Happy Pride Month! Pride month is celebrated at different times around the world but in several countries, including India, it’s the month of June, commemorating the Stonewall Riots of June 1969 that took place in the United States.
India has a rich history of its fight for LGBTQ+ rights dating back several years. In the present day, the fight continues and several eminent activists in our country have devoted and continue to devote their lives to achieve equality for all. Let’s learn about some of them today:
1. Anjali Gopalan
Human rights activist Anjali Gopalan established the Naz Foundation Trust in 1994, an NGO dedicated to working on HIV/AIDS and sexual health discussions in the country. Among several achievements, The Naz Foundation has been at the forefront of fighting Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, challenging the case as early as 2001. She has helped bring a revolution in the status of sexual minorities in India for many, many years through her work.
Gopalan has received several honours for her social work including being named as one of TIME Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2012 and becoming the first Tamil woman to be given the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur, the highest French order of civil merit.
2. Gauri Sawant
Gauri Sawant became known to the world when she was featured in a 2017 Vicks commercial as a single mother raising a young girl she adopted, which is a story mirroring Gauri’s own life. Born as a boy named Ganesh in Pune, Gauri left her home to find her true identity and spread the message of inclusion and societal change. She identifies as a transgender mother.
In 2000, Gauri founded Sakhi Char Chaughi, a foundation that provides counselling to transgenders in India. In 2014, she became the first transgender person to file a petition in the Supreme Court for child adoption rights for transgender people. Among several other initiatives under the Sai Sawli Trust, she currently works on the Aajicha Ghar project that aims to provide a safe home for abandoned young girls and prevent their fate of entering prostitution.
3. Keshav Suri
Keshav Suri is the executive director of The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group, India’s largest and the fastest-growing privately owned hotel company. A prominent activist and gay man himself, he provided one of the individual petitions to the Supreme Court to knock down Section 377 in 2018 and brought light to the court proceedings at the time.
As a wealthy man and founder of the Keshav Suri Foundation, his primary focus has been to empower the LGBTQ+ community in India professionally and economically. He advocates for queer inclusion in the corporate world, providing opportunities and means of acceptance.
4. Laxmi Narayan Tripathi
A popular figure in India’s transgender community, Laxmi has been the face of inclusivity since the early 2000s. From being the first transgender person to represent Asia Pacific in the UN in 2008 to appearing in season 5 of Bigg Boss, she has used her platform thoroughly to fight for the rights of sexual minorities all around the world.
In 2002, she became president of the DAI Welfare Society, the first registered organization for eunuchs in South Asia. In 2007, she founded Astitva, an organization that promotes the support and development of sexual minorities. She is also a popular Bharatnatyam dancer.
5. Menaka Guruswamy
Famously known as one-half of India’s favourite new power couple, Menaka Guruswamy serves as the senior advocate at the Supreme Court of India. Receiving her law degrees from institutes like the University of Oxford, Harvard Law School and the National Law School of India University, Menaka has been instrumental in several Supreme Court cases; the Section 377 case being one of them, wherein she and a team of lawyers filed for a petition in 2016, resulting in the verdict of decriminalising homosexuality in 2018.
She was named one of TIME Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2019 and has been featured on Forbes India‘s “Women-Power Trailblazers” of 2019.
6. Arundhati Katju
The second half of our favourite couple, Arundhati Katju is an advocate in the Supreme Court of India. She was among the team of lawyers that filed for the Section 377 petition in 2016. She has a law degree from the National Law School of India University in Bangalore and enrolled for the Human Rights Fellowship at Columbia University in New York. Serving as a lawyer in India, Arundhati has been involved in several other significant cases.
Along with her partner Menaka, she was named one of TIME Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2019. Arundhati and Menaka announced their relationship in 2019 citing that the Supreme Court verdict of 2018 was more than just a professional victory.
7. Harish Iyer
The youth’s favourite, Harish Iyer is a columnist and a keen activist that advocates for rights of the queer community, women, animals and survivors of child sexual abuse, using his social media presence to campaign for the causes. He has given several motivational talks where he speaks about various issues from inequality to climate change and has been instrumental in encouraging and inspiring young activists in the country.
In a wholesome story that made news headlines in 2015, Harish’s mother posted a matrimonial ad looking for a husband for her son. His life has inspired two feature films – “I Am” and “Amen”. In 2015, British media outlet The Guardian named Iyer as one of the 100 most influential LGBT people in the world, the only Indian on the list.
8. Akkai Padmashali
An eloquent speaker and gifted singer, Akkai is a well-known transgender activist. She started her activism working for Sangama, an LGBTQ+ rights group in Bangalore that works to protect sex workers and the queer community in Karnataka and Kerala. She later founded the NGO Ondede that advocates the rights of children, women and sexual minorities.
During Barack Obama’s visit to India in 2017, Dr. Akkai Padmashali became the first transgender woman to be invited to be a part of the Town Hall session. She asked the former U.S. president a question on how sectional minorities in India and across the world should fight injustice. Akkai has paved the way for many in her community — being the first transgender person in India with a driving license stating her gender as ‘female’, the first transgender person in Karnataka to register her marriage and she’s the recipient of the prestigious Rajyotsava Prashasti, Karnataka’s second-highest civilian honour.
These are just 8 of the hundreds across the country that have dedicated their lives to fight for queer rights. It’s only fair to shed light on some of these people — their incredible achievements and involvement in society’s progress.
This pride month, we can take some time to learn how we can all help make society more compassionate and inclusive. I encourage everyone to read more about the organizations founded and work done by these activists, understand the various ways the LGBTQ+ community is discriminated against by policies and society, and most importantly, show our empathy and solidarity.
Thank you so much for reading and spread the love!
[Photo Credits: Cover photo, Anjali Gopalan – betterindia.com | Gauri Sawant – yourstory.com | Keshav Suri – dreshare.com | Laxmi Narayan Tripathi – deccanchronicle.com | Menaka Guruswamy – twitter.com/MenakaGuruswamy | Arundhati Katju – time.com | Harish Iyer – instagram.com/iyerharish | Akkai Padmashali – youtube.com/watch?v=6t9gFH5tJAw]