Calling for gay rights in India

I became a part of the world of glamour at the very young age of 16. And not only since then, but somehow from childhood I have had gay friends and have been a part of their agonies and ecstasies . It’s horrid... just like apartheid when your very existence is a crime and you are discriminated against just because of what you are.

One of the two people who were catalysts in my taking the gay rights issue to another level, was a transgender makeup artist who was 50-years-old and stood by me in my struggling days as a model and actor. He was like a mother to me, he gave me pocket money when I was broke, and even looked after me when I was ill. Thanks to him I became a Miss India. He sent my entry application and I went on to become a Miss Universe runner-up. He, too, suffered in the battle against society and underwent many heartbreaking incidents of gay-bashing before passing away in an accident two years ago. He, too, wanted to do a lot for the transgender community... and my makeup on my wedding day, which never happened.

Join My Petition For Equal Rights For Gays

The other person lived through the trauma of being in a relationship with a closeted gay (who went on to become one of my dearest friends) and who also passed away last year having been a victim of depression and bulimia due to the stresses of being gay in a homophobic society. He was also a victim of gay bashing alcoholism and drug abuse and there came a point that despite his illness we couldn't get him help; his family refused to accept the fact that he was gay and that’s what was causing it, because he couldn’t be himself. Well his family... they didn’t even know of the concept. Besides these two, I have had the love and friendship of many gay friends and my own gay employees who I feel I owe my support to. They all inspire me to continue doing this... I owe it to their love and memory.

The biggest hurdle in India (the world’s largest democracy) which stands in the way of gay rights is Section 377... this law has been used to systematically persecute, blackmail, arrest and terrorize sexual minorities. Section 377 is also seen as an anachronism from a less tolerant era and health care officials struggling to contain India’s AIDS epidemic warn that it is constantly hampering their efforts to contact vulnerable groups. I would like to most importantly point out that the (Section 377) legislation was introduced by British colonial authorities and does not reflect on Hindu cultural values. Even a prince was not spared of people’s misunderstanding and misacceptance of gays in India.

In 2005, Prince Manavendra Singh Gohil from a conservative principality in Gujarat publicly came out as gay. He was quickly anointed by the Indian and world media as the first openly gay royal. He was promptly disinherited as an immediate reaction by the royal family, but they eventually reconciled. Since then, Prince Manavendra has even appeared at the Oprah Winfrey show. Then, in 2008, Zoltan Parag, a competitor at the Mr. Gay International contest said that he was “scared” to return to India for fear of discrimination. He said, “The Indian media has exposed me so much that now when I call my friends back home, their parents do not let them talk to me.”

However, there are many gay tolerant countries and societies in the world. For instance Iceland, which is set to appoint the world’s first openly gay Prime Minister — a former flight attendant who rose through the political ranks to become a cabinet minister. Johanna Sigurdardottir, the island nation’s 66-year-old Social Affairs Minister, is the pick of the Social Democratic Alliance Party to lead an interim government. “Johanna is a very good woman — but she likes public spending, she is a tax raiser,” said Geir Haarde, who quit as Prime Minister partly for health reasons. Johanna entered politics through the labour movement, serving as a labour organiser when she worked as a flight attendant with Loftleidir Airlines — now Icelandair, in the 1960s and 1970s. She was first elected to Iceland’s parliament in 1978. She became a minister in 1987 and has held her current post since 1999. Despite her veteran status, many Icelanders regard her as a maverick and respect her work promoting the welfare of minority groups. She faces the difficult task of repairing the nation’s shattered economy and rebuilding public trust in the government. Icelanders are deeply angry at their government for not reining in the country’s banks and leading the once-prosperous nation into an economic nightmare.

But sadly in India, except for the glamour industry, gay people are looked down upon. I personally know of gay doctors, hotel professionals, even scientists and government officials who are terrified of the fact that if people at their work or their families come to know, hell will break loose. So they live a suffocating closeted life and carry on becoming victims of depression, alcoholism and drug abuse. On June 29, 2008, four Indian cities (Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata and Puducherry) celebrated Gay Pride parades. These were the first in Delhi, Bangalore and Puducherry. About 2,000 people turned out in these nationwide parades. I joined my gay friends in this endeavour. Though not much is happening about gay rights, at least now that I speak much about it people are talking about it and the media has started showing support.

India needs to shrug off its colonial mentality and come out of its all-prevalent homophobia. It appalls and dismays me to see the attitudes of Indian people towards homosexuals/bisexuals — they’re subject to really insensitive jokes/comments and open derision. The whole tendency is to brush everything under the carpet — discussing sexuality or sexual health is a taboo even now. No wonder India is so afflicted with HIV/AIDS and the situation can only get worse if it keeps getting brushed under the carpet. An HIV-AIDS prevention organization, The NAZ Foundation, has sued to have Section 377 overturned but the case was rejected on grounds that “public morality” should “prevail over the exercise of any private right”. The petition is being heard again on appeal.

When someone tries to identify with the gay/bisexual community, people and friends say, “Sexuality is only one very small aspect of life. It shouldn’t define who you are.” But what they don’t understand is THAT is exactly what the gay community is fighting for. People should understand that gays/bisexuals are normal too and just like any other human being. High time India got rid of that parochial law. The saddest thing is that not even the younger generation, whom one expects new vision and liberalism from, is very supportive... their idea of modernization (as a fan of mine wrote to me) is “working in multinationals and IT companies, experiencing their nouveau riches and playing with cellphones and drinking at bars”.

I was most happy recently to relaunch Bombay Dost (India’s first gay magazine) along with Prince Manvendra and gay rights activist Ashok Row Kavi .The new Bombay Dost comes with the tag-line ‘bolder than ever’ — the ‘boldness’ has to do with the forthrightness with which the LGBT cultural expression is showcased. The magazine is a standard bearer for the growing confidence and artistic alacrity displayed by India’s homosexuals, says Nitin Karani (gay rights activist). I feel it eschews any notion of ‘them and us’ and mirrors the inclusiveness that we would expect in a more egalitarian society. For a lot of people, gay identity consists of maybe a few behavioral traits, superficial characteristics or even psychological symptoms. For many it is merely a ‘sex thing’. Bombay Dost seeks to break out of these limiting notions. It is not just about sexuality or gender constructs, but about the people we adore, the lives we live, the cultural experiences that shape gay community — everything around and everything around them.

My advice to all people who want to support gay rights in India is: Everybody thinks of changing humanity but nobody thinks of changing themselves.... change your attitude towards gay people from within and your support is shown.
I have come up the hard way with unwavering faith in my principles and always trusted my instincts. Due to personal reasons also this cause is very important to me. I don’t know how I am going to do it.. .but I know only one thing, and that is I am going to do it. I feel it’s not about gay rights ... it’s about human dignity and human rights. Some one had to stand up and I did so.

"Take the first step in faith, you don’t have to see the whole staircase... just take the first step.” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

You can support my petition to the health ministry to have Section 377 amended by joining me on my group:

Support is the biggest gift one can give to another…

Dear members,
From all over the world… Thank you for your support, this is “not” a cause it is a simple Human rights issue, standing up for what is right does not need a reason just motivation.
I have received a lot of emails on whether you have to be “Gay” to join this group well…
You don’t have to be gay to join this group ….. just “Human”…
“Support is the biggest gift one can give to another..” I shall connect againl
Many regards,
Celina Jaitly (INDIA)
WHAT LIES BENEATH…….(Celina on Gay Rights)
A lot of people ask me what is my motivation behind ardently and persuasively supporting gay rights in India….. and among the many thousand politically correct and calculated answers that I can give … All I can come up with is …. ” This is what i believe in and this is the cause i will support .”
Second question most frequently asked by media and people alike .. Am I (Celina) gay?….. well you don’t have to be gay or black or white to support a cause like this all you have to be is a Human Being. Certain causes don’t need reason all they need is motivation and i intend being just that.
If two people love each other, shouldn’t they be allowed the same rights, privileges and responsibilities, no matter their genders? … Well i researched homosexuality and came up with the following….
Well …theories suggest that a mother’s age or stress level during pregnancy may have an impact on men’s sexuality …
However, majority of respected scientists now believe is that homosexuality is attributable to a combination of psychological, social, and biological factors.
Is there a gay gene?
Scientists have not been able to conclude that there is any gene or combination of genes that will make someone gay. Genetics is very complex and scientists continue to study both humans and animals chromosomes for linkage to sexual orientation.
What about the gay brain study?
A widely publicized study in 1999 found that a certain part of the hypothalamus was smaller in gay men then in heterosexual men. This study was widely touted at the time as “proof” that one’s sexual orientation is biological and not chosen. But it is not known whether these differences in brain are present at birth or if they occur over a lifetime.
What Twin Studies Tell us about Homosexuality
Scientists have studied twins to try and learn if being gay is biologically determined. Studies of identical and fraternal twins suggest that there is a genetic influence on sexual orientation. If being gay were strictly genetic, then in identical twins, there would be a 100% concordance rate for sexual orientation. But one study in 1995 found a 52% correlation for male identical twins and 22% for male fraternal twins. A study on females came up with similar results. If one identical twin was a lesbian, in 48% of cases, the other twin was also a lesbian. For fraternal twins, the concordance was 16%. (source Simon LeVay)
These studies show that people with the same genetic make up (identical twins) are more likely to share sexual orientation than those with different genetic make up (fraternal twins.) Genetics alone cannot cause sexual orientation, but they do play a part.
Sadly,there is no evidence that homosexuality is simply “genetic”–and none of the research itself claims there is.Most scientific organizations also believe that homosexuality is not a choice, that biology plays some role. The National Mental Health Association (USA) says, “Most researchers believe sexual orientation is complex, and that biology plays an important role. This means that many people are born with their sexual orientation, or that it’s established at an early age.”
For those who think Gay sex is unnatural. This argument, often encoded in the very name of sodomy statutes (”crime against nature”), betrays a considerable ignorance of behavior in the animal kingdom. The fact is that among the approximately 1500 animal species whose behavior has been extensively studied, homosexual behavior in animals has been described in at least 450 of those species. It runs the gamut, too, ranging from occasional displays of affection to life-long pair bonding including sex and even adopting and raising orphans, going so far as the rejection by force of potential heterosexual partners, even when in heat. The reality is that it is so common that it begs an explanation, and sociobiologists have proposed a wide variety of explanations to account for it. The fact that it is so common also means that it clearly has evolutionary significance, which applies as much to humans as it does to other animal species.
All I can say is there will be many an arguments about the entire aspect of homosexuality but we cannot deny that homosexuality has existed since man has. Section 377 of Indian Penal Code which bans gay sex to be amended/overturned as this law has been used to systematically persecute, blackmail arrest and terrorize sexual minorities…. “And i shall continue my bid to support this fact.
About 150 of India’s most influential figures - from the novelist Vikram Seth to the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen have joined their voices in a protest letter demanding the repeal of “cruel and discriminatory” legislation banning gay sex.
Dr Martin Luther King Junior said.. “…..Take the first step in faith you dont have to see the whole staircase…just take the first step”
Celina jaitly