Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist was assassinated on 22 May 1978. Since then, the Harvey Milk Foundation marks this day to celebrate the life and achievements of this idol. Milk made history by becoming the first openly gay candidate to be elected to public office in California. His service witnessed the championing of cause of civil rights, and the fight against legally-sanctioned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Even though he was killed by a rival politician, his short span of life saw great heights for the queer movement.
The queer community continues to face hostility and discrimination around the world, including India, where several factors including legal laws, orthodox thinking, patriarchal notions, etc. constantly work towards creating barriers for queer persons, and stopping them from achieving success and leading a liberated life. Despite these, members of the LGBTQ community refuse to step down and succumb to norms. The courage and achievements turn such individuals, like Harvey Milk, into positive role models who constantly inspire countless queers to keep fighting for their rights and aspirations.
Grace Banu is a dalit and transgender activist, who was the first Trans person to be accepted in an engineering college in Tamil Nadu. Banu faced discrimination right from the beginning due to their dalit identity in school, along with getting rejected from their family because of their gender identity. They continued their struggle by pursuing higher education and working independently. The discrimination followed them to workplace as well, after which, they started advocating an intersectional approach for Dalit and Trans rights and reservation. They believes, “No amount of temporary governmental and non-governmental schemes can have the transgenerational impact that reservations can have.”
Writing dialogues for the film much appreciated for its boldness ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’, Gazal as a transwoman cracked the Hindi film industry to professionally pursue film writing. She left a software company to pursue her dream career, along with another major decision to embrace her true identity as a woman. Gazal was born as Gunraj, and says, “For as long as I can remember, I’ve always felt, without even a fragment of doubt, that I was a girl.” At the age of 25, she found out that her condition was of Gender Dysphoria, and underwent sex reassignment. She is highly vocal about her journey and has talked about herself and sensitivity towards transgenders on TV, including the popular Satyamev Jayate. As a film writer, Gazal writes for powerful and bold characters, and pushes the industry towards portraying resistance.
Durga is a trained sculptor and identifies as gender-fluid. They work with metal and create installations which speak of freedom and absence of inhibitions. “Rigidity around genders is a social construct. This world is run on people’s insecurities.” they told artshouldtempt. Durga has experimented with several artistic mediums, which they believe comes from their passion and belief in oneself. They use their art to express the spectrum of gender identity, the battles one faces for non-conforming behaviour, and provide encouragement for going beyond conventional definitions and exploring the dynamics of gender and life.
From the fame of Bigg Boss, Sushant is a gay Indian model and anchor, and the Indian representative in Mr. Gay World 2014. He is the only man to have won 3 sub-awards as Mr. Gay India, along with numerous other awards. Sushant openly embraces his queer identity and is known for openly expressing it through fancy and creative attires. He has hosted several reality shows, and has also been portrayed through award-nominated documentaries on his life. Along with achieving massive success on Indian television, Sushant is also highly educated and holds a certified degree in Industrial Psychology.
Nandini Moitra and Upasana Agarwal
This lesbian couple has created a beautiful space as an ode to queerness in Kolkata called Amra Odbhut cafe. “The seminars and conventions are fairly limited to the English-speaking elite class. And, it is a prevalent idea in society that ‘queer’ is a western concept. We want to bridge that gap. Our café is essentially bilingual, where people can come and converse in any language they want.” they tell dnaindia. The cafe, along with visibilising the queer community, also aims to support queer artist by setting up exhibitions of their artwork. Through this comforting space, Nandini and Upasana aspire to continue making the public realm more accepting, and thrive for justice, equality and representation.
A young student from Ashoka University, Sidhhi wanted to start a project supporting the LGBTQ community right from when she was in school. She went on to establish the first even school level alliance organisation called Breaking Barriers. She conducted numerous workshops and talks to emphasise the importance of Gay-Straight alliance in the fight towards gender equality. Along with that, Sidhhi also launched Thrive, a confidence building platform for people to share personal stories and promote sex education. She believes, “It is natural to reject something we know nothing about, but it is wrong to strip people of their basic human rights on the basis of our personal opinions”. Siddhi has been an inspiration through her dedication towards spreading awareness and destigmatizing the community.
Shilok is a successful radio jockey who speaks of her womanhood as a ‘hard-earned one’. Born in the body of a man, she faced discrimination at her school because of her way of being and struggled to embrace her female identity against the norms of the society. She started her career as an RJ by reciting poems, which gained nation-wide appreciation. After that she started working as a full-time RJ, and also ventured further in the field of poetry and dance. “The authenticity of my attitudes, emotions, mannerisms were very strong. The only way to face it was to accept myself, to give as much love and care as I can give to myself, to uplift my own confidence, to make all the justice to be made for that little girl who was always captive in the closet.”, she recalls her days of feeling trapped during her adolescent years. Besides an RJ, Shilok is a published poet and a dance performer.
Sunil Gupta and Charan Singh
Sunil and Charan are gay photographers and authors of a critically-acclaimed photo book called Delhi. The book portrays the lives of the members of the LGBTQ community through document photographs. The images are unfiltered depiction of the lifestyle of queer people, and the daily struggles of life. Sunil speaks about it as, “Through these images, we see the stories of lives in transition, some shackled, though determined to be unbound in a society at odds with its own liberal history and inclusiveness. The images speak to us of love, desire, longing and conflict. These stories are also filled with a seeking of love and light.” The work of Sunil and Charan puts forward an appropriate representation of the queer community through visuals. As photographers, their work aims to bring out the essence of being queer in India.
Growing up in an extremely orthodox Muslim family, it was not until he was in his 20s that he realized and accepted in gay identity. Speaking about his first pride march, he says “When someone in the meeting asked me if I was queer or gay, I replied, I am just an ally. But at the pride march, I identified myself. The energy and the courage the march gave me are beyond words. I participated in it with all the confidence in the world.” Even though he experience abuse from his own family members because of his pictures at the pride march reaching them, Unais refused to succumb to their hostility and continued to be open about his homosexuality. He continues to fight for gay rights and representation, and is an inspiration for queers in the Muslim community to embrace their true gender identity.
Dr. Pragati Singh
Pragati is determined to work for the highly under-represented asexual community in the societal as well as LGBTQ community. She founded the organisation Indian Aces to build a platform for Indian asexual to organise and talk about their identity. She is a public health professional and has conducted studies on asexuality. She explains, “Among the most interesting findings has been the fact that a significant number of asexuals have high libido, debunking the notion that their lack of sexual attraction can be attributed to, or implies, low libido.” Pragati is one of the few but powerful voices in India representing the asexual community and bringing them to the mainstream.