Uttar Pradesh — It was late in the evening. People were heading home; some were in groups, while others were on their own. Most of them were taking rainbow colours off their faces. Hundreds of people, unknown to each other, had gathered united by a single cause – to celebrate their pride against society’s prejudice.
Arif Hussain recalled the memories from his first Delhi Queer Pride March in 2018 — the same year, India’s apex court decriminalized homosexuality.
Hussain always wanted to attend the Pride March but thought he wasn’t ready. However, when he finally attended his first Pride March, he felt fascinated at the sights. The sheer diversity in the march made him feel a sense of belonging, he said.
Although this year, the annual Pride celebration may not feature the parades and lively crowd it is usually known for, Hussain, who was looking forward to celebrating the month by attending various events, has decided to engage in queer literature and cinema. On June 10, Hussian attended a webinar organized by the Dublin Digital Pride Festival on “examining LGBTQ+ representation in the media and the importance of queer culture.”
Hussain also looks forward to attending a live-stream Global Pride 2020 on Saturday, June 27, which “will stream 24 hours of content that reflects and celebrates the beautiful diversity of LGBTI+ people everywhere.”
Given the restrictions upon large gatherings and the inability to travel, most of the plans for this year’s Pride Month have led to changes in several ways. With hundreds of pride festivals and events being called off around the world, various LGBT+ organizations worldwide have come up with events, challenges, and workshops to uplift the community’s spirits.
Pride Month is celebrated every year in June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots. Also known as Stonewall uprising, the riots were a series of violent protests by members of the gay community after the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in New York City. Since then, many LGBT+ activists observe the month in their ways.
“For everyone, Pride Month has a different meaning. For me, it’s to never forget the individuals because of whom I have the liberty and privilege to celebrate my identity,” said Rohita Gharu, 19, a resident of Shimla.
This year, Jamia Queer Collective is celebrating the month on its Instagram page by “posting relevant facts, history, and pictures that exemplify love, acceptance, and equality.” Similarly, with museums still closed, a range of online exhibitions is being organized to educate and entertain people with LGBT+ history and art.
Grace Croop, 21, from Buffalo, New York, observes the month in ways different from what she had initially planned. With the help of her friends from the Twitch streaming community, which is mostly known for gaming, but also hosts artists, podcasts/talk shows, and other creative outlets, Croop is raising money for LGBTQIA+ organizations through charity live streams.
“I’m participating in multiple LGBTQIA+ fundraisers and charity live streams happening throughout the month on Twitch,” said Croop. “So far, we have helped The Trevor Project, Stonewall, LGBT Foundation, and Human Dignity Trust.
“We use the site Tiltify, which is an extension through Twitch. Our viewers can donate directly through links, and the donation goes straight to the charity through the site,” she added.
The charity gets the money directly from the fundraising site, which the organization uses for any resource needed, she said. The charities aren’t restricted just to Pride Month; different communities raise money for them year-round. But some people choose Pride Month for it to “make more of an impact” for donations. People are more likely to donate to LGBT+ charities during Pride Month, she explained.
If Pride Month is all about love and how far we have come, it is also about ensuring a future for the Queer and Transgender community experiencing hatred and discrimination today, Hussain expressed, adding, it is about moving towards equality.
Pokhraj Roy, who considers himself an optimist, feels there has been very little progress made when it comes to LGBT+ rights.
“Both Private Spheres and Public Spheres are hostile to Queer People,” 22-year-old Roy from Kolkata said. “There is huge unemployment globally, and even if one is hired, it’s either to fulfil a diversity quota or just token wokeness on display, but there are very few Queer People who legitimately hold power.”
Not only that, but the Law is also ridiculously outdated when it comes to LGBT+ rights, he said.
They cannot marry the way we want to; they cannot start a family the way we want; they cannot live the way they want to, Roy mentioned, adding, one even hears hostility towards the Queer in terms of housing.
In 2018, India’s Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality allowing sex between two consenting adults irrespective of gender. History owes an apology to the LGBT community and kin, said the apex court while pronouncing the judgment. However, even after two years of decriminalization, the battle towards equality remains for many.
Rahul Khanna*, 22, from Ghaziabad, shares similar sentiments as Roy when it comes to LGBT+ rights. From economic opportunities to social acceptance, from equal rights to lack of Queer awareness, Khanna believes the LGBT+ community is still fighting for their fundamental rights.
“I know for a fact that I have a certain kind of personality, certain mannerisms which are not stereotypical to LGBT+ community, and which is why it is easier for me to get into a consulting job,” Khanna said. “But I am not sure if a person who is traditionally considered more effeminate than me, whether they would get a consultancy job or a Trans person would be hired at all.”
Belonging from a conservative place, a small town in Shimla, according to Rohita Gharu, a 19-year-old student, the month has been challenging to celebrate Pride Month openly. However, she is looking forward to an online event, which is about being Queer as well as Dalit.
“Although being a Dalit, my privilege of going to a good school and being brought up in a shielded environment have made me cherish my identity,” expressed Gharu. “However, I am trying my best to learn how it is for other people my age, who are not only Dalit but Queer as well, and who have had not the same privileges as I.”
Meanwhile, she has been creating LGBTQIA+ artwork and sharing them on her Instagram page. Not only that, but she will also be posting some pictures, mostly face paint and makeup, to celebrate Pride Month by next week, she said.
As social distancing norms prevent people from gathering, Pride Circle, a diversity and inclusion consultancy, has organized a virtual challenge called #21DaysAllyChallenge, to “build a community of passionate LGBT+ Allies,” and “take conscious steps to recognize and neutralize biases and stereotypes about the LGBT+ community.”
The global challenge aims to bring together individual participants as well as groups from over 28 countries. Starting from June 21, #21DaysAllyChallenge will see a series of mini-challenges over 21 days. Challenges like from reading multiple coming out stories put together by Pride Circle to learn about laws around LGBT+ in your country to help build consciousness about the existence and journey of LGBT+ community are seen as the part of the initiative.
“For me, allyship is not a once a month performative act,” 23-year-old Zoya Khan from New Delhi said. “It is a commitment to educating yourself, doing research, and being aware for the rest of your life. I have been following #21DaysAllyChallenge, and I think it is one of the many ways to find out more about how to become and stay a better ally to the community.”
Similarly, in the United States, the quarantine Pride Month of Alexis Shettleroe, 22, from California, consists of lots of time together with her girlfriend and helping her out for drag queen looks, which she recently picked up on. However, Shettleroe believes LA Pride’s solidarity march for the Black Community to be the highlight of Pride Month this year.
“I think it’s important for the LGBT+ community to support the Black Lives Matter movement,” Shettleroe said. “Because although we may not all understand what stigmas and experiences people of color face in the United States, we all understand the feeling of being marginalized based on who we are.”
Ever since the murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, sparked protests across the United States, the protesters have continued to make their voices amplified, both online and offline across the States and beyond. A union of 75 LGBTQ+ organizations have issued a letter of solidarity where it condemns white supremacist violence and systemic racial injustice.
Recalling one of the memories from a Pride March in Toronto last year, Croop said, during last year’s Toronto Pride, while she was wearing a Star War’s Stormtrooper armor, “a little girl in the parade asked if she could walk with me. The girl said, ‘Stormtroopers just need a little love, that’s all,’ before taking my hand.”
“It’s one of the moments I’ll never forget. Pride Month gave me that,” she added.