Off late Pride month has increasingly become an annual reminder for Indian politicians that the LGBTQ+ community exists. On the one hand, the current government’s lawyer asked the Delhi High Court to postpone the hearing for Marriage Equality to 6th July 2021 because the ruling party feels only ‘real urgent’ matters should get the court’s attention at the moment. On the other, Rahul Gandhi from the Indian National Congress has attempted to wish the community by posting an image of the Pride flag with the words ‘Love is Love’ across it. However, he has included an extremely problematic caption to his post, referring to being queer as an ‘individual choice’.
What is needed by the community today is clearly not performative allyship or tokenist representation. The LGBTQ+ community of India needs queer folx who understand and advocate for queer issues at the forefront of the movement for equal rights, if a single dent is to be made in the rigid fabric of institutionalised heteronormativity. The following queer politicians are attempting to do just that:
Madhu Bai Kinnar is India’s first transgender mayor, who was elected to the position in 2015 in Raigarh, Chattisgarh. Also belonging to the Dalit community, Madhu Bai stood in the municipal election as an independent candidate instead of joining hands with any party – and clearly won against the candidates from both the BJP and the INC. It is important to note that Madhu Bai won by more than 4500 votes, and completely cited the public’s support as the reason for the victory. So far, Madhu Bai’s areas of focus in the city of Raigarh have been sanitation and hygiene, with the cleaning of roads and gutters topping her priority list.
The first transgender candidate who contested for a Lok Sabha seat from Mumbai, Sneha Kale has always put transgender issues at the forefront of her agenda. When she ran independently in the 2019 elections, she very clearly highlighted her desire to advocate for the rights of marginalised communities. Speaking to Mumbai Mirror, she said, ‘‘I want to raise their questions in the Parliament, as I am one of them”
Shabnam Bano, affectionately referred to as Shabnam ‘Mausi’, was the first ever transgender person to hold an MLA’s office in India. Having been elected in Madhya Pradesh as a representative of the Sohagpur constituency from 1998 to 2003, Shabnam Mausi spent her years in office focusing on the discrimination faced by the transgender and Hijra communities in India. She also worked to raise awareness about HIV AIDS, and focused a lot of her efforts towards fighting problems faced by the common citizens of India like poverty, hunger, and corruption.
Apsara Reddy is a transgender politician who has also left a mark on the world of journalism through her work with organisations like BBC and UNICEF. After three months in BJP, Reddy left the party in May 2016 to join AIADMK. Following this, she became a member of the INC, and rose in ranks to become the National General Secretary of the All India Mahila Congress in 2019. In November 2020, however, she rejoined AIADMK.
Gopi Shankar Madurai
Gopi Shankar Madurai is primarily an activist who has been fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community and indigenous communities through volunteer-led movements, petitions, academic discourse, and organised demonstrations and protests. Madurai was the first openly genderqueer and intersex individual to stand in the 2016 Legislative Assembly Election in Tamil Nadu. Madurai’s work has also led to the Madras High Court issuing an order in 2019 to ban compulsory sex reassignment surgeries on intersex infants.
Ashwathi Rajappan has been an LGBTQ+ and Dalit rights activist whose definition of change is centered around intersectionality. They were the first openly intersex candidate to contest in the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. Deciding to run as an independent candidate from Kerala instead of joining any particular party, Rajappan has always put social and economic issues at the forefront of their candidacy.
Another independent candidate from Tamil Nadu, Radha, was motivated to become a politician because of the difference between the judgements passed in favour of the transgender community and ground realities. A cook by profession, Radha has expressed her passion towards local issues like the drainage crisis and water problems in Chennai South. A large part of her focus is also on highlighting the evil of sexual abuse and fighting for employment opportunities.
A part of the Maharashtra Devadasi Niradhar Mahila Sanghatana, Jatin became a politician so that the Jogati Kinnar community could have a representative in the parliament. Through the support of 123 registered voters from the community, the campaign reached the doorsteps of Mumbaikars. The focus of Jatin’s 2019 candidacy was ensuring the implementation of the NALSA judgment to make life better for non-binary folx in India.
A transgender politician from Prayagraj, Chirpi Bhawani is a part of the Aam Aadmi Party. Having previously been a part of the jury for the Delhi International Film Festival, Chirpi is a well-known activist in Uttar Pradesh. She has been incredibly vocal against the ruling party, and wants the issue of unemployment and poverty to be the centre of the political conversation in the country.