Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Argument

India's social and physical landscape continues to weave cultures and sub-cultures. It is the world's largest democracy and quite remarkably, a world within a world - always in a state of flux. In this land of changing perceptions, the social understanding of human sexuality too has seen marked shifts from pre-colonial era to the present. During the pre-colonial times, homosexual acts and relationships were not just tolerated but also tastefully depicted and discussed. Today, they are being frowned upon and tagged as illegal thanks to a Victorian piece of legislation: the Sec. 377 of the IPC.

I have always wondered how long before the country once again recognizes, acknowledges and legalizes same-sex bonding between consenting adults. While the Delhi HC is currently deliberating the appeal for the "reading down" of this draconian law, V. Doctor, a noted journalist and gay rights activist, shares his knowledge of the legal tangle and the implications of either/or verdict for queer individuals in the country.

Here's the excerpt.

"1. When should we expect the verdict of the High Court (HC)?

Any day now. We don’t know for sure because the HC will only let us know the day before that they are posting a decision. So it depends on how long the judges take to do their decision. The arguments have been thorough, this is quite a high profile case and the judges are known to be independent and conscientious, so a decision should be due soon. But we don’t know when.

2. If it is positive and welcomes the requests of the associations what effects will it have?

Strictly speaking the decision, whatever it is, will be a limited one - it will be limited to the state of Delhi, and will probably also be limited in time too, because it will almost definitely be appealed to the Supreme Court (SC) for a final decision. If it is positive then our opponents who include an AIDS denial group and a right wing nationalist, possibly supported by Home Ministry, will almost definitely appeal it to the SC, which could apply a stay order. If it is negative, the queer rights groups could appeal it (but we haven’t really got a firm strategy for this yet).

But this is technical. If we win it will be a really big symbolic win, because it will be the first time a really high court in India is pronouncing on the subject of homosexuality. Also, among the HCs in India, the decisions of the Delhi, Bombay and Chennai HCs are often given particular importance because they are particularly well respected courts. The decision will probably not be binding on other courts, but it will send a strong signal to the legal community on the direction that queer rights in India should take.

We already have evidence of how this case is affecting the law, even before it is decided. About a year or two ago, a young man called D. Hope was accused of violating this law in Goa. The HC of Goa gave him bail on the grounds that the fact that this case was being fought showed that attitudes towards homosexuality are changing in India.

3. Will the crime of homosexuality as stated in article 377 be abolished in all of India?

As I stated, no. The decision will be limited to Delhi, but its effect will be felt across India. Also, I should make it clear we are not asking for Sec. 377 to go, but are only asking for a very narrow change - we are asking to courts to declare that it does not apply to consenting adults. This is because the law still has use in cases of child sex abuse and male rape. Ideally there should be a new law to deal with these, but in its absence we hope the courts will use their power to exclude consenting adults from this law.

4. How do you think the majority of the Indian population feels about lgbt people’s civil rights?

I don’t think the majority of India’s population feels anything about LGBT people, positive or negative. I think there is less overt homophobia here than in Europe and certainly the US, though that doesn’t necessarily translate into automatic acceptance.

Part of the homophobia is simply due to less visibility and understanding of homosexuality - so once that increases, there will be more homophobia. There is awareness of forms of alternate sexuality that have long been part of Indian society, like the hijra community. There is acceptance of this, but it comes with very definite prejudices some of which are extended to the gay community.

In some cases we have leapfrogged a bit, so elite groups, for example, like those in Bollywood or the media, are often gay friendly because they’ve picked it up from abroad. But its a form of acceptance that comes with its own stereotypes that can be a problem. Also, there is a general fear of people being too open - you often hear parents telling their kids that they are OK with them being gay, but they don’t want them to march on the streets for it.

I think there is some truth in that Indian society tends to be fairly tolerant, though its easy to make too much of this. But homophobia in its formalized form is a Western imposition on Indian society in the form of Sec. 377, and I do think, optimistically, that once it goes, progress in India will be rapid."


[via Puta: visit the website to read the complete interview. Interview by M. Cecconi and Translations by M. Cioni and T. Kutinjac]. Emphasis added by the author.

Although V. Doctor provides a valuable insight, I am not convinced by his claim that increased visibility increases homophobia in society. His is an overly simplistic argument and one that describes visibility as a monolithic representation of sexuality, negative enough to induce fear and disgust in society (More on this to follow).

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


It's great to see Merriam-Webster, one of the oldest dictionaries, carry an inclusive definition of "marriage." It reads, "mar.riage 1 a (1) : the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law (2): the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage <same-sex marriage> b: (...)"

Not just this, Boston based Houghton-Mifflin, publisher of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, had made changes to its definition of marriage way back in the year 2000. This month, the editors of the Oxford Dictionary too proposed to update the meaning of the word marriage to "the condition of being a husband or wife; the relation between persons married to each other; matrimony" (via NYdaily news).

Are people reading enough these days?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sexuality and Scholarship

It was extremely encouraging to be part of a workshop entitled, "Queer in the Academy" this afternoon. It centered on an interesting discussion with a panel of distinguished faculty willing to share their personal stories on intersections of their LGBT identities and their identities as scholars/faculty in the academy. The panel comprised four academics, one each from Classics and Law Studies, Astronomy, Sociology and Public Health.

The workshop asked the following questions: Will your chosen academic field afford you the opportunity to be “out?” Does your scholarly work intersect with one or more of your own identities? How do you manage tenure-track work while establishing an LGBT community? Understandably, none of these questions had "straight" answers. They arguably raised more questions and provided each one of us with additional food for thought. Nevertheless, here is the (near) survival mantra:

When applying for academic jobs or post-doc research positions, it may help to familiarize oneself with the non-discrimination policies of the University around sexual orientation and gender identity. Additionally, guidance from your academic mentor in your specific field/program/department can prove to be extremely helpful when searching for available peer support in academic institutions of interest. As for the cover letter and/or CV, if your work is not directly linked with research on gender identity, gender expression and/or sexual orientation, then observe some restraint in writing without necessarily censoring language and/or use of proper-nouns. This is tricky! It needs to weigh in both personal choice and the specifics of the academic job that you are applying for. If you wish to be "out" at the onset, you may craft your cover letter to include details that add to the breadth of your teaching and learning experience. If not, you may wish to speak with academic friends or faculty who have known you in different capacities and can guide you through the process. On a different note, individuals with partners may also want to consider same-sex partnership benefits and in some cases, adoption rules in that particular State before applying.

Once you get the job, the next challenge is whether or not to be "out" to your students. Again, this depends on your area of research and your own choice and self-formed rules of navigation. There are those who prefer to make no direct references to sexual orientation during their discussions with students. This is to primarily avoid making students uncomfortable in unanticipated ways. And then there are those, for whom the need may be to put their sexual orientation on the back-burner, just because their research scholarship speaks volumes of their sexual and/or gender identity. At the end of the day, as an academic if the decision is taken on the side of the students, it may go a long way in easing the painful dilemma. As for peer faculty - again, you have to self-select. If you are not comfortable being "out" at the onset, then take your time and win their confidence with your work and investment in the academic program first.

It may be helpful to know that academic institutions may not be hostile, but then they might not be completely transparent either. Hence, think of this challenge in this way: Do we necessarily discuss our political orientation with students in class? If yes, then how? If no, then why? It is a tough battle, and as one of the panellists said, "acts of translation is an ongoing process and in part, the objective of education is to learn how to deal with discomfort."


Monday, March 9, 2009

Touching and Emotional

Dustin Lance Black's touching and emotional speech at the 2009 Oscars:

Oh my God. This was, um, this was not an easy film to make. First off, I have to thank Cleve Jones and Anne Kronenberg and all the real-life people who shared their stories with me. And, um, Gus Van Sant, Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, James Franco and our entire cast, my producers Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen, everyone at Groundswell and Focus for taking on the challenge of telling this life-saving story. When I was 13 years old, my beautiful mother and my father moved me from a conservative Mormon home in San Antonio, Texas to California, and I heard the story of Harvey Milk. And it gave me hope. It gave me the hope to live my life. It gave me the hope one day I could live my life openly as who I am and then maybe even I could even fall in love and one day get married.

I want to thank my mom, who has always loved me for who I am even when there was pressure not to. But most of all, if Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he’d want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are less than by their churches, by the government or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally, across this great nation of ours. Thank you. Thank you. And thank you, God, for giving us Harvey Milk.

Emphasis added.
[via UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television Accolade] Click the embedded link to read the post-award interview with Dustin Lance Black in the Oscar Pressroom. Black won the Best Original Screenplay award for MILK at the 81st Annual Academy Awards, 2009.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

And the Movement Continues...

"I have always considered myself part of a movement, part of a candidacy..." - Harvey Milk

I am proud to have pledged my support for Harvey Milk. This was November 27, 2008 and there were 1,935 co-supporters then. Today, the group has become bigger. The total number of supporters equal 6,471. This is not just about numbers. It is about strength, about solidarity and most importantly about the vision of Harvey Bernard Milk, which has empowered and given me yet another reason to continue the fight.

Speaking of vision and empowerment, Alex Hillman, in his popular blog, has brilliantly put-together Milk's technique for effective community organization and action. His post entitled, "A Roadmap for Community Organization and Mobilization - Harvey Milk" (2008) enlists the 4 step-process, in cycles, to initiate and make things happen.

1 - Inspire
Harvey’s first step was to take a step at all. Given his groundbreaking goals, making any forward motion was inspiring in itself. He failed at being elected to office, and he failed more than once. His persistence and attitude attracted like-minded movers and shakers. Some of those movers and shakers came with momentum of their own. Others were movers and shakers with potential. Harvey wasn’t discriminating towards either. Anne Kronenberg had prior campaign experience, and was an organizer herself. Others, like Cleve Jones, had less experience with formal community mobilization but Harvey knew that he had potential, and more importantly, knew how and when to put Cleve in opportunities to show that potential.

As a community organizer, your first move to action is to not be alone. Inspire those around you, and gain some critical mass. From that critical mass, identify new blood to continue recruitment and spreading of the message.

The continuing steps are Motivate, Organize and Mobilize. To read the entire story, click "A Roadmap for Community Organization and Mobilization - Harvey Milk" by A. Hillman. Alex is an entrepreneur with interest in technology and its interactive use. To read more: Alex Hillman writes here.

Additional links:
1. Time 100 Hereos Profile: Harvey Milk.
2. Award-winning Documentary on Hulu: The Times of Harvey Milk (1984).
3. My previous stories on the 2008 film, MILK: a. MILK is good for you b. Invitation and c. Bravo.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Let's talk about SEX

Source: Bottom Monologues Project

I am thrilled to read of yet another accomplishment of my blogpal and fellow A2ite, Trevor Hoppe. I would like to describe Trevor as a radical LGBT activist and researcher, working in the realm of gay men’s health and sexual behavior.

What's special is that his work has been featured in this month’s Guide Magazine. The story, entitled “The bottom monologues” introduces Trevor’s multi-work and discusses in particular his most recent online project by the same name - on stories about gay, bi-, or trans- bottoms, to be part of a future performance. “The stories included in The Bottom Monologues are about creating a method for discussion that’s fun and exciting and able to reach a number of people who might not otherwise be open to frank discussions of sexuality.” (Hoppe T. in Amico, M., Guide, March 09). At the bottom of it all, Trevor wants gays to talk honestly about their sex choices.

Congratulations, Trevor!
Trevor’s weblog is as interesting space for both intellectual and intoxicating encounters! Read this story and more at - Guide Magazine Feature of My Work!

About This Blog

This blog is built around what I refer to as the socio-sexual debate, meaning the simultaneously coexisting conditions of human society and human sexuality in a constant state of inner conflict and pressing debate. To read more, click here.

Opinion Matters

"There is a way of discussing sexuality without using labels" (Mika* in an interview with Shana Naomi Krochmal, OUT, 2008-01-28).

*Mika is a London-based singer-songwriter.

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