Wednesday, July 8, 2009

why i support LGBT rights

The debate over gay rights has been raging for years, and even decades, worldwide. The issue has been suddenly thrust to the forefront of the Indian consciousness by the recent Delhi High Court judgment on Section 377 of the IPC (check Section 377 bites the dust…. Or does it? and 377 update for more info). All the religious fanatics, “pillars” of society, religious gurus, bodies, authorities, and large sections of mainstream society, are up in arms, vehement in their condemnation of the decriminalizing of homosexual activity among consenting adults.

I wonder sometimes exactly what it is about homosexuality that seems to make perfectly logical, rational, sensitive people go haywire, and turn into total blithering bigots. What is so scary about the concept of two human beings loving and respecting each other regardless of gender? What is so threatening about the idea that “gay” has to be equated with all the evils on the planet, and resisted with the knee-jerk, automatic fear and disgust that most people show? I hope more people really take a look inside, examine their own motives and reactions, before we begin finger-pointing.

For me, regardless of the religious debate, regardless of the whole natural/unnatural debate about homosexuality, there are a range of much more essential arguments FOR gay rights. For me, as it should be for any global citizen, it is much more an issue of civil rights and fundamental human rights and justice. Whether one understands, or even accepts, homosexuality or not, is not the issue in question. The point is simply this --- can any conscientious citizen of the world deny to a section of humanity those very basic rights and freedoms that the rest of the world takes for granted? So much for granted, in fact, that we hardly ever pause to consider them, unless forced to?

When this question is asked of other minorities in any country, whether African Americans, Muslims in India, Kurds in Iran and elsewhere, and so on, the answer is always a resounding NO! There, we are all for equality under the law, and civil rights, and basic human rights and freedoms. Why does all that change into fearful and angry negative reactions, bigotry and denial as soon as we talk of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual/transgender (LGBT) community?

“Mainstream” people all over the world don’t even have to think twice, or even once for that matter, about whether or not they have the right to choose who they love, commit to, spend their lives with, and marry. It never even occurs to most people that the right to legally and socially announce and celebrate their love and commitment can ever be in question. So why is it so difficult for us to understand that the same should apply to the rest of the world? The intelligentsia, the elite, even the middle and working classes in developed nations are horrified by practices like apartheid, child marriage and the state of women in developing and Islamic nations. Yet the same people are totally comfortable with effortlessly ignoring the denial of basic rights to a section of their own populace, to their friends and neighbors!

When a straight married Indian files tax returns, they include spouse and kids as dependants, without a second thought. But their neighbor, in a committed relationship with her partner for 20 years does not have the same right! Not only that, until two weeks ago, they could be intimidated, exploited and harassed in the name of the law! When you or I is ill, or dying, our partner/spouse has the automatic and undisputed right to be at our side, hold our hand through the illness, and make all the relevant decisions about surgery, medications, life support, and so on. However, the long term, committed partner of a gay or lesbian citizen has no such rights and can, and often is, driven out of all decision making, and even visitation rights, by families who suddenly come back into the picture after years, and decades, of having ignored or actively mistreated the couple. Post death, you and I automatically get a number of benefits, both social and financial (of course in India this is less true of straight couples in a “live together” than of married ones). We also have the sole right to make the final arrangements. Not so for the “love that dare not speak its name”. The partner not only does not receive benefits, pensions, and so on, they are often denied the basic right to mourn their life long companions.

We are happy to let “them” live with each other, in furtiveness, guilt, and social stigma, as long as they don’t claim equality with “us” by seeking legal and social acceptance in the form of visibility and equal rights. We are happy to ignore, or make fun of, their existence, but the possibility of actually having to accept that LGBT people exist is horribly scary. Straight people have the right to be who they are, love who they choose, marry who they like. Straight couples have the right to live together (although it’s not easy), and have the complete right to marry if they choose to. And it is wrong, absolutely and completely, to deny the same right to a sizable section of the world population. As for the huge brouhaha over nature, choice, religion and morality, that’s a whole other story, and needs much more space and canvas than this piece. I’ll get to it some other day.

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