May 8, 2014 at 11:49 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Bollywood star promotes LGBT rights

Celina Jaitly, United Nations, gay news, Washington Blade

Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly appears in a U.N. campaign designed to promote LGBT rights in India. (Photo courtesy of the U.N.)

A U.N. campaign that promotes LGBT rights last week debuted a new video that stars Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly.

The two-and-a-half minute video features a man who brings his “special friend” to meet his family. They are shocked when he and his partner step out of the car, but the family matriarch embraces them and welcomes them into her home.

“As long as in the world of love two people want to be with each other,” Jaitly sings.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights debuted the video that contains a remixed version of the 1979 Bollywood song, “Uthe Sab Ke Kadam”, during a Mumbai press conference in April 30 with Indian transgender rights advocate Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, actor Imran Khan and others. It is part of the “Free & Equal” campaign the U.N. launched last July in South Africa.

“Bollywood represents Indian culture, which has always been larger than life, which is very colorful,” Jaitly told the Washington Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview from New York. “In Bollywood whenever we want to express something — especially when we talk about love, even if we talk about a mother expressing love to her child, she does it through a song. Everything is done through music.”

The video has had more than 240,000 views since it’s April 30 debut.

“Music has the power to move people,” Jaitly told the Blade. “Music is the universal language which would be understood by all and the video is living proof of it. People from all over the world who don’t have anything to do with India have truly appreciated it.”

Jaitly, who is a former Miss India, noted she has been an LGBT rights advocate in India for a decade — speaking out against Section 377 of the Indian penal code that criminalizes homosexuality. She has also advocated for the extension of rights to transgender Indians and hijras and eunuchs who do not identify as either male or female.

“This is just not something new that I just took up,” Jaitly told the Blade as she discussed why she agreed to take part in the campaign. “I just thought of it as a platform to amplify my voice.”

Jaitly spoke with the Blade two weeks after the Indian Supreme Court said it would consider an HIV/AIDS service organization’s motion to reconsider a controversial ruling late last year that recriminalized homosexuality in the world’s second most populated country.

Jaitly noted Indians publicly declared their sexual orientation and came out in the workplace after the Delhi High Court in 2009 struck down the country’s colonial-era sodomy law.

“It was a great day in history for the LGBT community in India because they were no longer criminals,” she told the Blade. “Now it is really a shocking and rather a terrible threshold of life for people. It’s not easy at all for the LGBT community in India at the moment because legally speaking they are all criminals.”

The India Supreme Court on April 15 issued a landmark ruling that recognizes trans people as a “third gender.”

The decision orders state officials, the federal government in New Delhi and their various agencies to combat anti-trans discrimination in the world’s second most populated country and include trans Indians in social welfare and other state-run programs. The ruling also includes hijras and eunuchs in the definition of trans.

These feature prominently in Hindu mythology and religious texts, but Indian society has largely marginalized them.

“The transgender or the eunuch community of India has suffered over many years,” Jaitly told the Blade. “Finally after all these years the government has recognized them and given them a third gendered status.”

She further described the decision as “wonderful,” but said the ruling that recriminalized homosexuality “totally contradicts” it.

“While a third gender can enjoy the third gender status, they probably would be criminals if they were to have a personal relationship with anyone,” said Jaitly. “It is a contradiction of each other.”

Jaitly told the Blade the “third gender” ruling has renewed hope that Indian judges or parliamentarians will at least consider legal status for gays and lesbians.

She acknowledged the last decade has proven difficult for the country’s LGBT rights advocates. Jaitly said during a U.N. press conference on Monday that she and her children have received threats because of her advocacy as the Associated Press reported.

“It’s been a ride of agonies and ecstasies over the past 10 years,” Jaitly told the Blade. “It’s not been an easy ride.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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