Last week, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) announced that they are opening applications to welcome members of the LGBTQ+ community into their Mumbai Chapter. They introduced the LGBTQIA+ Cell inviting queer members to participate in the upcoming BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) elections.
In October 2020, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) had also invited members of the LGBTQ+ community to be a part of their new LGBT Cell. This step was taken to make the policy-making process in Mumbai inclusive of certain marginalized voices. The aim was to address issues of social and economic discrimination against the community.
Back in 2014, AAP had excluded LGBT issues from their national manifestos, a move that had created controversy with critics accusing AAP of being exclusionary and pandering. After receiving backlash from the public, the AAP had added LGBTQ+ issues, including repealing Section 377 to their manifesto.
In some ways, AAP’s introduction of the LGBTQIA+ cell in Mumbai is a progressive step. This could lead to an increased and direct inclusion of various queer groups in local politics and decision-making processes. The application the party has released for queer members to fill in also includes that the party want to bring in more lived experiences and directly involve queer people to address broader socio-economic issues. In the past, LGBTQ+ members have had to turn to allies™ to have their voices heard regarding issues affecting them. And even if queer people are included, it’s not necessary that the policies that come out of the party reflect that. AAP including queer members could be for the sake of tokenistic representation, or because Section 377 is repealed and LGBTQ+ issues seem popular.
AAP has also never emphatically voiced concerns about the Trans Act, 2019, or the issues faced by the trans community at large. Their announcement on their social media pages shares no information as to any procedural or systemic changes that have been adopted to create a safe space in the Party for LGBTQ+ voices to share, be heard and participate in various day-to-day activities; just vague declarations of inclusion and progress.
The thing about identifying as queer is that queer is a very fluid and umbrella identity. It is a spectrum, where each individual has their own experience of gender or sexuality, even if we are to share a common label. But what happens is that the majority population is often systemically denied an understanding of these identity issues. That is partly why we have problematic labels like the “Third gender” and policies like the Trans Act, which the community has challenged time and again. Involving a few people in the party system doesn’t necessarily mean the entire community has fair representation or the agency to make the requisite changes.
AAP’s application said that there is an interview that candidates must go through to get into the LGBT Cell. What will this interview consist of? Who will ask the questions? What kind of questions will be asked? Why do they even need a screening process? There are a lot of grey areas here where the queer applicants could feel unsafe or unheard. I doubt the formation of the cell itself consisted of queer people giving their input – if otherwise, this ought to have been made clear.
Mumbai is a metropolitan city with a robust queer network and community organizations at work, nonetheless there are a lot of misconceptions and rigid ways of understanding queerness. There are in-group issues of exclusion due to caste, religion, and gender identity. While this inclusion looks good on paper, the proof of the pudding is in eating it. This kind of inclusion may have little to do with real change as members & leaders of political parties might still have very homophobic or transphobic understandings of the community. After all, the Trans Act was not repealed even when the members of the trans community themselves asked for it to be removed.