One of the biggest LGBTQ news stories of 2018 was the legalisation of same-sex sexual relations.
In September of 2018, India’s Supreme Court ruled that same-sex intimacy is no longer a criminal offence in the country.
The ruling overturned a 2013 judgement that upheld a colonial-era law, known as section 377, under which gay sex was categorised as an “unnatural offence”. It was one of the world’s oldest laws criminalising gay sex, and India had been reluctant to overturn it.
Chief Justice Dipak Misra of India’s Supreme Court, while reading out his judgement, said – “Criminalising carnal intercourse is irrational, arbitrary, and manifestly unconstitutional.”
Who benefited from the decriminalisation of homosexuality?
The population of India is 1.3 billion people. Even if you took a conservative estimate that approximately 3% of any community will identify as LGBTQ, the decision by the Supreme Court of India enabled about 39 million LGBTQ people to live their lives without fear of prosecution.
In addition, the change in the law in India sent a powerful signal to countries around the world – it was a powerful example that advocating against LGBTQ equality leaves you on the wrong side of history.
Are things better for LGBTQ people in India?
India is a socially conservative country with a huge population – change generally takes time. However there are signs that people are becoming more accepting of LGBTQ people since decriminalisation 12 months ago.
One example of that comes from the western state of Maharashtra, where authorities have revised the syllabus for class 11 students – these are children who are about 16 years old. According to reporting by Thomson Reuters, the school curriculum now includes learning about same-sex couples.
The BBC reports that in major cities such as Delhi, there’s an increasing number of cafes and bars that display rainbow flags to demonstrate that they are LGBTQ-friendly.
High profile role-models are also beginning to emerge. Dutee Chand – India’s fastest woman and the 100 m record holder and winner of two silver medals in track and field at the 2018 Asian Games – is the first Indian sports star to acknowledge being in a same-sex relationship.
“I believe nobody has the right to judge me as an athlete because of my decision to be with who I want…” said Dutee Chand. “It is a personal decision, which should be respected. I will continue to strive to win medals for India at international meets.”
The Naz Foundation is one of the leading LGBTQ advocacy organisations in India.
“The overall environment is still very hostile…” said Anjali Gopalan of the Naz Foundation, speaking on a television news program in India. “There is this pressure on the community to be open about their sexuality. No one asks a straight person about their sexuality.”
Which dating apps are gay men in India using?
Research from online-dating specialist Gaydar, shows that queer men in India have embraced their new-found freedom.
“Looking at the data has been fascinating…” explained John Edwards, Managing Director of Gaydar. “Prior to decriminalisation we really weren’t seeing any material levels of registration from men in India. August 2018 saw a small jump in registrations. Then, from September 2018 onwards, the floodgates have really opened.”
“Following decriminalisation, we saw new registrations increase by 600-times compared to prior levels…” added Edwards. “That level of new registrations has continued month-on-month for the past year. It’s clear that we’re still only just scratching the surface.”
“To celebrate the one-year anniversary of decriminalisation in India, we’re giving everyone in India one-month free VIP access to Gaydar…” said Edwards. “Dating apps are a great way to help people figure out who they are and to connect with other people. There’s clearly a lot of people in India who are still in the early stages of that journey and we’re here to help them.”
What next for LGBTQ people in India?
Marriage Equality is still something withheld from LGBTQ people in India, but a greater priority is education – pushing for visibility and acceptance of LGBTQ people across the country. India is a relatively socially conservative place. While steps are being taken forward, there’s plenty of work still to be done