LGBTQ Indians gain acceptance, but politics lags behind

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By Creative Media News

  • Madhu Bai, India’s first transgender mayor, retires from politics
  • LGBTQ political representation remains low despite growing acceptance
  • Activists push for more inclusion and legal protections

Madhu Bai describes herself as a kaleidoscope. She emerged from a storm, briefly disseminated joy, and was subsequently reborn in the heavens.

In 2015, the 44-year-old achieved a significant milestone by becoming the first transgender individual to be elected mayor in India. She emerged victorious in Raigarh, a diminutive hamlet in Chhattisgarh’s central state.

However, upon the conclusion of her tenure in 2020, Madhu resumed her previous lifestyle, which was devoid of government benefits and pensions. She performs dances and sings with other hijras, or trans women, at weddings and birth ceremonies, a popular form of employment within India’s transgender community.

Madhu has no intention of returning to politics. She is fatigued and believes that the situation is excessively divisive.

I fought, triumphed, and worked for the people. I now desire to live for myself.

Madhu’s brief but successful political career in India is an anomaly in a field where the LGBTQ community remains significantly underrepresented.

Activists find it perplexing that in a democracy where the community has achieved numerous victories and where acceptance of sexual and gender diversity has been on the rise, this is the case.

In 2014, the Supreme Court formally acknowledged the rights of transgender individuals to welfare and other government benefits. Four years later, it repealed a colonial-era prohibition on homosexuality.

According to a Pew survey, more than half of Indian adults now advocate for the legalization of same-sex marriage.

However, LGBTQ Indians cannot solely depend on the courts to effect change, as evidenced by the Supreme Court’s rejection of same-sex unions last year.

The judiciary declared that politicians were responsible for amending the law, not the justice system.

According to campaigners, LGBTQ politicians are the most effective advocates for their communities. However, no major political party has fielded a single overtly LGBTQ candidate in this year’s general election.

Anish Gawande, the founder of Pink List India, the nation’s inaugural archive of politicians who advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, asserts that “Queer individuals have been excluded from political discourse for an extended period.”

They were unable to construct the requisite structures to advocate for their demands.

Madhu is the most knowledgeable about this. She asserts that the scorn and contempt of her opponents were more difficult to surmount than the process of attracting voters, who immediately identified with her.
She encountered difficulty obtaining a party ballot after spending days canvassing neighborhoods with her friends to raise funds for the campaign.

Indian elections are costly, and competing independently without political funding is even higher. However, after being rejected by the two primary political parties, she was left with no alternative.

She believed that leaders would regard her as a serious contender with her victory. They did not.

She claims that members of numerous political parties withdrew from her initial meeting and that a local authority threatened to strike her because he found her dance videos offensive. At the outset, Madhu also expressed uncertainty regarding her ability to use the women’s washroom in the presence of party workers.

She claims my colleagues harbored animosity towards my innards, even though individuals appreciated my work and me. They all thought the same thing behind the ridicule and abuse: “How could a hijra be the mayor?”

The government’s estimate of India’s LGBTQ population is the sole official data: 2.5 million. However, surveys indicate that the actual figure may exceed 135 million.

Campaigners assert that circumstances have evolved since Madhu’s election.

Indians are more likely to know an LGBTQ individual than a few years ago. Even some politicians who were previously suspicious of the subject are now forming alliances and promising additional rights.

Harish Iyer, one of India’s first openly homosexual individuals to be involved with a political party, asserts that political parties in India are gradually emerging from the closet and discussing LGBTQ rights more prominently.

Mr. Iyer also notes that there is a growing momentum among the youth, who, he asserts, are eager to “eliminate homophobia permanently.”

The election campaign of this year is being conducted months after the Supreme Court decided to prohibit same-sex unions.

Even though three opposition parties have pledged to recognize same-sex couples legally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is expected to secure a historic third term, has not done so.

Mr. Gawande remains adamant that LGBTQ rights are a current that Indian politics cannot ignore, despite this. He asserts that the community’s social and cultural capital is “substantially greater than its numerical strength.”

He anticipates success in the near future in affirmative action for transgender individuals, access to healthcare, and relationship recognition.

Some of these conflicts may not garner significant media attention, particularly those that affect impoverished individuals who are at risk of being excluded from political, educational, and employment opportunities.
According to Grace Banu, a Dalit (formerly untouchable) trans woman activist from the southern state of Tamil Nadu, “LGBTQ struggles must be viewed through the lens of caste privilege.”

She claims that she initially encountered discrimination due to her caste and subsequently due to her gender, as she was born into an impoverished family.

At fourteen years of age, she was prohibited from attending classes and was compelled to remain beneath a tree as a consequence of her sexual orientation. Her parents placed her in a psychiatric hospital to “cure” her illness when she refused.

“I would tell myself this cannot be my fate,” she said. One day, I fled to determine my destiny.

Currently, Ms. Banu is a software engineer and the first transgender woman to earn an engineering degree in her state. She identifies as a mother to twelve transgender women.

She resides in Chennai with three trans women involved in the anti-caste and trans rights movement.

Sprawled throughout the living room, they engage in animated discussions regarding their lives, exploring a variety of subjects. In one moment, they are involved in a conversation regarding their forthcoming court case, and in the next, they are contemplating their lunch options.

“The transgender, or LGBTQ identity, is not a monolith,” Ms. Banu asserts as her companions engage in kitchen activities, occasionally disrupting the tranquility of the afternoon.

The 44-year-old recently submitted a petition to an Indian court to establish “horizontal reservations,” which are essentially distinct quotas for transgender individuals in government employment within the existing quotas for historically disadvantaged communities.

Ms. Banu emphasizes that the experience of being transgender is highly variable across caste and class boundaries. She asserts that her advocacy prioritizes the most marginalized.

Apsara Reddy, a trans woman and spokesperson of AIADMK, one of Tamil Nadu’s primary political parties, resides in an upscale condominium along the sea at the opposite end of Chennai.

Ms. Reddy, a former journalist with degrees from the UK and Australia, lives a life of luxury. She accumulates art, drives a shiny silver Jaguar, and wears the finest silk saris.

Ms. Reddy recognizes her privilege but asserts that “in politics, it is necessary to consider the broader context.” More than serving as the sole representative of one’s community is required.

“Unlock your financial potential with free Webull shares in the UK.”

Ms. Reddy has not yet entered an election; however, she is adamant that she will not be stereotyped as her party’s “LGBT flagbearer” if she does.
If you wish to evaluate me, do so based on my potential as a policymaker rather than my gender identity.

Ms. Reddy is among the few individuals in the LGBTQ community who have been able to come out, let alone envision a career in politics, according to activists.

Mr. Gawande contends that the community was never a political priority for an extended period.

He asserts that the court battle for equality made it challenging for them to establish relationships with other marginalized communities as part of a broader struggle for equality.

He now desires that the community concentrate on grassroots political activism, which he believes will increase the visibility of LGBTQ issues.

However, Mr. Iyer thinks the ball is now in the hands of the country’s authorities. We are your family, friends, patrons, and beneficiaries; we are present in every location, yet you have not sought us out. Political parties will respond to our inquiries by conducting an on-site visit.

Madhu reports that it is occasionally difficult to survive in Raigarh. This is due to the absence of a constant salary. However, she is not restricted by the potential obstacles that may await her because of the life she has led.
“Whatever it is, it is certainly not politics,” she declares, her exuberant, sing-song voice erupting in laughter.

However, she aspires for other members of the community to pursue political opportunities to eliminate the perception that homosexual individuals are anomalies.

The nation may witness a rainbow once more.

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