Thousands of LGBT rights advocates in India and around the world on Sunday took part in “Day of Rage” protests against last week’s India Supreme Court ruling that recriminalized homosexuality.
Activists and their supporters gathered in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkota and other Indian cities to express their outrage over the Dec. 11 decision. Protests also took place outside the Indian embassy on Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., in Northwest D.C. and in New York, London, Toronto and other cities.
“I was especially overwhelmed to see parents of individuals from the community standing up for their kids,” Neha Nambier told the Washington Blade after she took part in a protest against the decision in Bangalore in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.
Omkar, an engineer from Bangalore who did not provide his last name to the Blade, took part in the same protest.
“This verdict encroaches upon my freedom of living life, and it threatens to snatch my dignity,” he said. “Not just mine, but of everyone else too. Therefore, I feel, I must protest against this verdict and voice my concern.”
Mahesh Natarajan, a gay man who has lived with his partner for nearly a decade, also took part in the Bangalore protest.
“I felt betrayed, let down, outraged,” he told the Blade as he discussed the decision. :For me, it is the supreme court abdicating its responsibility and by throwing us back in the hands of the possibly homophobic majority.”
Nearly three dozen people took part in a candlelight vigil outside the Indian embassy near Dupont Circle on Dec. 13.
Members of KhushDC, a group for LGBT South Asians who live in the Washington metropolitan area, placed a rainbow flag in the hand of the Mahatma Gandhi statue near the intersections of 21st and Q Streets, N.W., and Massachusetts Avenue. An unidentified official with the Indian embassy asked the protesters to remove the flag from the monument before the vigil began.
Nearly two dozen people gathered outside the Indian embassy two days earlier to protest the ruling.
“We are together because we want to show the strength of our community and people have been upset by the incredibly intolerant decision of the Supreme Court of India,” said KhushDC President Sapna Pandya during the Dec. 13 vigil.
Vanlal Hruaia of Cheverly, Md., who is from the Northeastern Indian state of Mizoram between Bangladesh and Myanmar, held a sign written in Hindi script during the candlelight vigil that read “I have loved, not committed a crime.”
He described the 2009 Delhi High Court ruling that struck down the country’s colonial-era sodomy law as a “great baby step in moving forward and being open-minded.” Hruaia added he feels the Indian Supreme Court decision that reinstated it is a “Stonewall moment” for LGBT Indians.
“Gays have been marginalized like crazy since British rule came to India,” he said, noting Hinduism recognizes what he described as a third gender. “It’s only when the British came that they marginalized the third-gender people that they’ve been living on the edge of society. And we’ve somehow failed to move beyond that.”
India is now among the 41 U.K. commonwealth countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized.
Sonia Gandhi, president of the Indian National Congress, which is one of the country’s two main political parties, on Dec. 12 criticized the Indian Supreme Court’s ruling.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in a Dec. 11 statement described the decision as a “significant step backwards.” She also urged the Indian government to review the ruling.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki last week declined to say how the White House would pressure New Delhi to repeal the country’s colonial-era sodomy law in response to questions from the Blade and other media outlets.
Indian Law Minister Kapil Sibal said his government will consider ways to overturn the decision. It remains highly unlikely lawmakers will decriminalize homosexuality before next year’s elections because members of the socially conservative Bharatiya Janata Party, which observers have labeled as Hindu nationalist, and their political allies will likely block any such proposal.
“The judges seem to have decided that they were speaking for a ‘real India’ that finds all this distasteful or worse and against that view all the legal skill on our side was of no use,” Vikram Doctor of the Times of India newspaper told the Blade. “If anything it confirmed their feelings that this was all elite urban outrage.”
LGBT rights advocates are planning to ask the Indian Supreme Court to reconsider their decision. They are also scheduled to meet in New Delhi on Dec. 22.
“I don’t think this is going to be as easy to change as people are hoping,” said Doctor. “All the support we are seeing now is wonderful and heart-warming, but it remains to be seen how much difference it will make over time and when we are up against this ‘real India’ attitude which is quite widespread.”
Tushar Malik, a Human Rights Campaign fellow from New Delhi, told the Blade during the Dec. 13 vigil outside the Indian embassy in D.C. that a lot of “dissatisfaction with this decision” remains in India.
“It’s a shame to our democracy,” he said.
Harjant Gill, a D.C. anthropologist from Chandigarh in Northern India, said the outrage over the Indian Supreme Court’s decision he has seen on social media networks demonstrates his countrymen increasingly support LGBT rights. He told the Blade after he attended the D.C. vigil on Dec. 13 that most people with whom he has spoken in India since the judges announced their ruling described it as “incredibly stupid.”
“They don’t understand this is moving the country in the wrong direction,” said Gill. “A lot of people see gay rights as a human rights issue and the fact that the India Supreme Court did this says something about their commitment to human rights and that in fact they’re maybe not committed to human rights.”
“Queer Indians have always been a fractured lot across race, caste, religion, economic status, language, gender, sexuality, colour and everything else, and find it hard to come together,” added Natarajan. “This judgment has already brought us together to a larger degree than anything else so far. Every liberal Indian is coming out and speaking out. We got to build on this and make this our stonewall moment. There isn’t any other choice.”
Omkar had a similar message for the court.
“We are simply asking [it to] let consenting adults decide how they express feelings of mutual love and affection,” he told the Blade.
In a historic first, Colorado now has a 1st gentleman as Gov. Polis marries
The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date
DENVER – Colorado’s Democratic Governor Jared Polis married his longtime partner Marlon Reis in a ceremony that marked the first same-sex marriage of a sitting Out governor in the United States.
The couple was married Wednesday in a small traditional Jewish ceremony at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where Reis had matriculated and graduated from. The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date.
“We met online and went out on a date and we went to the Boulder bookstore and then went to dinner,” Polis told KCFR-FM, Colorado Public Radio (CPR).
In addition to family and close friends in attendance, the couple’s two children participated with their 7-year-old daughter serving as the flower girl and their 9-year-old son as the ring bearer.
The governor joked that their daughter was probably more thrilled than anyone about the wedding. “She was all in on being a flower girl. She’s been prancing around. She got a great dress. She’s terrific,” he said CPR reported.
Their son was also happy, but more ambivalent about it all according to Reis. “Kids are so modern that their responses to things are sometimes funny. Our son honestly asked us, ‘Why do people get married?”
The greatest lesson we have learned over the past 18 months is that life as we know it can change in an instant. We are thankful for the opportunity to celebrate our life together as a married couple.— Governor Jared Polis (@GovofCO) September 15, 2021
After 18 years together, we couldn’t be happier to be married at last. pic.twitter.com/psBhfEoEny
Colorado’s chief executive, sworn in as the 43rd governor of Colorado in January 2019, over the course of nearly 20 years as a political activist and following in public service as an elected official has had several ‘firsts’ to his credit.
In 2008 Polis is one of the few people to be openly Out when first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as well as being the first gay parent to serve in the Congress. Then on November 6, 2018, he was the first openly gay governor elected in Colorado and in the United States.
Gov. Jared Polis And First Gentleman Marlon Reis Are Newlyweds
U.S. Catholic theologians call for LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections
Joint statement says church teachings support equality
More than 750 of the nation’s leading Catholic theologians, church leaders, scholars, educators, and writers released a joint statement on Sept. 14 expressing strong support for nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.
The six-page theological statement, “A Home for All: A Catholic Call for LGBTQ Non-Discrimination,” was scheduled to be published along with the names of its 759 signatories as a four-page advertisement on Sept. 17 in the National Catholic Reporter, a newspaper widely read by Catholic clergy and laypeople.
The statement was initiated by New Ways Ministry, a Mount Rainier, Md., based Catholic group that advocates for equality for LGBTQ people within the church and society at large.
“As Catholic theologians, scholars, church leaders, writers, and ministers, we affirm that Catholic teaching presents a positive case for ending discrimination against LGBTQ people,” the statement says. “We affirm the Second Vatican Council’s demand that ‘any kind of social or cultural discrimination…must be curbed and eradicated,’” it says.
“We affirm that Catholic teaching should not be used to further oppress LGBTQ people by denying rights rooted in their inherent human dignity and in the church’s call for social equality,” the statement adds.
The statement notes that its signers recognize that a “great debate” is currently taking place within the Catholic Church about whether same-gender relationships and transgender identities should be condoned or supported.
“That is a vital discussion for the future of Catholicism, and one to which we are whole-heartedly committed,” the statement continues. “What we are saying in this statement, however, is relatively independent of that debate, and the endorsers of this statement may hold varied, and even opposing, opinions on sexual and gender matters,” it says.
Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministries executive director, said his organization and the signers of the statement feel the issue of nondiscrimination for LGBTQ people can and should be supported by Catholic leaders and the church itself even if some are not yet ready to support same-sex marriage and sexual and gender identity matters.
“LGBTQ non-discrimination is being debated at all levels in our society, and the Catholic perspective on this is often misrepresented, even by some church leaders,” DeBernardo said. “Catholics who have studied and reflected deeply on this topic agree that non-discrimination is the most authentic Catholic position,” he said.
DeBernardo said those who helped draft the statement decided it would be best to limit it to a theological appeal and argument for LGBTQ equality and non-discrimination and not to call for passage of specific legislation such as the Equality Act, the national LGBTQ civil rights bill pending in the U.S. Congress.
The Equality Act calls for amending existing federal civil rights laws to add nondiscrimination language protecting LGBTQ people in areas such as employment, housing, and public accommodations. The U.S. House approved the legislation, but the Senate has yet to act on it.
“We wanted this to be a theological statement, not a political statement,” DeBernardo said.
He said organizers of the project to prepare the statement plan to send it, among other places, to the Vatican in Rome and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has expressed opposition to the Equality Act.
Among the key signers of the statement were 242 administrators, faculty, and staff from Sacred Heart University, a Catholic college in Bridgeport, Conn. New Ways Ministries says the statement was circulated by the school’s administration and eight of its top leaders, including President John Petillo, are among the signers.
Some of the prominent writers who signed the statement include Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking;” Richard Rodriquez, author of “Hunger of Memory;” Gary Wills, author of “Lincoln at Gettysburg;” and Gregory Maguire, author of “Wicked.”
The full text of the statement and its list of signatories can be accessed at the New Ways Ministry website.
Activists reflect on Black Trans Lives Matter movement resurgence
Blade speaks with Alex Santiago, Jasmyne Cannick
The world came to a standstill last year as a video surfaced online that showed then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd. The video went viral and sparked numerous protests against racism and police brutality in the U.S. and around the world as many people felt it a potent time to relay their frustrations with and to their governments.
For the LGBTQ community, these protests brought to light the need for human rights for transgender individuals as the murders of people like Tony McDade in Florida and Nina Pop in Missouri reawakened the flame within the Black Trans Lives Matter movement.
The Washington Blade more than a year later spoke with Alex Santiago, executive director of the I Am Human Foundation in Atlanta, and Jasmyne Cannick, a Democratic political strategist and journalist in Los Angeles, to reflect on last year’s Black Trans Lives Matter movement, how far it has come, and what’s in store for the future.
Uplifting voices often silenced
Participating in the Black Lives Matter protests was an easy decision for Santiago. He is a member of the Legendary House of Garcon, a ballroom house headquartered in D.C.
Although the house is composed mostly of LGBTQ members, Santiago still felt the need to center trans voices and experiences by visually representing them during Black Lives Matter marches.
“[I decided that] when I go I’m going to have signs that say ‘Black Trans Lives Matter.’ After talking to a couple of the people in the house, they said it was a great idea. So, they got these t-shirts made that incorporated the trans colors [baby blue, baby pink and white],” says Santiago.
Out of the 250 people in the Legendary House of Garcon, 175 showed up to D.C. from other states to march in solidarity with Black trans people. Santiago says that from what he was told, his was the largest group of activists representing Black trans lives at protests.
“At first I thought people were going to look at us crazy, like, ‘Why are you separating yourselves or being exclusive?’. But, we got a great response from the general population that was there that day. It was a good day,” says Santiago.
Cannick, who was in Los Angeles during the protests, lent her efforts to platforming pertinent issues. She identifies herself as an ally and a “friend” to the LGBTQ community.
“I’m active in the LA community and everybody knows me. So, whenever something happens, someone is hurt, someone is killed or someone needs to get the word out about something that’s going on particularly as it relates to the trans community, I’m always asked to get involved, and I do,” says Cannick.
Over the past year, she reported on multiple LGBTQ issues including the trial of Ed Buck, a Democratic political fundraiser who was convicted in the deaths of two gay Black men who he injected with methamphetamine in exchange for sex.
What happened to the BTLM movement and what needs to change?
The nature of many social movements is that as the intense emotion surrounding them fades, people’s fervor for change wanes as well. This is especially true with allies who are not directly linked to the cause.
“Fatigue and frustration at the relatively slow pace of change to a growing backlash on the right against efforts to call out systemic racism and white privilege — has led to a decline in white support for the Black Lives Matter movement since last spring, when white support for social justice was at its peak,” US News reports about the Black Lives Matter movement.
Cannick believes this is the same for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. She says Americans allow the media to dictate how it behaves and responds to issues. Thus, when stories “fall out of our media cycles … they fall out of our memories.”
“I think that’s not going to change, and that’s a psychological thing, until we learn how to not let the media necessarily dictate our issues,” says Cannick.
She suggests that individuals remain plugged into their communities by “doing anything to make sure they keep up with an issue” including following the “right people” on social media and setting up Google alerts for any breaking news.
Santiago also echoes Cannick’s sentiments.
“We wait until something happens before we do something. And, I don’t want to be retroactive; I want to be proactive. I want people to see me when things are going well [and when they’re not going well],” says Santiago.
Upon returning to his home in Atlanta after the D.C. protests, Santiago contacted a billboard installation company and paid for a billboard labelled, “Black Trans Lives Matter” to be displayed on University Avenue near downtown Atlanta. He says that the billboards got attention and helped to spread much-needed awareness. Following this success, he is now in the process of installing a new billboard labelled, “Black, Trans and Visible. My life Matters.”
“Unless you’re in people’s faces or something drastic happens, people forget. Unless you’re living it, people forget,” says Santiago.
As time progresses, both Santiago and Cannick nest hope for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. However, this hope can only persist when crucial steps are taken to ensure Black trans individuals around the country are protected, most importantly through legislation.
The New York Times reports there are close to 1,000 elected LGBTQ officials in the U.S., with at least one in each state except Mississippi.
“We need to have more legislation. We need more voices in power like the council Biden has right now,” says Santiago.
“You know that [Biden] has a lot of trans people and Black trans people [involved], and a part of that’s a positive step in the right direction, but we need that times 10,” says Santiago.
He believes that political representation should extend to local governance where ordinary Black trans individuals can be trained to assume leadership roles.
Cannick’s focus is on the Black community.
“[Trans women] are usually murdered by Black men. If we ever expect that to change, we need to start talking about that,” says Cannick.
She’s open to having conversations that put people, including her as a cis-identifying woman, in uncomfortable and awkward spaces.
She hosts a podcast titled “Str8 No Chaser” and recently aired an episode, “Why Are Black Men Killing Trans Women,” where she discussed with three Black trans women about the gender and sexuality dynamics within the Black community and their perils.
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