advocacy, and constant monitoring to ensure that the human rights of those affected by the epidemic are being adequately protected.

• Vijay Nair works with Alliance India at its Andhra Pradesh office. He is also the director of the Asia Pacific Coalition on MSM and president of Nipasha+, a national network of MSM, transgenders and hijras living with HIV and Aids

June 21, 2011 – The Hindu

WHO urges India to address medical needs of gay men, transgenders

India must make an “extra effort” in addressing the medical needs of men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people affected by HIV and sexually-transmitted infections, a top WHO official said on Tuesday. “Though India has addressed the HIV problem among MSM and transgender people, it has to make an extra effort in scaling up treatment and prevention services for HIV and sexually transmitted infections,” Dr. Gottfried Hirnschall, Director of HIV Department in World Health Organisation, told PTI.

In India, around 1.5 million transgender people and around 30.5 million MSM are vulnerable to the HIV and sexually-transmitted infections. “In Asia, the odds of MSM being infected with HIV are 18.7 times higher than in the general population and the HIV prevalence ranges from 0 per cent to 40 per cent,” he said.

The WHO on Tuesday issued, for the first time, new public health recommendations to sensitise governments and health pressure groups in the developing world about the need to provide adequate medical treatment and prevention services to MSM and transgender people affected by HIV and sexually transmitted infections. The guidelines call on governments to develop anti-discrimination laws and measures and provide more inclusive services for MSM and transgender people. Health pressure groups must provide HIV testing and counselling followed by treatment for patients with CD4 count 350 or below. Dr. Hirnschall said “criminalisation, and legal policy barriers play a key role in the vulnerability of MSM and transgender people to HIV.”

In many countries of Asia, transgender people lack legal recognition. Consequently, people affected by HIV among these two communities often face cultural stigma in seeking anti-retroviral treatment due to criminal sanctions. “From a health systems’ perspective, MSM and transgender people may delay or avoid seeking health, STI or HIV-related information, care and services as a result of perceived homophobia, transphobia, ignorance and insensitivity,” according to WHO recommendations.






“The WHO guidelines both present evidence for effective prevention interventions for the populations and provide recommendations to help ensure that pervasive barriers like stigma and criminalization no longer stand in the way of life-saving services,” said George Ayala, executive director of the Global Forum MSM & HIV. Unlike other countries in Asia and Africa, India has addressed the HIV among MSM and transgender communities, particularly in the North East and Western region. Though around 2.5 million people with HIV/AIDS need second-line ARVs, the overall progress in access and services is impressive, said health analysts.

28 June 2011 – Fridae

Members of foreign consulates join hundreds at Chennai’s 3rd pride march

by News Editor
Hundreds of members of Chennai‘s LGBT community and their allies including staffers from the German and US foreign office marched in the southern Indian city on Sunday morning. According to media reports, some 300 members of the LGBT community, along with their family members and supporters marched in a rally from Marina beach to create awareness about the discrimination that the LGBT community faced in their day-to-day lives. Participants at the third annual Chennai Rainbow Parade are said to be more willing to reveal their identities this year than in the previous teo years. A report on IBNLive noted: "The Pride March of the previous two years perhaps had more people wearing masks to keep their identities under wraps. This year, there was a visible shift as more people walked without masks, proudly flaunting their identities."

The report quoted Sunil Menon, a LGBT rights activist and founder-director of Sahodari Foundation, as saying: "As I see more people without mask, I will definitely say the pride marches are actually helping us gain confidence of the community. At the same time, the LGBT community feels empowered by the public support they enjoy." The event marked the culmination of events, including panel discussions, sensitisation programmes, groups meetings and film screenings highlighting the concerns of the LGBT community, organised by several NGOS this month.

The Sahodari Foundation and the office of the American Consulate General at Chennai organised a panel discussion on ‘gay pride’ to mark the Gay Pride Month in which Matthew K. Beh, political officer at the American Consulate General, spoke about giants like Mahatma Gandhi and great American leaders who worked for human rights; and the importance of observing the Gay Pride Month, reported the Deccan Chronicle. The Hindu newspaper also quoted U.S. Consul General in Chennai Andrew T. Simkin as saying: "Gay rights are human rights. It is basically respecting each others’ differences and an individual’s right to live without fear."

In related news, the world’s biggest gay pride parade took place in Brazil on Sunday, where more than a million people paraded down the main avenue of the most populous city in the country Sao Paulo.

July 2, 2011 – Kalki Subramaniam

Dying Young – The death of two young transsexual women

This is an article about how I lost two of my transsexual friends who died in the prime of their youth and how both of them could have been saved only if our social, legal and family systems had been more supportive to transpeople. When I migrated from Auroville to Chennai, Sathya was one of the first few transgender persons I met. Transwoman and friend Rose and I used to visit Sahodaran to meet and socialize with other transgender and gay people. It is here that I met Sathya. She was a beautiful and plumpy girl. She was warm and had a lovely smile on her face. She was friendly to me. I spoke sweet nothings to her, conversations on sex and love broke into laughter and we all laid ourselves on the mattresses, piling up on each other, saying silly jokes about boys and were laughing. Sathya was fun to be with.

A few weeks later, when I visited Sahodaran again. Sathya was there. She was a different girl. She seemed to be lost in herself. She looked visibly disturbed and sad. She was on the phone arguing with her boyfriend and Oh my God!, there were bloody marks on her wrist. She told me that she had cut her wrist several times with blade. The reason why she did this obviously was love. She wanted to prove a point to her boyfriend and this was her way. What can I say? She was an emotional girl. She was pure. She was possessive. The intensity of her love for the man she loved shocked me.

Another month had gone and I was in an event to meet Nepal’s openly gay Member of Parliament Sunil Pant who had come down to Chennai. Suddenly there was restlessness among my friends and I was wondering what was wrong. It was a news of death. The death of Sathya. She wanted to change her sex but could not afford Sex reassignment surgery as it was very costly. She chose to undergo penectomy. She admitted herself in a reputed quack doctor’s place where more than a hundred transwomen had already done their surgeries and removed their male genitals. Unfortunately, during anesthesia, she died of heart attack. The news of her death shocked me so much. She could have been saved only if our legal systems had been in favour of transpeople. During the times of her death, there was so support of any kind for people who wanted to change their sex through surgery. The SRS was costing almost one lakh rupees. The government hadn’t passed a G.O to provide free SRS services and the medical support hadn’t been started by the government hospitals in Chennai then.

All Sathya could do was go to a quack doctor and do a penectomy. She was overweight but not fat. Though she was healthy, she died due to complications unknown. One of the reasons could also be that, like thousands of transwomen in India who take hormone pills and injections for breast development with out any medical check up and without any prescriptions by endocrinologist, she also took hormones. An improper hormone regimen could also have been the cause of her heart attack.

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July 3, 2011 –

Indian, foreign firms eye growing Indian gay market

New Delhi (IANS) T-shirts and mugs with cheesy slogans, targeted marketing campaigns and even a specialised travel boutique… gays might still be taboo in much of India but not for companies innovating to tap the growing purchasing power of the queer community. Two years after the Delhi High Court decriminalised homosexuality, the gay community has increasingly been asserting its right and firms have been quick to take the cue. On July 2, 2009, the Delhi High Court struck down provisions of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, stating that it violated the fundamental right of life and liberty and the right to equality as guaranteed in the constitution. It was a turning point in the lives of many gays, some reasserting their rights with greater authority and others taking the first steps out of the closet.

And this is the niche market that is sought to be explored. "The size and rapid rate of development makes India an attractive target market to a wide range of brands selling diverse goods and services," Ian Johnson, chief executive of global consultancy firm told IANS. The London-based consultancy firm has been conducting surveys across the globe on the product and lifestyle choices of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and provides advice to international companies like Lufthansa, IBM, Toyota, Citibank and Barclays on catering to this category of consumers.

According to Johnson, the main reason behind the interest in the Indian market is due to the growing purchasing power of the Indian queer community, which is prompting entrepreneurs to introduce new products and services. "Our research shows that in most populations, around six percent of the adult population is lesbian or gay. Applying that to India suggests that just under $200 billion (six percent of GDP) can be assumed to be earned income from India’s estimated 45 million gay and lesbian adults," Johnson said.

Among the services that have cropped up exclusively for the LGBT community in the past few years are a dedicated travel agency, an e-book store and seven magazines. And this will only grow, says documentary filmmaker Ranjit Monga, who believes that as society opens up, companies that have prior experience in targeting niche customers like single mothers or working couples would innovate and advertise about new products. "We can see advertisements, marketing campaigns especially in the metros, where you have ads on readymade food for working couples and so on. Not only that, even mainstream soap operas are also featuring gay characters," Monga said.

As acceptability grows, brands like Levi’s, Hajmola and Amul have also tried to target this segment in their advertisements. While Levi’s featured two female models cosying up to each other, the Amul butter ads showed the Amul mascot offering buttered slices of bread to two girls and with the caption: "Out of Closet, Out of Fridge!" Segment-wise, event management companies like Salvation Star and Whitenights Fiesta organise LGBT parties on order. In the travel segment, India’s first dedicated online gay travel boutique, Indjapink, was set up nearly three years ago. It has till date catered to around 600 high-end foreign and Indian tourists. "We take care of every little detail in the tour. Like training the hotel staff, drivers and tour guides to know the special needs of our clients,"said Sanjay Malhotra, founder of IndjaPink.

According to the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA), there are over five LGBT travel agencies and 10 general tour operators who provide specialised packages to the Indian and international tour agencies. The merchandise segment too is cashing in with mugs and T-shirts sporting slogans like "Jalebii High", "Pink Sheep of the Family" and "Haan Hoo! Toh?" (Yes I am! So?). According to Sabina, whose firm Azaad Bazaar produces these products, the demand is rising for such items among not only the queer community but also others. "Even the non-queer community has shown a lot of interest in our products and, out of the total sales, 40 percent come from this group," she said.

The business is growing… but it has miles to go. This is still a big metro business and there is still some distance to travel before a gay person can buy a T-shirt with the defiant "Haan Hoo! Toh?" in a small town.

July 5, 2011 – The Times of India

Gay sex is an unnatural disease: Azad

by Kounteya Sinha, TNN
New Delhi: For the Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, men having sex with men (MSMs) is not only "unnatural" but also a "disease."
According to Azad, "this disease has come to India from foreign shores", and Indian society needs to be prepared to face it. Unfortunately, he said, the number of "such people" is increasing by the day. In statements made while addressing zilla parishad chairpersons and mayors on HIV/AIDS on Monday, Azad said, "The disease of MSM is unnatural and not good for Indian society. It’s a challenge to identify such people. In case of female sex workers, we can identify the community and reach out to them since they live in clusters. But in case of MSMs, it isn’t always possible."

These comments have not only caused uproar among civil society, but also in the National Aids Control Organization (NACO), which incidentally reports to Azad. "How can this be a disease? It is just a form of sexual orientation. It’s definitely not unnatural," a NACO official told TOI. NACO has been working towards identifying MSMs and giving them a rightful place in society. A large number of targeted interventions (TI) have been put in place by NACO to specifically cater to the needs of the MSM community. According to NACO’s latest surveillance data, India is home to an estimated 4.12 lakh MSMs of whom 2.74 lakhs have been identified.

Around 4.2% of all sexually-active males in India are believed to have sex with other men, with Chennai, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Orissa reporting the highest number of such cases. Of the total number of 1,511 TIs, 168 exclusively cater to MSMs. Each TI, catering to 1,000 MSMs, cost Rs 15 lakh. The 2010 UNAIDS report on the global AIDS epidemic found that among the high-risk group that got HIV infection in India last year — 9.2% were intravenous drug users, MSMs (7.3%) and female sex workers (4.9%). "MSMs are those who are involved in very high risk sexual behaviour. They usually have multiple partners. Some are also involved in commercial sex activities," the report said.

Till now, a single TI would cater to MSMs and transgenders. Now, NACO has decided to have separate interventions for transgenders and MSMs. Experts say that after Article 377 or homosexuality in India was decriminalized by the Delhi high court, virtually legalizing consensual sexual relation among adults of same gender, more MSMs started visiting TI sites. "India has for long ignored the MSM community. India, like other Asian countries, had been addressing HIV/AIDS in high-risk groups such as female sex workers and injecting drug users, with the MSM population being left out because many men are married and do not identify themselves as gay or bisexual. That caused an alarming rise in HIV infections in the MSM community," explained an expert.

Dr Charles Golks, head of UNAIDS in India, told TOI that MSMs are a key population, who are at higher risk of acquiring HIV and the Indian government’s initiatives is helping reduce the threat. "India was the first country in Asia to recognize the vulnerability of the MSM population and put in place interventions required. NACO was also instrumental in putting down Section 377 that criminalized homosexuality as it was proving to be an impediment to effective public health intervention. In the next five years, under India’s National Aids Control Programme IV, stronger interventions with higher community involvement will be put in place to reach out to the MSM community."

Data from 78 countries revealed that condom use among MSMs was more than 50% in 54 countries, including India. Treat Asia’s report, "MSM and HIV/Aids: Risk in Asia", which compiled studies conducted in 19 countries, said access to information and condoms is limited, with prevention programmes available to only 2% of MSMs in 16 Asia-Pacific countries. What’s worse, sex between men is illegal in 11 of the countries surveyed.

July 5, 2011 – UNAIDS

UNAIDS rejects prejudice and misconceptions about MSM in India

UNAIDS lauds efforts by India’s National AIDS programme to provide HIV services for men who have sex with men and transgender people. Currently around 67% of men who have sex with men in India are accessing prevention services. According to estimates of the National AIDS Control Organization, there are more than 400 000 men who have sex with men inIndia; HIV prevalence in this population is about 7.3% compared to a national adult HIV prevalence of 0.31%. “India’s rich tradition of inclusivity and social justice must include men who have sex with men and transgender people,” said Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director, on the side lines of the National Convention of Parliamentarians and elected representatives. “India’s successful AIDS response has been possible due to the strong participation of communities of men who have sex men, sex workers, people who inject drugs and transgender people backed by a strong and progressive National AIDS policy.”

UNAIDS welcomes the call by the Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh, to have an “HIV sensitive” policy and programmes so that the marginalized populations affected by HIV are not denied the benefits of health and development programmes. “We should work to assure for them a life of dignity and well being. We have to ensure that there is no stigma and discrimination towards HIV infected and affected persons,” said Dr Singh. During the inauguration of the National Convention, Dr Singh reiterated his government’s strategy to provide HIV services to groups at higher risk of HIV infection. “There is no place for stigma and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” said Mr Sidibé. “I welcome the bipartisan call by Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Mrs Sushma Swaraj to end all forms of stigma and discrimination against people at increased risk of HIV infection.”

In 2009 the Delhi High Court overturned a law that criminalized consensual adult sexual behaviour. This stand was also supported by the Government of India in its affidavit filed with the Supreme Court. “Consistent with WHO’s disease classification, UNAIDS does not regard homosexuality as a disease,” said Mr Sidibé. According to the recently released UNAIDS and WHO guidelines on prevention and treatment of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections among men who have sex with men and transgender people, legislators and other government authorities should establish anti-discrimination and protective laws in order to eliminate discrimination and violence faced by men who have sex with men and transgender people.

UNAIDS is committed to providing support to India’s successful AIDS response, which has seen new HIV infections drop by more than 50% in the last decade. India currently produces more than 85% of high-quality generic antiretroviral drugs for the majority of low- and middle income countries.India’s courts have progressively protected the human rights of people living with HIV and men who have sex with men by striking down discriminatory laws. UNAIDS will work with the Government of India, civil society and community groups in realizing the vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths in India.

July 10, 2011 – The Times of India

Gay, & happily ever after?

by Purba Dutt, TNN
When the state of New York votes for the right of people to choose who they sleep with, it is a victory whose reverberations will no doubt galvanise the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) activists in India to seek similar freedom.
But considering that it wasn’t too long ago that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was amended to decriminalise the act of consensual sex between same-sex partners, shouldn’t we be moving cautiously around the issue of gay marriages?

Marriage bells?
If New York has done it and Nepal is already there, how we can remain stuck in the past, goes the common refrain.
"Why shouldn’t we want marriage? We too need someone with whom we can share our good times and bad times, and financial responsibilities," says Sanjay Malhotra, director Indjapink, a gay travel boutique.

But when living in is working just fine, where’s the tearing hurry to formalise it?
"We took forever to read down the archaic Section 377," he retorts. "Now if this issue were put on the backburner that is where it’ll belong. Till we legalise gay marriages, you’ll have instances of people of alternate sexual orientations being forced into heterosexual unions and ruining many lives."
"In 1990, I worked on the Domestic Campaign (Prop K) in San Francisco spearheaded by Supervisor Harry Britt, the man who took over the seat after the assassination of Harvey Milk — the first out, gay publicly elected official," says Anandaroopa, a gay activist whose partner is currently posted at the US Consulate in Chennai. "Even a very liberal city like San Francisco, most completely ruled out the idea of pushing for gay marriage at that time. ‘Domestic partnership’ for same-sex couples was also difficult for liberal voters to swallow. And a third group thought that the LGBT community should not ‘buy into’ the hetero-sexist/pa triarchal model of marriage."

"But," he continues, "Everyone would agree that it’s an inalienable right of all people to be able to get married, no matter who they love. Legalising same-sex marriages is a symbolic act, showing respect to a person as a human being without treating him with moral double standards," concurs Jackson Netto, Mr Gay Europe 2007. "Regardless of whether two people decide to get married out of practical or romantic reasons, it should be accessible for everyone."

Not on the same page
If upping the tempo on legalising gay marriages features on top of many activists’ agendas, there are some who feel there’s no point rushing it. "It’s ridiculous to even think of gay marriages when there are so many other fundamental issues that are begging for attention," says Sunil Menon, a gay activist and fashion director.

"What we need is to first sensitise the medical fraternity, our educational institutions, and our workplaces," he says. "There’s so much discrimination against the LGBT community. Years after WHO took off homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses, we continue to treat it as one. There are psychiatrists who routinely administer shock treatment to people with alternate orientations in the erroneous belief that it’ll make them straight. And, mind you, I’m not talking of quacks or witch doctors. These are qualified and established psychiatrists. Curiously, the medical curriculum does not have a single chapter on sexuality and gender. We don’t need heterosexual society to validate our love," agrees Ashok Row Kavi, one of the pioneers of the LGBT movement and founder of Humsafar Trust. "I feel we shouldn’t be going that way. You don’t build houses from worn and broken bricks of already demolished temples. We’re fighting to stop being criminalised according to the antisodomy laws. Once equality and equity are assured, other rights will automatically follow."

But isn’t there a lot of noise already in favour of legalising gay marriages? "Gay marriage is an urban, elitist concern among gays who are financially well off and socially privileged," responds Sunil. "These people are not in tune with the numerous burning issues that confront us."

Why the marriage model?
Why in the world would the gay community want to opt for a model that is increasingly being seen as flawed and out of step with modern times? Also, the openess and permissiveness inherent in gay equations might not find place in a married set-up.
Explaining the dilemma, Ashok says, "Heterosexual marriage has already failed as an institution. Why would any gay couple want to imitate and emulate this failed model? Well, it has its uses. Tenancy rights, pensions for spouses and partners, medical benefits from employers and even a simple presence at home to accept registered letters and the gas cylinder being delivered make life easier for couples than for single gay people."

The explanation finds resonance with Sunil, who says, " I can’t leave my property to my partner because that decision is likely to be challenged. So it will primarily be my niece and nephew who’ll inherit my assets." Anandaroopa prefers a liberal stand. "Even if I were not to support or believe in the institution of marriage, I’d want others to have the option and right to get married," he says.

Modified institution
Rejecting the notion that same-sex relationships sanction permissiveness and promiscuity, Ashok says that if a new model of partnership came into being, one can rest assured that it will come from within the LGBT network.
"We don’t need to depend upon the fickle and unstable heterosexual hegemon that stares at us from a patriarchal paradigm. It’ll be gay and lesbian couples who’ll show that marriage bonds are strong only when they are made by love and mutual self-respect."

What you refer to as promiscuity is actually honesty, clarifies Sanjay. "I don’t think we’re any more promiscuous than the heterosexual community. I’d say there’s a lot more honesty and lot less pretence in our relationships. But I agree we may need to tweak the institution of marriage in a manner that if and when we wish to call it quits, we should be able to do so easily." Different sexualities, but universal concerns!

July 10, 2011 – Hindustan Times

New Delhi – Gay world: Never been better, but bigger fight ahead

by Sanjib Kr Baruah, Hindustan Times
"It was a very special moment when the Delhi high court announced the judgement decriminalising homosexuality. We could stand up to the world and say: Hey, we also count," Gautam Bhan, leading gay activist reminisces the day of the historic judgement two years ago when Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was read down. A British Raj era law, Section 377 was about making homosexuality and ‘unnatural sex’ a crime. Now there is intense expectation among activists and the LGBT community when the Supreme Court takes up the matter for hearing on

Monday, with hope that the Delhi high court judgement is upheld by the apex court. What did these last two years achieve for the community at large? There has never been a better time. These last few years have been about victory, validation and visibility," Sumit Baudh, activist and lawyer, summing up the mood. Victory in the sense of having crossed a legal hurdle, validation in terms of acceptability and much greater visibility with many people with alternate sexually coming out of the closet and a largely responsive media. "Besides the immense sense of relief, comfort levels have increased everywhere. There has been an explosion of research papers on alternate sexuality, there is much more openness in the government, so the judgement has impacted all spheres," said Ashok Row Kavi, writer and gay activist.

If Baudh and Row Kavi are upbeat, there is a voice of caution too. "We are not unhappy with the progress but clearly there is a bigger fight ahead and much needs to be done. For the change has been largely in our minds and in the big cities. Not anywhere else," said Lucknow-based Saleem Kidwai, writer and scholar on gay issues. Rights activist Pramada Menon is more forthright. "India has the most fantastic laws. But has life changed? Nothing has changed.

Families are still unwilling to talk of homosexuality of their members. But change is inevitable and you cannot wish us away." Menon succinctly articulates the way forward on the need for greater consolidation of forces not only in the world of alternate sexuality but among all marginalized groups. "We need to broaden the identity factor. Echoing Menon’s point of view, Bhan said: "The movement has started happening in the small towns. Question is how to strengthen them." He makes it clear that the fight is not about numbers. "Real progress is made when we fight against all sorts of discrimination."

July 11, 2011 –

LGBTs demand better access to medical services

by Ananya Banerjee
Mumbai On July 2, the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community celebrated two years since the Indian courts decriminalised same sex sexual activity. But access to health care services, to tackle the high incidence of HIV among the community, has still not been addressed.

The HIV prevalence among the LGBT community is 7.3 per cent, disproportionately high compared to the national average of 0.31 per cent. According to figures given by the NACO (National Aids Control Organisation) about 1.5 million transgender people and 30.5 million MSMs (men having sex with men) in India are susceptible to HIV and STDs.” The major cause of such a high prevalence of HIV among the MSM is promiscuity. A large number of transgenders are sex workers with multiple partners, both male and female, which spreads the disease. Apart from HIV, there are other STDs rampant among MSM which need to be taken seriously,” said Dr H R Jerajani, Head of Dermatology, Sion Hospital.

“Due to the social stigma and lack of understanding about MSMs, this group finds it difficult to access public health services. Doctors are not sensitised enough to deal with MSM patients. Transgender and MSM patients are harassed in public hospitals where they have to run around just to fill an application,” said Pallav Patankar, Director HIV Programs, Humsafar Trust.

Patankar feels statements like the one made by the Health Minister recently will have a negative impact on the efforts to curb HIV among MSMs. “As it is people are reluctant to come out in the open about their sexual orientation. When statements like these are made, it becomes impossible to reach out to MSMs who are suffering from HIV. It is imperative that sex related issues be discussed in the open,” he said. A direct result of the general homophobia and transphobia is that HIV among MSM is 18.7 times more susceptible to the disease than the rest of the population.

“The government must open up more non-college affiliated anti-retroviral therapy centres across the city. These centres must be open in the afternoons for sex workers who are awake the entire night. There should be separate psycho counselling and drop in centres for MSM patients. Sensitisation among doctors is a must if we’ve to tackle sex related diseases among the MSMs,” said Dr Jerajani.

July 17, 2011 – MINGLE

Certificate Course on LGBT History from MINGLE

by Dhamini Ratnam
A think tank of gay and lesbian issues is set to launch a certificate course on world Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender history, with a focus on India.
A four month-old thinktank for gay and lesbian people has thought up a novel way to spread awareness about the Queer community in the country. MINGLE or Mission for Indian Gay & Lesbian Empowerment will soon launch a certificate course on LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bi-sexual Transgender) history, with
a focus on India.
While the course material is still in the process of being compiled, the six month to one year-long free certificate course that is open to everyone, will have both, an offline and an online component. Registrations are currently open on the website,

Udayan Dhar, 24, is one of the co-founders of MINGLE. Dhar is the editor of online gay magazine, Pink Pages, that was launched soon after Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, decriminalising homosexuality, was repealed, in an effort to address the absence of "gay media that dealt with gay culture, society and politics." "The idea behind MINGLE is to be a catalyst for change, and provide a platform that connects LGBT groups and NGOs across the country. We’ve come in to create a more enabling environment for the LGBT cause in the country," Dhar adds.

To that end, MINGLE plans to start a certificate course on the world LGBT history, from medieval Europe to modern America, with a special focus on Indian history. A volunteer team of 16 history students in New Delhi and Mumbai is researching for data that will eventually make it to the course. However, it is early days still, as the team has only been working for the past few weeks. Which is why, says Dhar, they aren’t even sure of the duration of the course.

"There are several such courses offered in American and European schools and colleges. India has a long and rich history, in which, traditionally, people have been tolerant of alternate sexualities. This is visible in our scriptures and folktales. We wanted to create a compendium of all LGBT narratives that have existed since ancient and modern times, and make that available to everyone, including straight people, to show how this too is part of our Indian heritage and culture," said Dhar.

"We have approached author Ruth Vanita to be an advisor to the course, once the material has been compiled," he informs us. Also in the pipeline are Coming Out Guides — small booklets that aim to sensitise the reader on thecoming out process for queer youths. Like the LGBT history course, these will be made available primarilyonline, for free download. The Advisory Board members of MINGLE include noted activists Ashok Row Kavi, Chairperson of The Humsafar Trust, Anjali Gopalan, Founder and Executive Director of The Naz Foundation (India) Trust, Arvind Narrain, Head of Alternative Law Forum, and Rahul Sharma, Co-founder of Queer Campus India Collective, among other queer activists.

Started in March 2011, the think tank runs on volunteer support and private donations. There are close to 250 volunteers working for MINGLE at present, informs Dhar. Sharma, 25, who helped set up New Delhi-based Queer Campus, a queer-friendly space for students in 2010, recently collaborated with MINGLE to undertake a Youth and Campus Survey among 272 college-going students in 25 colleges spread across different Indian cities. The survey results found that Indian campuses are predominantly homophobic. "The survey helps create an environment in college campuses where conversations about sexuality can easily be held," said Sharma. In a similar vein, a history course of the sort will help broaden the discussion on sexuality and clear social prejudices, feels Sharma.

26 July 2011 – PinkNews

Indian lesbian couple ask court for protection from anti-gay family members

by Jessica Geen
A newly-married lesbian couple in India have asked a court to protect them from homophobic family members. The women, aged 20 and 25, from Manesar, near New Delhi, say their families have threatened to kill them since they wed on July 22nd. Although homosexuality has been decriminalised, India does not recognise same-sex marriage so the pair’s nuptials are not legally binding.

The couple told NDTV: “Our family members can take harsh steps against us. They even threatened to kill us. We were married on the 22nd and are now in court seeking protection.” Their lawyer said: “After several murders of couples, we have enforced stricter laws for them. The road ahead is far from easy, but these couples aren’t deterred.”

Posted by Aditya Bondyopadhyay (
Jul 29, 2011
This is good although the "marriage’ bit is little far fetched. From what I
understand from the matter, they have decided to call it a marriage
themselves (which they are free to do), but the court has not really married
them as claimed in the report. The Court has oly relied on the earlier
Punjab & Haryana High Court Judgement that said that couples should be given
protection from families and Khaps if they ant to live their lives their own
way, and that they cannot be forced to marrry against their wishes.

29 July 2011 – PinkNews

Indian lesbian couple win police protection after death threats

by Jessica Geen
A lesbian couple in India have been granted 24-hour police protection after family members allegedly threatened to kill them. The women, named as Savita, 25, and Veena, 20, from Manesar, near New Delhi, married last week and went to a court to ask for protection. They went to the court in Gurgaon, claiming that Veena had been forced into an arranged marriage with a man.

The court granted her a divorce and recognised the women as a married couple, albeit designating Savita as the husband and Veena as the wife. India does not recognise gay marriage. They were also granted a safe house and full-time police protection, the Daily Telegraph quotes Deputy Police Commissioner Dr Abhe Singh as saying. The court served notice on 14 of the couple’s relatives and neighbours.

August 5, 2011 – Orinam

Feeding on Our Fears: the menace of threat and extortion

by Aniruddhan Vasudevan
Many LGBT people in Indian metros and towns depend on the internet to find support groups, social lists, and partners for dating, relationships or sex. Unfortunately, this has also been accompanied by an increase in extortion of gay and bisexual men who use sites such as PlanetRomeo and Yahoo’s chat rooms. Here in Chennai, as well as in other cities such as Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Delhi, there are increasing numbers of such instances.

A typical example goes like this: extortionist goes online with an attractive profile, and chats up an unsuspecting gay/ bisexual man. After some initial conversation and flirtation, the extortionist invites the man to his ‘home’ for sex. Upon reaching, and sometimes after engaging in preliminary making-out, the man finds out that the tables have been abruptly turned, and the extortionist makes him hand over money, jewellery, or fetch additional money. Often, a few accomplices of the extortionist enter the scene, use physical and emotional violence on the man, strip him of his valuable possessions. In some instances, they have even taken their victims to the nearest ATM and have made them withdraw all the cash in their accounts and hand over to them. The extortionist uses threats to ‘out’ the often-closeted gay/ bi man to his family, employer and/ or college to get the man to give him money. He might also have come into possession of photographs of the man he is luring, and threatens him with widespread ‘out’-ing on the internet.

It is important to bear in mind that most of these problems will not occur in a world where people do not have to fear social ostracism and persecution for being queer. Therefore, our true work is towards making a world where there is no such fear for the extortionists to feed on. When the Indian State becomes one that honours our right to live our lives as LGBT persons, extends to us all the rights and protections that citizens must be granted, we will be better placed to fight social discrimination. The larger problem is that of securing equal rights and lives free of discrimination, violence and persecution. In the mean time, we work with what tools we rightfully have at our disposal.

I have received many notifications from gay and bisexual men using the internet about attempts by others to threat and extort. Based on my experience, either directly handling (in my capacity as an activist) such cases of threat and extortion, or in being a confidant to people who are the receiving end of such threats, I offer some pointers that may be of help should you find yourself in such a situation:

i. When you decide to meet a stranger or someone you have not yet grown comfortable with, try to meet in a public space. Respect your intuition on its suggestions of trust or lack of trust. Even if you are have the slightest doubt or discomfort with the person, please do not take the meeting beyond the public space.

ii. Please do not panic. If the threat is online, try ignoring it. Sometimes that takes care of things.

iii. Let your extortionists know that threat and extortion are punishable under Section 384 of the Indian Penal Code. Let them know that you are not afraid to seek legal help or go to the police. While we may, if in the closet, be truly scared of the possible consequences of being ‘out’-ed to our families as gay or bisexual, we do not have to give in to those fears and provide what these culprits want. In any case, our fears are what they feed on.

iv. If they threaten to expose your profile and/ or photographs from a dating site, remind them that action can be taken against such violation of privacy with intent to cause emotional distress and trauma. Let them know that an entire TV station had to eat mud for violating the privacy of individuals on PlanetRomeo. The impressive verdict given by Justice J S Verma for the National Broadcasting Standards Authority condemned the so-called expose done by TV9, and fined this Hyderabad-based television channel.

v. Section 388 of the IPC considers threat of use of Section 377 upon an individual as an act that is punishable with up to 10 years of imprisonment. Please be aware of such information.

If you have cause to believe that they could harm you and you see the prudence in giving what they ask for, it is good to prioritize your safety and well-being. However, please remember that you can still take action against your extortionists. If you want to look into what you can do in such situations, please contact organizations such as Chennai Dost, Sangama Chennai, SWAM and Sahodaran in Chennai. Contact information for these and other groups here

August 23, 2011 –

AIDS stalks gay and transgender Indians

New Delhi (AFP) India’s success in slashing HIV/AIDS infection rates by 50 per cent in the last decade masks a high rate of infection among homosexual and transgender people, experts say. This anomaly was highlighted last month by the country’s Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad in a now notorious speech at an AIDS conference that will be remembered for other reasons. Azad went on to call homosexuality “a disease which has come from other countries” and “unnatural”, in comments widely condemned by gay rights activists and AIDS workers. At the Pahal Foundation in the northern state of Haryana, which provides free HIV tests, condoms and counselling services to gay and transgender people, project manager Maksoom Ali says he faces a constant battle against ignorance. Most gay men, fearing homophobia, are forced to hide their sexual activity, and others have no idea about the dangers of unprotected intercourse, he said.

“Many people think that men having sex with men cannot get HIV and that’s one reason why (homosexual and transgender) people have a lot of unsafe sex,” Ali told AFP. The country’s National AIDS Control Organisation (Naco) estimates that 7.3 per cent of India’s homosexual population lives with HIV, compared with 0.31 per cent of the total adult population. The UN AIDS agency estimated that around a third of men who have sex with men in India fail to access services like HIV testing, sex education and free condom supplies. Many of the people who use Pahal’s services are low-paid factory workers, labourers, or sex workers like 25-year-old Sanam who first came to the centre three years ago.

Sanam, a transgender whose original name was Sushil Kumar Pandey, told AFP she knew nothing about sexually transmitted diseases when she entered the sex trade. “I never used to take it seriously, we used to do it without condoms,” she said. She learnt about HIV/AIDS only after visiting the Pahal premises. “They first conducted a blood test on me, then they told me about HIV, what it is, how it spreads. Because of that I always use condoms,” she said. Although the Indian government has committed funds to HIV-fighting organisations that work with the gay and transgender community, many NGOs say that financing falls short.

The Pahal Foundation says it treats 50 per cent more people than it has budgeted for. Gay rights activist and UNAIDS technical officer for sexual minorities, Ashok Row Kavi, said that authorities lack a true awareness of the problem in the gay community. “We don’t have a proper denominator for the number of MSM (men having sex with men), and that number is much higher than what we are willing to accept,” he told AFP. “It’s very worrying because hardly four per cent of the (government) money for fighting HIV is coming to MSM groups,” he added.

Attitudes to homosexuality are slowly changing in India, although it is still often viewed as a mental illness or something shameful to be ignored, particularly in rural areas. Two years ago, a landmark Delhi High Court ruling decriminalised homosexuality, which was illegal under a 150-year-old British colonial law that banned “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”. Conviction carried a fine and maximum 10-year jail sentence. But many gay and transgender sex workers who spoke to AFP said they continue to face verbal and physical abuse on a regular basis.

Rupali, a 24-year-old transgender sex worker whose original name was Lalit Sharma, said she feared for her safety nearly every day. “There are people who turn up drunk, local goons, we have to convince them that there is such a frightening disease going around, there can be a problem like this, so use a condom,” she told AFP. But sometimes, she said, customers used force to pressure her and other sex workers to have unprotected sex. Most of all she feared the police. “They force us to have sex, they take our money and then they beat us up,” she said.