Gay OK Please?

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Chief Editors: Shreerang Javadekar, Shreeyesh Menon
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Homosexuality has only in recent years begun to shed its hush-hush image with discussions happening a lot more freely in the mainstream. While this has led to a deeper understanding of the struggles of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBTQ) community, it has also exacerbated the prevalent misconceptions – feeding off the preconceived notions most of us have of the LGBTQ.

A significant minority of our institute identifies itself as a part of the LGBTQ community. This article aims to explore the various facets of opinion about this community among the residents, making an attempt to gauge the amount of acceptance the LGBTQ have in the campus.

On Religion and Culture

As divisive as religions in India often are, it is striking that they share the ideology of ostracism and blatant hatred against the LGBTQ.

The students of our institute, on the contrary, seem very open to accepting the LGBTQ community in our campus. In an online survey- of over 600 respondents- conducted among the student community of the institute, 79% said that they were comfortable with an open LGBTQ culture. However, 37% also believed that homosexuality is against our religion.

On Privacy in the Bedroom

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code penalizes, among others, certain sexual acts between individuals of the same sex – even if they are consensual and private. Incidents like the one involving Ramchandra Siras – a professor of Aligarh Muslim University who was caught having intercourse with a rickshaw driver, highlight the unjust nature of this law. Siras was suspended by the University based on the testimony of people who forced their way into his house and invaded his privacy.

A staggering 93% of the respondents, on the other hand, don’t mind what the members of the LGBTQ community do in the privacy of their bedrooms. To a large extent, the students on the campus are liberal and allow for freedom in one’s personal space.

On the LGBTQ as Parents and Teachers

There seems to exist a belief in society that having LGBTQ parents is not good for children. One train of thought is that kids of gay parents are more likely to be bullied. Then there is a notion that when a child is witness to a homosexual atmosphere, it will somehow automatically get “induced” in him/her, or that (s)he might get psychologically disturbed regarding matters related to his/her sexuality. However, recent studies in Canada and the US have found that the children raised by gay parents are psychologically equally healthy and fit as compared to those raised by heterosexuals. The fact also remains that heterosexual parents do have homosexual children.

When asked whether the LGBTQ can be good parents, 71% of the respondents agreed. The question of whether exposure to LGBTQ people could affect a child’s sexuality showed an equally mixed response, with 52% agreeing to the fact. While most remained neutral, many strongly disagreed.

Interestingly, 39% of the students said that they don’t want their children to be taught by LGBTQ teachers.
No teacher would, in general, discuss their sexual matters in class. As it were, people of the LGBTQ community shouldn’t have any influence on the sexuality of the children they teach.

On Medication to treat the ‘disease’ of Homosexuality

Many medical organizations, including the WHO, agree that homosexuality is not a disorder, but a form of sexual expression. The notion that many politicians, psychiatrists and preachers of ‘alternate medicine’ have adopted – that homosexuality is something that can be cured by meditation, castration or electroshock therapy seems to be just that – a misguided notion with no scientific backing that preys on the homophobic minds of people. Comments such as these might lead not only to a burst of institutions providing dubious treatments, but also to an increase in paranoia and LGBTQ-phobia in the country.

While there was widespread acceptance of the LGBTQ populace inside IIT Bombay, 38% of the respondents advised a remedy. While the majority strongly disagreed; even in institutions of science and technology, people- although not many- still believe in this medication theory.

On Using Sexuality to become Famous

For the LGBTQ, coming out of the closet is indisputably a very courageous and bold decision to make. However, some people think that a few members of the LGBTQ community have exploited their sexuality to rise to fame – that coming out of the closet is just another publicity stunt. Examples of some Indian celebrities in Bollywood and regional cinema, who grabbed headlines on account of controversies revolving around their sexuality, have been frequent.

The number of such cases borders on the scanty if we juxtapose it with the ones who face a plethora of struggles to come out. The responses to whether members of the LGBTQ community have used its sexuality to become famous, were surprising. While 39% of the students gave a neutral response to this question, a significant 23% agreed. This depicts the still significantly thriving negative beliefs of people towards the LGBTQ community.

On Voicing Out Support for the LGBTQ

Being openly gay comes with its own set of trials. The onus seems to be on society as a whole to make the LGBTQ community feel included. This can be achieved through something as trivial as calling out ‘gay jokes’ as offensive to something larger like actively fighting for LGBTQ rights.

When asked if the LGBTQ community needs support to fight against the difficulties they face, a sizeable 48% of the respondents strongly agreed with the proposition. An overwhelming 92% of our respondents were on the positive or the neutral side, which is heartening on the face of it.

However, when asked to raise their voice against individuals showing anti-LGBTQ attitudes, the responses received weren’t as rosy as the previous ones. 59% of the responses, albeit still in the positive region, weren’t as forceful. Almost 30% of the respondents were actually neutral to this question.

This shift in opinions is quite similar to the hypocritical stance most of us assume when concerned with anything remotely associated as LGBTQ. On one hand, a majority of people feel that the LGBTQ must fight for their rights and recognize the fact that basic rights have been denied to them. However, when the turn comes for them to help the LGBTQ, they would rather remain ‘neutral’ – and do just about nothing to change the status quo.

On LGBTQ Roommates

To understand how much they were ready to accept the LGBTQ community in their life, we asked our respondents how comfortable they would be in having a roommate who was not straight.

Close to 46% – almost half of our respondents- said that they would actually be strongly uncomfortable having LGBTQ individuals as their room-mates. Only 21% said they would be fine with this proposition.

The very psychology that goes behind this response is quite interesting. While most of us are clearly empathetic of the LGBTQ movement and individuals in general, we aren’t yet as comfortable with the concept that we can share a room with a person of a different sexual orientation.

The Road Ahead

The results of the survey conducted reaffirm the fact that the institute, on the face of it, is quite open to a LGBTQ culture. Most of us have a “Live and let live” attitude towards this community, and while this manifests positively on issues of marriage and sex, this very stance presents a roadblock to the LGBTQ community at large.

Though people may empathize with the LGBTQ community, they are loath to actually go and help the afflicted community fight for their rights. We don’t care what the LGBTQ do in their bedrooms, but are unwilling to share the same room with them. We might not feel that homosexuality is against our culture, but still feel that the LGBTQ community should take corrective medicines. This dichotomous behaviour is perhaps why the LGBTQ community feels that it does not belong in our society.

Unless we cut the sugarcoating and actually take active steps to make LGBTQ people feel included, no long-lasting change can take place. Given the fact that the survey was carried out in this institute – which boasts of housing the most progressive individuals from the country, the results obtained are reflective of Indian society at best – and disturbing at worst.

Saathi- IIT-B’s LGBTQ Resource Group:

IIT Bombay is also home to an LGBTQ resource group called Saathi. It is a group of LGBTQ people and their allies who aim to create a safe space in campus and spread awareness about LGBTQ issues. With members including both gay and straight residents, Saathi aims to provide an accepting and nurturing environment to people from the LGBTQ community and instil in them a feeling of belonging and togetherness.

101 on Section 377:

Chapter XVI, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, dating back to 1860, criminalises sexual activities “against the order of nature”. The law has made consent and age of the person irrelevant by imposing a blanket prohibition on all penile-non-vaginal sexual acts under the vague rubric of ‘unnatural offences’.

Though applicable to heterosexuals and homosexuals, Section 377 acts as a complete prohibition on the penetrative sexual acts engaged in by homosexuals, thereby criminalising their sexual expression and identity.

The section was decriminalized with respect to sex between consenting adults by the High Court of Delhi on July 2009. That judgement was overturned by the Supreme Court of India in 2013.