A year ago when the Section 377 verdict was imminent, I had asked a friend how he felt right before the judgment, whether he was nervous, or excited or hopeful. "I'm terrified," he had replied. "If it isn't struck down, it would be a backward step. It'd mean my identity was criminal. My decision to love someone was a criminal act."
A year later, I asked him if he felt anything had changed. Sitting in a far-away land, he responded with, "How much does a law really change, after all?"
While the law has been read down, a year later, members of the queer community in India still feel that there is a long way to go before they can actually feel free.
Keshav Suri, the executive director of the Lalit Hotels, who in December exchanged rings in Goa with partner Cyril Feuillebois, mirrors this sentiment. Suri was one of the petitioners seeking a strike down of Section 377.
"The reading down of Section 377 is extremely important as it means I, and several others from my community, can walk freely in our country without being made to feel like a criminal. It signifies freedom though, it is not absolute," Suri told News18 in an interview.
"In the last year, I see a positive change of attitude and acceptance towards the community. Millions of queer people have found the courage to speak up and come out of the closet. There is serious intent with regards to conversations and engagement with community members. Several content creators have produced content with protagonists from the community. Coming out of Dutee Chand is a classic example of acceptance."
There is a long battle ahead, he said. "The community still battles social stigma, lack of education and equal job opportunities. We need representation across industries and functions. We need marriage equality, health insurance, housing, education, and adoption rights to begin with. So far, we've only been told that we're not criminals."
Sonal Giani, a prominent LGBT activist and bisexual woman, feels that while coming out has gotten easier, the fight for constitutional rights hasn't gotten any easier.
"There's sensitizations, internal reforms, and more inclusivity. Spaces have gotten queer-friendly, but some very basic rights, like the right to adopt, or right to surrogacy, are still missing."
However, she feels that people in the younger generation are now more aware, and less apprehensive. "Many are aware, so they feel they can come out to their friends. I see people openly write "trans/bi" on their Tinder profiles. It's a welcome change. People are also out in safe spaces like their teachers and counselors. Coming out to their family and external family, however, still remains a difficult process."
Giani says that the queer community is "relatively, not completely free" since the verdict. "It's easier to hold conversations. To start a dialogue, people already know of someone or the other who is out and it's finally reassuring to see the sheer number of visibility. People who would be using different names, to be out on social media are now using their real names."
Digital Editor and Curator of Gaysi Family, Pooja Krishnakumar, identifies as a non-binary gay woman. "Brands sharing more LGBT content reaches the people in smaller towns and rural parts of the country get to have exposure to something that usually takes a lot of time to otherwise reach them. I think that is remarkable," Krishnakumar said.
However, she, too, feels, "Legal acceptance doesn't mean social acceptance" and there's still "a long way to go in terms of sensitizing within organisations and social groups."
"Homophobia and the way most people in the community are subjected to it, still hasn't changed. For me, personally, nothing has changed. I want to marry, but I cannot. I want to adopt, but I cannot. A lot of things that I want, and heterosexual people take for granted, is available for me as a citizen in the country," she adds.
On being asked, on how 'free' she feels after the verdict, she summed it up with, "I am as free as my community is- all of us. And that's not very much."