Anti-Gay India Ruling Sparks San Fran Protests
South Asian LGBTs and their allies protested in San Francisco after the Supreme Court in India reinstated a colonial-era anti-gay sodomy law.
The 1861 law was ruled unconstitutional in a 2009 decision. But the Supreme Court said in its December 11 ruling that only Parliament could change that law, known as Section 377 for its place in the country’s penal code. Violators face up to 10 years in prison and a fine if caught.
The decision shocked LGBT rights advocates and their supporters around the world.
"It’s horrifying and despicable, but unfortunately it’s not surprising," said gay San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener. "As many strides that we’ve made in the U.S. and in other countries, this is a reminder that we have so much work left to do for a huge portion of the world’s population for LGBT civil rights."
Despite the court ruling, a San Francisco-based LGBT agency that works to end discrimination in the business community is planning a trip to India soon.
Out and Equal Workplace Advocates, which has a private event scheduled in San Francisco’s sister city, Bangalore, India next month, is closely watching developments related to the court’s decision, said Teddy Basham-Witherington, the organization’s chief marketing officer.
The San Francisco Bay Area is home to an estimated 244,493 Indian Americans, the San Jose Mercury News reported in 2011, many of whom are Desi queers, those of Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi birth who live abroad. It is also the home of the oldest South Asian LGBT organization, Trikone. Over the weekend, Trikone leaders called for two rallies.
About 60 South Asian LGBTs and allies held a candlelight vigil outside of the Indian Consulate in the Inner Richmond neighborhood December 13 holding signs reading, "Love is not a crime." Another group of nearly 30 LGBT Desis showed up in the Castro Sunday night, December 15, rallying in solidarity with Day of Outrage protests around the world against the India Supreme Court’s decision.
"We want the consulate and the Indian government to recognize that there is a significant population here that has been affected by the Supreme Court decision, that we are important and that we deserve equality," said Monica Davis, advocacy director of Trikone, which is working in solidarity with 10 other U.S.-based South Asian groups and with sister organizations in India.
She and others protesting outside the consulate believed that the court’s decision was a "huge step backwards," and made the LGBT community in India vulnerable to discrimination and harassment.
"[It] essentially criminalized their ability to exist in the public," said Davis, an out bisexual woman.
"It’s time for us to show up, be out, and be here in solidarity with what is happening in India," said Harsha Mallajosyula, a gay man and former board member of Trikone.
Speaking with activists back in India, he said they are in "shock" and "despair" about the court’s decision.
"They are very disappointed in their supreme court and the judicial system failing them and not treating them like first-class citizens of the country," he said.