2016 has been an interesting year– one that most people are happy to see come to an end. We lost some great musicians, artists and leaders. Though I have to say, when I heard about David Bowie’s demise, I concluded that nothing good was going to come out of this year. Overall, it hasn’t been a great year for humanity. Everything from the Orlando shootings, Paris attacks, to the Middle East crisis and well, the USA getting a blatant homophobe as their Vice President has been traumatic. (Why isn’t it 2017, already?).
However, in retrospect, we have to agree, the year had it’s good moments too. The wild tiger population increased for the first time in a hundred years. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that took the social media by storm in the summer of 2015, helped fund a breakthrough in ALS research. The World was given Pokemon Go and Netflix India came into existence. Stranger Things and offline downloads became a bonus for Netflix users across the world. And to top it all off, we were gifted with another Harry Potter book.
It’s that time of the year, when we start to take a long, hard look at our life through the year and think of the resolutions that we definitely won’t keep. So, we began thinking of how this year has been for the LGBTQ community in India. Section 377 still exists. There have been quite a few instances of homophobia and violence. So, yes, we have a really long way to go in terms of acceptance, but that being said, we have seen a lot of milestones being made by members of the community, as well as, the government. We thought it would be a good idea to look back at some of the biggest events of the year– the good, the bad, the whole shebang. So here goes:
4th: Rudrani Chettri, A Trans Rights Activist, Decides To Start India’s First Transgender Modeling Agency.
Rudrani Chettri is the head of the Delhi-based Mitr Trust, an LGBTQ charity that focuses on empowering low-income MSM. Chettri, being someone who loves to click pictures of herself, realised that there might be people from her community who love the camera and wish to be models. So, they decided to set up a modeling agency. They held one round of audition, which was attended by contestants from all over the country. Mitr began raising funds for the project through GoFundMe, but was unable to raise the needed money. We aren’t sure if she plans to continue with the project, and we sure hope she does. Regardless, it was a great initiative, and hopefully this will come to be a reality in the coming years.
6th: India’s First Transgender Rock Band Releases A Cover Of Pharrell’s Happy
India saw the birth of its first trans pop rock band, 6 Pack Band. Ashish Patil, the head of Y films, launched the band. After a long lengthy audition of 200 candidates, they formed a band of six trans women from Mumbai released the song ‘Hum Hain Happy’, a Bollywood inspired cover of Pharrell Williams’ ridiculously catchy 2013 hit ‘Happy’. The band comprises of six trans women from Mumbai, who were selected from 200 candidates following a lengthy audition process. The video begins with a voiceover by Anushka Sharma, where she explains the woes of the transgender community in India. “The third gender. Ignored by most. Tolerated by some. Misunderstood by all,” she accurately explains. Since, they have made several other track such as, Sab Rab De Bande, Hil Pori Hilla, Raula Paye Gaya and Ae Raju.
10th: Bowie, No More
Three days after releasing his 25th studio album, David Bowie succumbed to cancer. He had been battling the disease for almost 18-months and had kept the whole thing private even from his loved ones. His death had been the first high-profile celebrity death this year. He was celebrated for his influence in music, fashion and art. He is also fondly remembered and respected for his gender-bending image re-inventions. The characters that he created for his albums helped redefine what ‘normal’ meant, like Ziggy Stardust, the bisexual alien or Aladdin Sane who was drawn from Bowie’s schizophrenic brother, Terry. He, himself, with his pale, waxy skin, red hair, and the numerous flamboyant outfits, was the epitome of androgyny in the 70s. Even though, or, probably because, his own sexual orientation was pretty much a mystery, considering he went from calling himself gay to becoming bi-sexual and later a closeted heterosexual, he was inspiration to many who felt like they didn’t fit the conventional gender binaries.
20th: India’s LGBTQ Taxi Service Comes Into Existence in Mumbai
The country’s first ever radio taxi service by the LGBT community— ‘Wings Rainbow’—was inaugurated. The initiative was launched as a result of a tie-up between The Humsafar Trust and Wings Travels. Five members of the Humsafar Trust, signed up to become cab drivers . The taxis will start operating next year.
26th: Aligarh, A Biopic Based On Ramchandra Siras, A Gay Professor at Aligarh Muslim University, Was Released
Directed by Hansal Mehta and written by Apurva Asrani, the movie has been critically acclaimed as one of the few Bollywood movies that represent the LGBT community in a more nuanced manner. The movies follows the life court case that took place in 2010, after Ramchandra Silas, a professor at the Aligarh Muslim University was suspended for being gay. The movie received a lot of opposition from members of the Aligarh University, who claimed that the movie was defaming the city and the university. However, the movie was loved and praised for the brilliant performance by its actors and for the subtle, and yet compelling narrative that takes a crack at the inherent homophobia in our country.
14th: Marathi Film, Daaravtha Makes Finds It’s Way To international Festivals
The 2015 Marathi short film Daaravtha (The Threshold) by Nishant Roy Bombarde follows the life of a young boy, on the brink of adolescence, struggling to choose between his own desires and the rules laid down for him by the heteronormative patriarchal society that he is a part of. The movie was critically acclaimed for its beautiful performance and artful direction. This year, the movie found its way to several international festivals including the 4th annual Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles. It was also nominated by KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival for The Iris Prize – Cardiff’s International gay and lesbian short film prize , which is often referred to as the Gay Oscars.
18th: Kapoor & Sons (since 1991) Makes It’s Way To Movie Screens Across India
Kapoor & Sons is what we could call a welcome reprise from the quintessential Bollywood representation of the LGBTQ community, as showcased in Dostana, Student of the Year and Bol Bachchan. The movie is a typical Bollywood family drama, which the Indian audience loves. It has its own share of flaws, but what sets the movie apart is the fact that for the first time the showed us a gay character who isn’t effeminate, who doesn’t love pink, or spends their time grooming themselves, and chasing any man that comes within their line of sight. Instead, they chose to portray a “perfect son” who is reserved, has a great job, dresses up impeccably and at no point is his sexual preference hanging over his head. The big reveal is met by anger and frustration from his mother and who learns to accept the truth over the months. With all its flaws, we have to give credit to this movie, for being one of the first movies to have stepped away from stereotypes and evolved its representation of gay characters.
29th: Sridhar Rangayan Breaking Free wins National Award
Sridhar Rangayan “Breaking Free,” is a feature-length documentary by Indian filmmaker Sridhar Rangayan that focuses on the impact and implications of Sec 377 on the LGBTQ . While the decision to criminalise homosexuality in India has been met with great opposition, it is very rarely that the personal cruelty, which occurs as a result of this colonial rule, is acknowledged. Individuals are often targeted and extorted, and Sridhar hopes to create awareness with his works. The movie which took 7 years to make was premiered at the KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film went on to be showcased at more than 15 international film festivals. It was selected to be part of the government’s prestigious Indian Panorama 2015 and also screened at IFFI, Goa. The movie won the National Award for Best Editing at the 63rd National Awards on this day.
21st: Prince Added To The List Of High-Profile Celebrities Who Died In 2016
In 1984, Prince gave this world ‘Purple Rain’ and with that he became one of the greatest artists of his generation. Over the years, he went on to receive seven Grammy Awards from 32 nominations between 1984 and 2010. Of course, his career as a musician had been set off in 1978 with his album ‘For What’, but it was Purple Rain that bagged him two Grammys and an Oscar. ‘Purple’ the colour of royalty, and that was what Prince was for the music industry. He was one of one the first celebrities to embrace his queer identity. He was androgynous. You would find him strutting on stage in heels or clad in bikini bottoms, and then you would watch Purple Rain, which is a parade of his machismo. One of the first person who showed the world what it meant to be gender fluid, and looked so wonderful doing it, and was admired by anyone who loved music. In his 1984 track “I Would Die 4 U,” Prince croons, “I’m not a woman, I’m not a man/ I am something that you’ll never understand.” He changed his name, showing us that they are all just labels. He straddled so many gender identities, that it was no longer important, and that itself was so important for the LGBTQ community. He was a voice for many who were yet unable to open up about their sexuality and he will forever be remembered as someone who championed for those who refused to conform to the ideals society placed on us.
25th: Founder of Bangladesh’s Only LBT Magazine Hacked To Death
Since February last year, Bangladesh has been forced to bid farewell to some of their brilliant bloggers and activists. On 25th April, the founder of Bangladesh’s only lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) magazine was hacked to death in his apartment. Six people gained access to his home by posing as courier service personnel. The 35-year-old was also working at the US development agency, USAid. The incident took place two days after Rezaul Karim Siddique, 58, an English professor, was hacked to death with machetes as he walked from his home to a bus station in the north-western city of Rajshahi.
26th: Sharmila Nair Launched A Sari Collection Inspired By and For India’s Trans Community.
Sharmila Nair, a fashion designer from Kerala, launched a collection of saris called Mazhavil (meaning Rainbow) through her label, Red Lotus. The collection was dedicated to the transgender people, a section of the society that have constantly faced ridicule and harassment. The idea came to her soon after the Kerala Government declared its policy for the LGBT community—no discrimination on any grounds. She contacted Queerala, an online community of Kerala’s LGBT and sexual minorities, through which she was introduced to Maya and Gowri, who went on to be her models. The collection of brightly coloured saris went on to gather rave reviews.
12th: 49 Killed, 53 Wounded In Orlando Shooting.
One of the most brutal and heartbreaking events that took place this year, which sparked debates on the need for gun control, and most importantly, the homophobia that is still prevalent in today’s world. 29-year-old Omar Mateen, who was the night guard at the popular gay club, Pulse, created a hostage situation and went on to open fire. It was one of the worst mass shootings in US history. Many frequenters at the club later revealed that the shooting could have been triggered by internal homophobia, as he was a regular at the club, and he often used gay dating apps to pick up men. The shooter declared his allegiance to Islamic State, however, investigations revealed that he was bi-polar and aggressive. His ex-wife attested to this by talking about her own personal experience of domestic violence during the time they were together.
5th: Rio Olympics Featured The Most Out-LGBTQ Athletes Ever
In August, a record number of openly LGBT athletes competed in the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. While Human Rights campaign estimates that there are at least 41 openly lesbian, gay and bisexual Olympians — up from 23 that participated in London 2012 — Outsports.com puts that number much higher at 55. Rio 2016 also marked the first time a transgender model participated at the Opening Ceremony with Brazilian model Lea T riding into the Maracana stadium pedaling the bicycle that carried Brazil’s name ahead of the host team marching out. We also saw the rugby player Isadora Cerullo get proposed to, by her girlfriend Marjorie Enya, in front of teammates, volunteers and media.
9th: India Gets Its First Lesbian Web Series
The Other Love Story is a web series that follows the story of two women falling in love at a time when homophobia was still rampant in India. Set in the 90s, the series shows love blooming at a time before Internet and smartphones, leaving the lovers to rely on love letters and landlines to exchange sweet nothings. Roopa Rao, the creator of the show, raised the money for the series by crowd funding through Wishberry. While The Other Love Story is not the first Indian web series that discusses homosexual love in a serious manner, the series is one of the first attempts by mainstream media to step away from portraying lesbianism in the same light as porn.
23rd: Tamil Nadu Opens Up Their Police Force For Trans Candidates
Last year, Prithika Yashini became the country’s first trans woman Sub-Inspector after the Tamil Nadu court ruled in her favour. Soon after, the State’s amended its recruitment rules, allowing third gender personnel to join the force. It was decided that transgender could apply either as male, female or third gender. Those opting for “third gender” would be under the female category for educational qualifications, physical fitness and reservation. 13, 137 transgender police constables were issued appointment. Many who received the call were people who had tried to join the police earlier, but were turned away as there was no provision to accommodate them.
15th: Manipur’s Transgender Model Represents India At Miss International Queen contest, Thailand
The Miss International Queen beauty contest is the world’s largest and most prestigious beauty pageant for transgender women. 27-year-old transgender actress Bishesh Huirem from Manipur was one of the 30 beauties selected from 155 countries.
18th: Tamil, Muslim & Queer: New Webcomic Puu makes waves on Tumblr
Created by 19-year-old illustrator Akshay Varaham, Puu (flower, in Tamil), follows the lives of two roommates, Saboor, an upbeat connoisseur of flowers and Jameel, a grumpy Bharatnatyam dancer. The two live in Chennai and every week we are told their story through four pages of illustrations. You also find the series give space to a lesbian couple, Noor and Alamu. The series is like a breath of fresh air with its far from stereotypical representations. There are hyper-sexualisuality, no over-top drama, no bright colours, or any conventional tropes.
27th: The Story Of The Mother Who Gifted Her Trans Son A Sari Won The Hearts Of Millions Online
32-year-old Kama La Mackerel, struggled to be accepted by her parents after she came out to them. The Montreal-based performer, poet, multi-disciplinary artist, and community organizer, put up a post on Facebook that featured along with a picture of her dressed in a beautiful blue silk sari. The sari was a symbol of her mother’s acceptance of her identity.
7th: Leonard Cohen Passes Away
At the age of 82, the Canadian singer who seamlessly brought together sexuality and spirituality in his songs, passed away. He wrote songs on love, hate, war and peace and sang them in a rich baritone, filled with emotions. He never won a Grammy, but he received several other honours, including being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008.
16th: India’s First Transgender School Comes Up In Kochi
After becoming the first state to adopt a transgender policy, Kerala becomes the first to be home to a residential transgender school, Sahaj International School. The school is all set to be inaugurated on 30th of December. Initially, the school will accommodate 10 students who will be taught following the National Open School curriculum. While the move has opened up debates as to whether it is good idea to segregate children on basis of sexuality, many argue that such a school will ensure that such kids are not discriminated or bullied against, ensuring them a brighter future.
19th: Rabbi Lionel Blue Bids Adieu
Rabbi Lionel Blue was probably one of the most respected political figures in the UK. His popularity came from the regular three-minute sermons he gave on the Today programme’s religious slot, Thought for the Day, on BBC Radio 4 every once a week. He was whimsical, wise, and never controversial, which made him quite well liked even among the non-religious listeners. He was the first rabbi to come out publicly, way back in 1980. In his youth, he was a Marxist and an atheist, went on to understand and consider Christianity as a faith and ultimately found his calling in Judaism. Holocaust, two heart bypasses, two bouts of cancer, a hernia, Parkinson’s and epilepsy over a number of years, and yet, he lived for 86 years, thirty of which he made his listeners laugh and think a little deeper. Ultimately, old age won the battle.
25th: George Michael Celebrates His ‘Last Christmas’
2016 was particularly unkind to celebrities, and 26th morning was a blow in the gut to millions across the world. George Michael breathed his last yesterday and thus, forcing us all to accept the fact that the 80s queer pop trifecta (Prince, Bowie, Michael) is no more. He was a prominent gay rights campaigner, as well as a pop star, who often used his work to campaign his cause. He came out as gay following an arrest in April 1998 for engaging in “a lewd act” in front of an undercover police officer in Beverly Hills. He was fined £500 and ordered to do 80 hours’ community service for the incident, sparking the famous Sun headline “Zip Me Up Before You Go Go”. He has since been unapologetically queer, and opened up about his sexuality several times. He was only 53 years old.