People in Pride
On June 28th, 1969 at Stonewall Inn, New York, history was made for the LGBTQ community. Riots ensued at the gay club after the police were violently arresting gay persons, drag queens cross-dressed people and other members of the club on sight. At that time, it was legal to do so, to arrest drag queens, or women who did not wear at least three pieces of feminine clothing. Among the many getting arrested were Stormé DeLarverie and Marsha P. Johnson, the two women who became prominent faces of the pride revolution.
Stormé DeLarverie was known for being the first one to throw a punch at a police officer while resisting arrest. The image of her yelling into the onlooking crowd asking them to join the fight, while bleeding from the blow that she took from a police officer, was seared into people’s minds. Marsha P. Johnson has had the credit (but was not actually the case) of throwing the first shot glass at the police which went on to be known as “the shot glass that was heard around the world”. These women, along with all the rioters present that day, made such a powerful impact that many countries joined in on the protests.
From that day onwards, the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots would be commemorated with a Pride March where very often, activists would use the opportunity to bring up important issues of the LGBTQ+ community; whether it was in America, Germany, United Kingdom or India.
The change in mentality, constitution (as seen in the removal of Section 377) and perspective towards the LGBTQ+ community in India can be owed to the Stonewall riots and the preceding Pride Marches that began worldwide.
Everything above made me realise that Pride Month would not have been prominent and beneficial without certain activists and the efforts of Indian gay, lesbian and transgender people etc. that broke barriers to get their rights. Hence, I wanted to take a look at the power of activism and the work that was done in India to bring about change, as seen through the decades: beginning in the 1970’s all the way to the 2010’s.
- 1970’s: Marsha P. Johnson – the face of the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Although I want to focus on Indian activists, it is important to talk about the woman who started it all. She participated in the first Pride March in 1970, and continued to do so even when drag queens were banned from the marches, standing at the front of it. Marsha and fellow Drag Queen Sylvia Rivera also founded an activist organisation which later also became a trans shelter called STAR.
- 1980’s: Ashok Row Kavi was an Indian journalist and gay activist. He wrote a breakthrough piece for Savvy magazine in 1986 where he came out as gay publicly, being the first person to talk about gay rights and homosexuality in India.
Breakthrough events of the 1980’s are not complete without mentioning India’s first public same-sex marriage between two women – Urmila and Leela.
- 1990’s: Owais Khan, the man who organized the first Indian pride march in Kolkata. Only 15 people marched along (including Ashok Kavi) and it was known as the Friendship March. Even though there were only a few people, this walk got a lot of media coverage which these activists used to voice their issues to the Indian government.
- 2000’s: Anjali Gopalan is the Founder of Naz Foundation which focuses on reducing the rapid spread of AIDS and HIV in India, in addition to eliminating stigma surrounding the issue. She also led the second movement to repeal Section 377 in 2003. Although she wasn’t the first to petition against the law, she was the first to win it and succeeded in getting the law repealed. However this got overturned by Suresh Kumar Koushal in 2013.
- 2010’s: Navtej Johar was the man who (along with 5 other petitioners) helped achieve the removal of Section 377 from the constitution in 2018. It was a milestone event for our country.
History from 2020, speaking of the Stonewall Riots, said
“over the next several nights, gay activists continued to gather near the Stonewall, taking advantage of the moment to spread information and build the community that would fuel the growth of the gay rights movement.”
The “enough is enough” mentality enabled the LGBTQ+ community to come into their power. It is important to know that the riots would have meant nothing if it wasn’t for the continued efforts by the community to inform and educate the world that was looking at them at that moment. In addition, carrying the spirit of the Stonewall Riots into the future was the real triumph that we can now celebrate every year in June.