It has never been easy for a person belonging to the LGBTQ community in our country.
Though things have begun to look up a little with more awareness and inclusive attitudes amidst the people, it wasn’t always the case. Amidst the structured societal norms and taboos, some people took to the stage to be themselves, irrespective of what got thrown in their way.
Here are some of the well-known figures from the LGBTQ community in India who have chosen to break the barriers and stand for themselves:
Best known for his novel ‘A Suitable Boy’, Vikram Seth has been a renowned face in the literary circles for more than three decades and is regarded as one of the most influential writers of the modern era.
Son of Prem Seth and Leila Seth, who was the first woman Chief Justice of a High Court in India, Seth studied at some of the best schools in the country before going to England for higher studies.
One of the openly gay personalities in India, the 61-year-old Padma Shri recipient has penned down a heartfelt poem expressing his anguish over the recent verdict of criminalizing gay sex titled ‘Through love’s great power’.
His mother, Justice Leila has been openly supportive of him and has been a strong supporter of the gay rights movement. Her disapproval of Section 377 is known to the world.
Who would miss the mother from the popular Vicks advertisement who chose to break the gender mould that sticks with parenting roles.
We met Gauri Sawant, a transgender activist who was born as Ganesh but emerged victorious against a society that wasn’t all too tolerant towards transgenders.
From opting to standing for her identity to adopting a young girl whose mother had passed away, Gauri is an example of an individual who chose to live life according to her wishes.
Manvendra Singh Gohil
Like a true royal who dedicates himself to the community, Manvendra Singh Gohil has been actively involved in raising awareness towards homosexuality and the implications of AIDS since the day he came out in public, ten years ago.
Hailing from a very conservative state, Manvendra was disowned by his family in public for coming out in public.
That didn’t stop the Prince and he set up his own charity called Lakshya Foundation that works with homosexual men and the transgender community to promote safer sexual practices, despite often facing hindrances from the police.
Manvendra and his charity made headlines again when they resorted to hanging condoms on trees, if at all that could bring more awareness towards having safe sex.
Known for her pioneering work in highlighting Lesbian and Bisexual women’s issues as well as LGBTQ youth work, Sonal Giani is a very vocal LGBTQ activist and an actress. She had also co-founded one of India’s largest LGBTQ youth initiatives Yaariyan and Umang, a lesbian-bisexual-transgender initiative in Mumbai.
Sonal has been part of film projects, theatre productions and represented the Indian LGBTQ community globally around the time she was working as the Advocacy Manager at the Humsafar Trust.
She is best known for featuring in the documentary style television series Connected Hum Tum that surfaced in 2013, where she had shared her real-life experiences and struggles as an Indian bisexual woman.
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Laxmi Narayan Tripathi
A transgender rights activist, Hindi film actress and a Bharatanatyam dancer based in Mumbai, Laxmi recognizes herself as a part of the hijra community. The eldest one amidst a family of seven from Uttar Pradesh, Laxmi suffered from poor health all her childhood. For being effeminate, she was taunted at school and was sexually abused by a relative.
Fascinated by Bharatanatyam and its costumes, Laxmi took an arts degree at Mumbai’s Mithibai College and a post-graduate degree in Bharatnatyam, with support from her family. She has also starred in many television shows including the reality show Bigg Boss, and three documentary films.
In 2002, Laxmi went on to become one of the founding members of the Dai Welfare Society, an organisation that works for the transgender community and represented Asia Pacific in the UN in 2008, where she spoke of the plight of sexual minorities in the society.
Breaking all conventional notions surrounding beauty pageants pertaining to gender, she launched the Indian Super Queen beauty pageant in 2010, which is going strong!
Ashok Row Kavi
A Journalist and one of the most prominent LGBT rights activists in India, Kavi is the founder and chairperson of the Humsafar Trust and has been one of the first people to openly talk about homosexuality and gay rights in the country.
Born in 1947, Kavi had dropped out of an engineering college, unable to deal with the reactions to his homosexuality. Post this he enrolled as a Hindu monk in the Ramakrishna Mission and studied theology.
Fortunately he was encouraged by a senior monk to freely explore and express his homosexuality and he left the monastery and went on to study at the International School of Journalism, Berlin.His ‘coming-out’ interview made headlines after appearing in Savvy magazine in 1986.
In 1990, he founded Bombay Dost, India’s first gay magazine. His organisation continues to mobilise legal emancipation of homosexuality in India, besides running several intervention programmes for HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections in Mumbai and Goa.
When a senior actor in the Malayalam film industry introduced the female protagonist for his new film, things in the history of Indian Cinema inched towards a progressive change.
Anjali Ameer, a transsexual actress came into the limelight earlier this year for having been chosen as a lead in a bilingual film. Previously a model, Anjali came from an orthodox Muslim family from Kozhikode that wasn’t very supportive about her identity.
Having to run from home and later living with transgender communities in Coimbatore and Bengaluru, Anjali has had her share of tough days. She underwent a sex change surgery at the age of 20. Despite her struggle during the initial days, she’s all too excited for her very first film and has been getting many offers from the Tamil and Telugu industries.
One of the first mainstream Hindi films to deal with AIDS and same-sex relationships, My Brother…Nikhil, was the directorial debut of Onir.
Born as Anirban Dhar in Samchi, Bhutan, he spent much of his childhood influenced by cinema. After receiving a scholarship to study film editing in Berlin, Onir later returned to India and worked as an editor, scriptwriter, art director, and music album producer and director.
Another film of Onir’s that found critical acclaim was I Am, an anthology of short films that explored themes like single motherhood, displacement, child abuse and same-sex relationships. Apart from winning two National awards, the film also won the I-VIEW 2010s Engendered Award (New York) for Outstanding Contribution.
Onir is one of the few openly gay film directors in Bollywood, who have shown us that nothing is impossible.