A year after the decriminalisation of Section 377, the conversation about gender rights finally seems to have taken off. With large sections of hetero-normative people coming out in support of the LGBTQIA+ cause since the historic verdict, queer rights are finally seeing the light outside of the closet and becoming part of mainstream discourse not just in queer circles but across demographics.
It may be "woke" to sport a rainbow badge on social media or attend Pride Parades on weekends, however, it is important to understand that the queer community continues to be vulnerable in terms of access to education, equal opportunities, health and safety, adoption and marriage rights. It is today, more than ever, that allies - hetero men and women across various walks of life - need to rally support and empathy for the community and keep the fire burning with continued vigour.
Who is an ally?
Being an ally is synonymous to being a good human being, says Harish Iyer, a vocal proponent of India's gay rights movement. "Just as we ensure that our children don't lie, don't cheat, we need to teach our children (and adults) to not hate," Iyer tells News18. "Queers are a part of our society they are not in another society, there are no two different worlds or two different planets. We are all here."
However, not all who assume the role of allies really know what they're doing. Often, people in their passion to support queer rights, end up appropriating space and focus from their subject which so far needed the support of straight people to find platforms.
While Iyer pushes for more participation of straight people, he is quick to warn against pitfalls.
"Queer is an umbrella, and while everyone is free to champion a cause, the challenge is only when straight allies start appropriating others lived experiences," he cautions.
The problem of appropriation
Anish Gawande, 22, who recently launched 'The Pink List', a platform that documents queer politics and tracks politicians in India who support queer rights, agrees that support from allies often comes at the peril of the issue and the subjects being hijacked by privileged voices.
A recent example of outrage against such appropriation was against the 2018 book "The Invisible Man" written by Nandini Krishnan that took a closer look at the lives of transmen in India. Many at the time including prominent trans-rights activists as well as the larger queer community had criticized the book and accused the straight writer of misrepresentation, misgendering and oversimplification.
However, Gawande goes on to add that the issue lies not just with allies but within the queer community as well.
"The hierarchy exists within, too," the Comparative Literature graduate from Columbia University says. Now that Section 377 is gone, Anish calls for introspection not just with allies but also within the community which has so far been vocally dominated by the privileged. "The point is for more people to start talking about what next. Yes, our existence is legally credible. But what about marriage and adoption rights? Access to health?"
Tokenism vs Social Change
Gurgaon-based poet and writer Aditi Angiras, 31, says the harder battle is what lies next. So far, anyone in support of queer rights had a clear and easily assumable identity - anti-Section 377. But now that it's gone, there is a vacuum both inside and outside the community.
Angiras feels that the real test for allies as much many within the queer community was to ensure that the legal victory translates into social change. "It is easy to identify oneself as pro-love, for organisations to put out rainbow logos," she tells News18. "Rising above the tokenism and working on bringing social change is the real challenge."
On the first anniversary of Section 377's decriminalisation, the queer community, as well as allies, seem to be at a crossroads. While the community itself needs to figure out how to shift focus from Pride Marches against 377 to more systemic action, allies may need to rethink their configuration as well. For the queer community is not limited to Pride Parades in metro cities but also includes Dalit queer persons who often find little vocal representation even within the queer umbrella and the Kashmiri queer community whose only source of contact with the queer community is largely via the internet.
Does an ally support only queer rights but does not raise voice against censorship? Does an ally want equality for genders but does not see Dalits as equal? These are the deeper issues, Angrias felt, that lie ahead and are well-worthy of discussion.
However, being a good ally, though tricky, is mostly simple. For starters, here are some basic suggestions from the queer community about what to do (and what not to do) as an ally:
* Share the stage with queer persons. It's THEIR story to tell. Don't speak their story when they can do it themselves.
* Speak only in the third person about a queer person's stories that are public and don't claim to know more than queer persons themselves.
* Don't be condescending or patronizing.
* Don't treat queer people like causes.
As Harish Iyer rightly puts, "Queer people are not your Good karma or your path to eternal salvation. Don't treat us like that,"
In the end, it's all about doing "the right thing". Chittajit Mitra, 25, from Allahabad, says, that being an ally does not make one a "great person". Mitra, who recently came out to his came out to his loved ones, also cautions against using humour as a defense for homophobia. Often straight people indulge in homophobic jokes at the cost of the community and when confronted claim it was 'just a joke'. "The 'I have a queer friends' trope no longer works. Stop making jokes on gender and sexuality," Mitra says.