I say, Chaps: Happy 6th of September

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“I could hear the sighs and gasps in the quiet courtroom. I was grasping each and every word as it kept getting better, from one judgement to the other. In my head I was doing somersaults. I was elated and relieved. I could have kissed everyone in Court that day, I was so happy. The verdict was delivered with such beauty and purity that it made all the struggle worth it.”
—Keshav Suri, while recollecting his thoughts from the judgement day for Saurabh Kirpal’s book Sex and the Supreme Court

I came out to my mother several Septembers ago. In the beginning, like all mothers, her constant dilemma was if I would be lonely, or if I would ever find a companion or get married (the usual!). However, two Septembers back, when the Supreme Court of India struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, she was the happiest for me.

It has been a journey for her too, from harbouring fears to dancing along with me at my wedding in Goa where I even dressed in drag, I can only say the journey has been beautiful.

When the verdict was out two years ago, it gave us a sense of liberation. Like we could finally breathe. We could come out of the closet, sans fear. Till date, when I think of the day, I have goosebumps. It gave courage to a lot of people to come out to themselves.

Keshav with his mom, Jyotsna Suri

Breathe easy

I think a crucial thing for a queer person is to choose to come out to themselves, the process of coming out is very individual and one only figures it out once one chooses to embark on that journey. But I also do know it can be very challenging dealing with all of that in your head alone. There are times when things do not make sense and that is totally understandable.

What is important through this process is that one should not be hesitant in seeking help. My foundation (Keshav Suri Foundation), for instance, has been providing free of cost mental health services to the LGBTQIA+ community virtually.

The last I checked with the mental health consultants who are on board and working tirelessly to be there for young and old queer folks told me that fear of losing jobs, anxiety and depression have gone up alarmingly, post April 2020 within the community.

Move beyond tokenism

We had been dreaming of the big day since 2013 when the Supreme Court reversed the 2009 Delhi High Court order. To be ‘caged again’, after those four years of freedom, was difficult. However, with the September 2018 verdict, we knew it was the final nail in the coffin, and we need not live in fear anymore.

Two years hence, it is not only the judgment that needs discussion. We need to speak more about the future and fight for equity with equality for the LGBTQIA+ community. Would you give the same ladder to everyone irrespective of how tall they were, or would you provide ladders of different heights so that everyone stood tall together? Food for thought.

The reading down of Section 377 on September 6, 2018, was only a small step, and a lot more needs to be achieved for the LGBTQIA+ community, which is deprived of many fundamental rights that are almost always intersectional and can’t be looked at from the same lens. Some issues that we should voice our opinions on are insurance and workplace equality, health care and mental health services, housing, marriage equality and right of adoption, to name just a few.

More importantly, the community needs acceptance in the public court. Society as a whole needs to embrace the community and treat us as equals. I want to read headlines, which go beyond: ‘the first transgender person to do this or first gay chairperson to do that.’

It is essential to provide equal employment opportunities, and create gender-inclusive workplaces. I think my dear friend’s Parmesh Shahani’s latest book; Queeristan, chronicles all of this and more.

We, at The Lalit, have been at the forefront of gender diversity for a very long time now. I am pleased to see today that a lot of corporates are forthcoming with affirmative steps towards inclusion. Godrej, Tata Steel, and FICCI are just some of the organisations where the LGBTQIA+ community is being represented.

In fact, FICCI is the first industry body in India to have a committee on diversity and inclusion with a specific focus on the LGBTQIA+ community. However, we have just begun to scratch the surface. We need changes at the policy level, education and acceptance in the mainstream.

Public perception is changing slowly. More web-streaming shows with LGBTQIA+ characters are now available for consumption both globally as well as in the Indian context. Which is bringing queer characters in heteronormative environments that are further questioning and asking families what is really normal?

Hindustantimes

Going forward…

We also need to recall the 2014 NALSA judgment, which focused on transgender people but a good question would be to check if 2020 India trans-inclusive? As a matter of fact, transpersons remain one of the most marginalized folks even in the LGBTQIA+ community.

The basic understanding of terminologies and pronouns are missing from the larger narrative. For example, most people don’t know the difference between an intersex person and a transgender person. I can cite many similar examples and that will just begin to show the awareness and integration that the community has with respect to the country as a whole.

Today, my mother feels elated looking at me and my happily ever after story with my dear husband. We dated for 10 years before he popped the question, and even though we have had our fair share of drama and break-ups I’m just happy that I’ve the privilege to wake up next to him every day. Thanks to this lockdown, it has indeed taught us that we can live with each other come what may! I wish and pray for the same kind of freedom for each and every queer person.

To conclude, I just have three things to tell everyone, and not just to my community.

> Firstly, everyone’s acceptance might not come as easy, and that is not the be all and end-all.

> Second, don’t put so much pressure on yourself – hang in there, find your tribe and build your queer family.

> And lastly, keep evolving every day because empathy, love and understanding goes beyond sexuality, caste, class or religion!

Most importantly, stay queer and keep spreading your pixie dust and happy 6th of September to you all!

Keshav Suri is the Executive director of The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group. He spoke to Shruti Nair.

I Say, Chaps is an occasional guest columnthat allows passionate, creative people to have a platform to have their say

From HT Brunch, September 6, 2020

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