We just concluded the National Coming Out Day on 11 October. This day was instituted in 1988 by two activists Robert Eichberg and Jean O'Leary, chosen because it was on this date in 1987 that the LGBT community organised what’s termed as ‘The Great March’ — in protest of the then US President Ronald Reagan’s inaction towards the AIDS crisis that had gripped America, and also in protest of the Supreme Court verdict that criminalised sodomy.
This is something that is relevant to the Indian context. This little conversation between lawyer and additional solicitor general, PP Malhotra who was defending Section 377 and the honorable jury bench will help you understand the importance of coming out.
“Mr Malhotra, by the way, nothing to do with the case, but do you know any person who is homosexual,” asked the Bench.
“Nobody my lord,” replied Mr Malhotra.
“They are avoiding our court,” joked the Bench. “You don’t know anybody?”
“I must confess my ignorance about modern society,” said Mr Malhotra.
“We appreciate your ignorance,” joked the Bench.
“Those arguing think they belong to a particular class. There is no classification as such,” said the Bench.
Malhotra claimed that he knew no person who was gay. This lead to a few ‘jokes’ by the judges.
After reading this little transcript by journalist Vikram Doctor, I had started mentally preparing myself for a negative judgment. I initiated a campaign back then, called “Chai with Mr Malhotra” as an appeal to LGBTIQ people to start coming out to people who were ignorant.
A year later, on 11 December 2013, my fears came true. Section 377 was back in the statutory books. It was illegal for consenting adults to have non peno-vaginal sex. That’s why I think, coming out is important. So that no one tells the world that they haven’t met anyone (who is gay).
Way back in 1993, Robert Eichberg had said “Most people think they don't know anyone gay or lesbian, and in fact everybody does. It is imperative that we come out and let people know who we are and disabuse them of their fears and stereotypes.".
While it is important to come out for political reasons, not everyone would want to shout from the rooftops that they are LGBTIQ. But come out to themselves, they must.
The most important in this coming out process are our supporters. We are gay people, but we are also people with families, friends, colleagues, relatives, journalists, lawyers and doctors — who are our allies.
This is a good day to thank journalist Barkha Dutt, who came out as an ally on a show, What’s Illegal About Love, your Lordships. Right at the beginning of the show, she said “This is strictly, and I need to disclose my prejudice at the beginning of the programme, an advocacy show, a protest show." Similarly, Arnab Goswami also took a stand, as did Tamanna Inamdar of CNBC Awaaz, who stood undeterred with us. Thank you!
It is also important that we open our minds to the shocking reality of what the LGBTIQ in our country is subjected to. The violence and prejudice some of us are subjected to, from starting our week being tricked by policemen on a Sunday morning at a cruising site, to the end of the week on a Saturday night after partying in a nightclub. You don’t read about ‘them’. Because ‘they’ don’t even make it to the news. Because ‘they’ don’t have allies. ‘They’ don’t have you.
Watch this book promo by Queer Ink, and you will realise that there is no “them” and “they”, there is only “we” and “us”:
Today, I am urging our government to aid in scrapping the atrocious Section 377 from our law books. I am calling for the allies group to be a much, much larger than it already is. I'm calling for more allies to come out.
Our country needs heroes. Things are changing — I will give you that. I am fairly optimistic about the near future. But we will have to fight the prejudice together. If you don’t want to stand up for me, stand up for yourself. You don’t want your children to born in a country that is ridden with hate, do you? There are chances that your children are LGBT. Straight people have gay children. My parents are straight, I assure you. So, the law, my allied friends, demands your interference. This is not to say that without you we will stop fighting. We will continue to fight and we will emerge victorious. But if you choose to fight beside us, this victory will emerge quicker. Be part of a great change.
We are out as your allies every day. We attend heterosexual marriages, that are nothing less than a heterosexual pride parade. We partake in everything. Today, we need you as an ally. More than ever. Come Out. Be a part of a movement that will be marked in our history. Don’t shy away. Join hands, take to the streets!