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LGBTQIA rights have been won only recently, but these Indian queer people have risen above the discrimination they certainly must have faced.
Navigating professional life as queer person is challenging at best and dangerous at worst in most countries, but it is especially difficult in countries like India which didn’t have a provision for LGBTQIA rights, depriving the community of equal legal status and opportunities.
While the historic 2018 decision of SC to decriminalize homosexuality was a start, we have yet to legalise same sex marriages and treat transgender people with dignity. We are far far away from an environment where queer people have adequate safety to come out of the closet, especially given that they can be exposed to social violence and bullying.
We still have thousands of people who are forced to live a lie, and those who do come out are shamed and bullied. But despite all hurdles and obstacles, there are some queer Indians who have achieved great success and fame.
Following is a list of some of the successful LGBTQIA+ people of India and many of them are the faces behind the monumental decriminalization of 2018.
Padma Shree and Sahitya Academy Awardee, Vikram Seth is a globally acclaimed writer and poet. His 1993 book ‘The Suitable Boy’ remains one of the defining pieces of South Asian literature.
Vikram was born in Kolkata in 1952 to Leila Seth. His mother was a pioneer in woman’s right movement in India by becoming the first female Judge on the Delhi High Court and also the first female Chief Justice of a state HC in India.
He came out as bisexual in his interview with Outlook, and his mother Leila Seth celebrated his identity in her autobiography. He has been campaigning against the ‘sodomy law’, long before it was decriminalized.
National Sprinting Champion and Olympic athlete Dutee Chand is the first Indian athlete and the only woman from a marginalised background to come out publically in India. She came out in 2019 in a press conference and declared that she is in a homosexual relationship for the past five years.
Dutee has recently been nominated for the Arjuna Awards. Last year she became the first Indian sprinter to win gold at the Universiade in Naples.
Fashion Designer Manish Arora in an interview with Times of India revealed that he knew he was not straight from a very young age but never felt the pressure to discuss his sexuality. He says that his unapologetic attitude came from being in the creative world of fashion where sexuality and gender norms are much more fluid and acceptable.
He admitted that he felt disappointed by the lack of freedom he felt in India prior to 2018 and chose to spend most of his time abroad, but the decriminalization has restored his faith in his country.
Indian television producer, screenwriter and former Bigg Boss contestant, Vikas Gupta recently came out as bisexual. He took to social media to reveal his sexuality. He is a well known name in the television industry and has appeared in multiple reality shows as well. He has been in news regarding his sexuality and disagreement with his peers and alleged former partners.
Navtej Singh Johar is an internationally acclaimed and award winning Bharatnatyam dancer. His name has become synonymous with the decriminalisation as he along with four others was the first to file a writ petition against IPC Section 377 for LGBTQIA rights. His partner Sunil Mehra who is a journalist was also a petitioner in against the Section 377.
The writ petition later became Navtejet Singh Johar vs. Union of India. The case and his name as the lead petitioner is now immortalised in the Indian history.
National award winning screenwriter and editor Apurva Asrani edited classics like RGV’s ‘Satya’ at the age of 19. He has since been a part of many critically acclaimed movies and web series like Shahid, Citylights, Simran, Aligarh, Made in Heaven amongst others.
In a recent post he revealed that he and his partner had to pretend to be cousins in order to live together for a long time but the couple has finally brought their own house and no longer have to lie about their relationship.
Writer and co-founder of the iconic heritage hotel chain Neemrana Hotels, Aman Nath was amongst the five petitioners against Section 377.
He is also a writer and poet and has co-authored many books on art, history, architecture and photography.
Keshav Suri’s wedding pictures with his boyfriend in Paris went viral on Instagram just before the decriminalisation in India. He took the lead role in the campaign for LGBTQIA rights and the removal of Section 377.
Keshav Suri is an hotelier and associated with the Lalit Suri Hospitality Group. He is also a human rights activist and has a charitable organisation that caters to the LGBTQ+ community of India. He recently participated in the feed India initiative by Chef Vikas Khanna during the lockdown.
Ritu Dalmia was one of the two women amongst the five people who challenged the colonial era Sodomy law. She is a successful celebrity chef who has a chain of restaurants called DIVA across India. The other female petitioner was Ayesha Kapoor who is a businesswoman.
One of the duo who litigated the case, Arundhati did her LLB from India’s top law school, National Law School of India, Bangalore, and her LLM from Columbia University, New York where she was awarded multiple accolades.
Before her historic win for LGBTQIA rights with the abrogation of Section 377, she was involved in multiple high profile cases like the 2G bribery case, the Jessica Lal murder case, Suresh Kumar Kuashal vs Naz Doundation (the original case that tried but failed to legalise homosexuality in India) amongst others. She was featured in Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People along with her partner Meneka Guruswamy in 2019.
In the following video the couple shared the process of fighting against the Sodomy law and their experience in courts where judges often mocked homosexuality.
Meneka Guruswamy is a Rhodes Scholar and is an alumnus of Oxford Law School, Harvard Law School, and National Law School of India University, Bangalore. She was associated with other high profile cases apart from the 2018 abrogation of section 377 like the Right to Education case which gave 25% reservation to poor students in private schools.
She is the first Indian and second woman to have her portrait hung at the Milner Hall in Rhodes House at the University of Oxford. Along with the Times Most Influential list, she has also been featured in other prominent lists like the Foreign Policy’s 100 Global Thinkers List which included Michele Obama, Jeff Bezos and Kofi Annan (former chief of UN).
The interesting thing about the above list is that most of them and all of the five petitioner against the Section 377 are older people, the youngest being Ayesha Kapoor at 44 years of age. This indicates that they have been denied basic freedom and rights such as marriage, adoption, joint loans, legal heir etc throughout their adulthood. It is also incredibly empowering that all seven people involved in the decriminalization are member of the LGBTQIA community itself.
Author’s note: This list is not an extensive list of ALL the successful LGBTQIA+ people of India but only the ones that are popular and have come out to the public. These people show us while it may be difficult; being queer and successful is possible even in a conservative country like India and if they can do it, then you can do it too!
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Asefa Hafeez is a content writer by profession. You can get in touch with her
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