“GAY RIGHTS CANNOT BE WON IN THE COURT ROOMS BUT IN THE HEARTS OF THE SOCIETY”: MANVENDRASINGH GOHIL

Posted: October 30, 2011 in Interview, The NamoLeague Times
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• How has the repeal of Article 377 empowered the homosexuals?
I would like you to know that this Indian law was not known to many people, including those of the gay community. The fact is that in our country, religion plays a very important role. People were not aware about this law that criminalized homosexuality. They thought it is a sin, offense, crime etc. just because the society perceived it in that manner. And the society perceived it based on religion and the mindsets of the people in general. But since this law was decriminalized, most of the people came to know that this law once existed. After the court decision came, the amount of publicity generated by the media was widespread. It created a controversy, debates and discussions. This entire media publicity actually helped in mainstreaming homosexuality in the society. So, it was not about the law being decriminalized, but the publicity that created a lot of sensitization and empowerment in the community. One of my favorite quotes is that “Gay Rights cannot be won in the court rooms but in the hearts of the society.” See, I am very honest about my opinions. How many people in India follow the laws? Laws are made to be broken in our country. People don’t care much about the laws, what decisions the courts have made or what the parliament decides. If the mindset of the people is anti-homosexuality, then it does not make a difference if the High Court or the Supreme Court defies it. This decriminalization has definitely paved our way at Lakshya, my organization that works for HIV Prevention because this act was a serious obstacle towards HIV control in India. This law was being misused rather than being used. There are examples where my staff has been arrested by the Police. The irony is that they work for the Government of Gujarat, being paid salaries by the Govt. for distributing condoms for safe sex practices. The Police arrested them stating that it is against Section 377. We are here to save lives and the Police said we were violating the laws by encouraging homosexuality. So now that the law has been repealed, we do not have to face Police harassment. And we can now improve our strategies. In Gujarat, wherever we work, our HIV rates have fallen down and stabilized. Now there is no fear. 

• What is the role of media when it comes to homosexuality?

I must say that over the years, media has definitely changed its viewpoints. Earlier it used to give negative reports on homosexuality calling it abnormal and unnatural. This was the case especially with the vernacular newspapers. But my own coming out story actually broke the history of India, because I came out in a Gujarati newspaper in a Hindu fundamentalist state. It openly talked about homosexuality and not only that but it also brought out a very positive aspect of homosexuality. So, I think, this itself was a breaking news as for the first time in the history of India, a vernacular newspaper carried a positive story on homosexuality. This was a change in the role of media, after which other vernacular media also followed suit. In fact, through our organization, we follow one of the strategies called ‘Media Advocacy’, where the Government provides us with a budget. We are supposed to sensitize the media. We talk to them and clear their doubts on homosexuality. We seek their cooperation and support to bring out positive stories based on serious issues. This will help us in the long run not only in clearing the misconceptions about homosexuality but it will also make things easier for HIV control. So, I think, media has been sensitized but still a lot needs to be done. It is a continuous process as the people in the media keep changing! We cannot have the same set of people.

• What do you think about homosexuality being linked with religion, especially in India?

After I came out, a lot of people from the upper class came and confided in me. These include industrialists, business tycoons, political leaders, religious leaders, Government officers, people from royal families of India and abroad… if I start making a list, it would be a big directory! People actually write to me and correspond with me, they say ‘We wish we had guts like to you to come out, but we cannot. But we confide to you that we are gay and we fully support your cause. So when religious leaders say that homosexuality doesn’t exist, I know how many of they themselves are gays! You name the religion and the sect, I know each and every person from that particular sect who is gay! If I open my mouth and leak out the names, people will lose faith in religion. But I don’t want to do that, I have no right to do that. When a person has confided with me, I should maintain their trust. But I surely have a laugh when I see the religious leaders opposing us and they went to the Supreme Court. What is happening in the Supreme Court concerning our appeal is also very interesting. Though India is a secular country, majority of us are Hindus. Inspite of that, if you look at the petition that has been filed in the Supreme Court against the repeal of Section 377, out of the total 16 petitioners, there are just 2 Hindus. Others include 7 Christians and 7 Muslims. Now tell me, where is the proportion? If Hindus are majority in India, there should have been more Hindu petitioners. Why the Muslims and the Christians are more? This makes it very clear that Hinduism doesn’t have anything on record or any evidence to show that it is against homosexuality. We have Shikhandi in Mahabharata who was gay. Also, we have a several gay characters in Ramayana, Mahabharata and other Indian epics. We have this concept of Ardhnareshwari (Half Shiva and half Parvati). We have gay Gods and lesbian Goddesses in our Hindu mythology. Then where is the question of Hinduism being against homosexuality? Yes, Islam and Christianity are very clear – both the Quran and the Bible – say that homosexuality is a crime. And this is very apparent by the fact that the Supreme Court has majority of Muslim and Christian petitioners. I’ll give you another example of Nepal, which is just our bordering country. Nepal Supreme Court has legalized same sex marriages. It is not a secular country; it used to be a Hindu kingdom. I got a letter from the Minister of Tourism of Nepal saying ‘If you have any of your friends who want to get married, send them to Nepal. The Government of Nepal will ensure that they get married in the Hindu temple, by a Hindu priest; we’ll offer them a marriage certificate and send them to Mt. Everest for honeymoon! So, Nepal being a Hindu country has no Muslim and Christian population to protest against homosexuality. Also, they were never ruled by the Britishers, so they did not have a law that was criminalizing homosexuality. This is very nearby example! And Nepal is doing the right thing by promoting gay tourism. A debt-ridden economy like Nepal is going to earn a lot of foreign exchange by inviting gay and lesbian couples to come and marry. Of course, Nepal is worse than India when it comes to economy, but India has a lot to learn from Nepal. India has vast destinations, many geographical locations to offer, while Nepal has only snow. If India wants to encash upon this opportunity, it can earn crores of rupees as foreign exchange by promoting gay tourism.

• The fear of losing social acceptance is one big hindrance in coming out. So, what can be done to gain the support of the society?

To gain social acceptance for anything, one has to strive hard to sensitize the society. We need to bring out the facts, create awareness and clear the misconceptions. I’ll tell you, even when I came out, the initial reactions of some of the people were that they burnt my effigies. Even at that time, I had just one simple media comment. I said, “I don’t blame them. I would have done the same thing if I were at their place. What I blame is their ignorance.” Why should I blame them, because they are not even aware what it is to be a gay or to be homosexual? It is our duty to educate them. As and when I have educated them, media has supported me and people have changed their minds and behavior. So, this is the only solution – education, awareness – whether it is about homosexuality, HIV-AIDS or any other social practice.

• Many young Indians are still in the closet, waiting to come out as homosexuals. What advice do you give to them?

See, there are two aspects of ‘coming out’. The first one is coming out to your own self. This should be the first and foremost thing, as many people are still fighting to come out to themselves because of some or the other fears. My advice to them is that being gay is something very natural and normal. As it is to be straight, it is to be gay. It is just a question of one’s preference or orientation of being attracted to the same sex or the opposite sex. So one should feel proud rather than to have a guilt feeling. And come out to yourself first. And then, in case they wish to come out to their close friends, family or relatives, that is a very personal or secondary choice.

• What is your message to the society?

My message is very clear and simple. We are human beings; treat us with equality, respect and dignity. The way we respect the other people in the world, the same way we expect respect from others.

Read original article at: http://epaper.namoleague.com/EpaperArticle.aspx?title=Gay%20Rights%20Cannot%20Be%20Won%20In%20The%20Court%20Rooms%20But%20In%20The%20Hearts%20Of%20The%20Society%20Manvendrasingh%20Gohil_657

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