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In India, Baby Steps


by Brian Leubitz

Last year, my husband and I took a trip to Rajasthan, in India. For about three weeks in February, we toured the palaces and forts of the region. It was a fascinating learning experience, but it was not without its travails. As a side note if you are thinking of taking a trip to India, I recommend seeing several different parts of the country by using the growing domestic air market.

But, being openly gay in India is still not a common occurrence. When we asked for one bed (yes, we’re sure) we got some very quizzical looks. Everybody was extremely nice, and everything went generally smoothly, but there were some questions you don’t get here.

For example, while we were staying at a somewhat cheesy “desert camp,” we met some friendly Australians. Seeing that the couple seemed to know us, they got an interesting question from the staff. “Are those two brothers, or something weird?”

“They are American,” our new friends responded.

But that being said, it is hard to be openly gay in India. And that’s why the news of a Bollywood film featuring a gay kiss made so much news:

THE posters are ready, as is the film. The only question is whether the Indian public is ready.

Dunno Y … Na Jaane Kyun, a film featuring Bollywood’s first cinematic gay kiss, is scheduled for general release within weeks. Already dubbed India’s answer to Brokeback Mountain, it tells the story of an aspiring model who travels to Mumbai, India’s commercial and film capital, to seek his fortune and enters into a homosexual relationship, in part to further his career. …

Gay activists fear Dunno Y … will provoke a backlash from religious and political conservatives, many of whom opposed what was in effect the recent repeal of colonial-era laws that made homosexuality punishable by up to 10 years in prison as a crime against nature. Promotional posters for Dunno Y … showing two semi-naked young men embracing, did spark controversy last year.

The film’s director, Sanjay Sharma, told the BBC recently that Indian cinemagoers were ”mature enough” to deal with the storyline.(Sydney Morning Herald)

India is, in general, just now coming upon some of the issues that America faced a bunch of years ago. They are just now showing modest heterosexual sex scenes in their movies and kissing is no longer as taboo. Gay Indians, however, are still mostly ignored, with most remaining in the closet. If you’ve seen Bend it Like Beckham, you’ll know what I’m talking about. When the teenage gay character comes out to his friend, she asks him, “But you’re Indian?”

This is not to denigrate the Indian people, rather to point out the changing landscape outside of America. While we have our fights here, there are far more struggles just beginning outside of our own borders. And travel for Americans who are used to a standard of tolerance can sometimes be a jolt. What is your experience with travel?


  • 1. John D  |  April 26, 2010 at 2:13 am

    I was in India in 2005 with my husband who was giving some lectures. At one point, a student asked me, "are you married?"

    I said I was, and he asked, "where is your wife?"

    "Even a lot of Americans have a hard time with this," I said. "Professor — is my husband." I then carefully explained the whole thing to him.

    When we were in China, the court released its decision on Prop 8 and I got asked about that

  • 2. Balu  |  April 26, 2010 at 2:44 am

    I am Indian in San Francisco Bay area. The recent court decision to decriminalize homosexuality in India gave me confidence that in 20 years we will have equal rights for Gay people in India.

    On paper, based on that judgement, gay couples can even get married 🙂 But LGBT community fears a backlash and is holding back on the rights. The next few years will be spent in educating the common man about LGBT issues.

  • 3. Brian Leubitz  |  April 26, 2010 at 3:39 am

    Thanks Balu, for your viewpoint. Where do you think LGBT activists go next on their pursuit of rights? Obviously, I think marriage is a few years away, but what are the hot topics now?

  • 4. Balu  |  April 27, 2010 at 7:22 am

    In general, openly LGBT folks will face discrimination. While the laws protect LGBT rights on paper, it is hard for a person to go to court and enforce these rights.

    LGBT community is slowly organizing in various cities of India. First step is to create a safe place to meet. Second step is to try and remove "Gay people are bad/weird" mindset from common people in India.

    The movement itself is not well organized. It could be a year or two before it starts developing roots.

  • 5. Michelle Evans  |  April 26, 2010 at 4:00 am

    Travel for a trans person can be a dangerous affair. Prior to transition I used to travel extensively. One of my favorite places to visit was Turkey and I spent a lot of time there. After transition, and hearing the horror stories coming from that country with regard to trans murders, it is now someplace I know I will never return to.

    I have a gay friend from New Zealand, and he also loves to travel, and has never had any difficulty. And this shows the major difference between trans (especially male-to-female, such as myself) and L&G, is that any travel, even within the US, can be hazardous, whereas L&G usually don't run into difficulties. You don't have to "come out" to everyone, and can go stealth as friends of siblings. Trans is an open target against anyone at anytime due to just being there. Maybe later, I'll come back and talk about what happened to me on my recent trip to New Mexico.

  • 6. Bob  |  April 26, 2010 at 4:03 am

    One of the things I have become more aware of from this board, is that the United States has always referred to itself as America, or Americans, usually in a very self centred way. One thing the SSM issue has done is showed that South Americans, and their neighbours to the north North Americans or CAnadians, have exposed the divide with regards to these issues. being that we are at different levels in progess on equality issues, It still is shocking for us to see the United States lagging behind in these issues, because globally having been referred to as Americans, they always portrayed a more progessive liberal lifestyle, however if you peel away the illusion created by Hollywood, the United States, which is part of America, is really in some ways backwards in terms of education, health care, and freedom from religion.

    When I traveled Europe, and that was a while back, it was always cool to have a Canadian flag, on your backpck, but the (American Flag), not always as welcomed. I used quotes because we used to grant the U.S. that title (Americans)

    So Brian, in terms of travel, do you see yourself as representing America?

    Balu, interesting you say gays could get married now in India, but they are holding back, in order to educate the common man. Is this an extreme case of laws changing but society taking time to catch up. That is an interesting situation.

  • 7. Michelle Evans  |  April 26, 2010 at 4:09 am

    I used to be very proud of being an "American" from the United States. I think much of the reason for using that term is simply because it is an easier term than saying I am a "United Stateser." 🙂

    I had a jacket I used to wear everywhere that had a US flag on it. On the last couple of trips I was on overseas prior to my transition, I found it had a negative connotation with those around me, so I stopped wearing it. Since then, the US has gone downhill greatly, so much so, that Cherie and I have discussed actually moving elsewhere, such as to Canada (if she could stand the cold!).

  • 8. Richard A. Walter (s  |  April 26, 2010 at 5:42 am

    My husband and I have also discussed moving to Canada, Michelle, and based on my experiences in high school, if we do go, I would want to go to Toronto. You see, like your wife, Cherie, I have trouble with cold, but in Toronto, it does not feel as cold, because the humidity level is so low there. But right now, we are stuck in Fayetteville, NC, because neithr one of us is willing to leave my mother-in-law to fend for herself. However, we are already making plans in the event that we have to do this when she dies.
    So I do have a request for any of our Canadian Trial rackers. If any of you are near Toronto and know whee we can find a synagogue that will welcome us, please let me know.

  • 9. Fluffyskunk  |  April 26, 2010 at 11:52 am

    Hi everyone. I'm delurking just to respond to a meme I see surprisingly often on this site – namely the suggestion that "America" is somehow not an acceptable synonym for the United States. I'd like to take a moment to explain why this is not so.

    The word America originally referred to the entire New World, but in the English language, this is not the case today. By 1776, both the colonists and the Brits were already using it to refer chiefly to the thirteen colonies (and possibly their northern neighbors, but once the thirteen had declared independence, "America" soon came to be seen as short of "the United States of…").

    This is called semantic shift, and it's a natural part of linguistic evolution. It is the process through which words like silly come to mean, well, silly instead of blessed like it used to mean. Or how gay came to mean homosexual instead of happy.

    Because of the semantic shift it has undergone, outside of the set phrases North America, South America, the Americas and the like, the word America is now a perfectly acceptable name for the United States, and American is universally considered the correct ethnonym for its citizens. No Canadian I know calls themselves an American, or has any problem calling the United States America, or its citizens Americans.

    (This is true in the English language, and most languages other than Spanish. My Spanish-speaking friends – and these include the only non-Americans I've ever heard complain about the word – are correct in asserting that the Spanish word América refers to the entire New World. But Spanish and English have other similar-looking pairs of words that mean entirely different things; embarrassed does not mean pregnant, nor should it, just because embarazada does. Likewise, America and América are not synonymous. There was someone here who used to complain about the word, but they themselves confessed they were a native speaker of Spanish, not English.)

    So what I'm trying to say here is, don't worry about it. Just use whatever word feels right to you – chances are, it's the right word. 🙂

  • 10. Fluffyskunk  |  April 26, 2010 at 11:55 am

    Typo – "short of" in the second paragraph should be "short for".

  • 11. Bob  |  April 26, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    Fluffyskunk, thanks for the explanation re semantic shift, I love it when a post motivates a lurker to chime in, their are so many people out there , and such an opportunity for sharing knowledge.
    I thought in our pursuit of understanding different gender orientaions etc. we might as well take a stab at clarifying how we declare our nationalities. In the Americas.
    Also because so many eastern countries think homosexuality is an American phenomenon, or lifestyle which is being imposed on them from the west. "but you're Indian" as a Canadian I see that as meaning, you're not American, as opposed to but you can't have same sex attractions cause your not Canadian.

    Just to clarify, you need to stay and fight, cause many of us want to immigrate to the warmth and openess we experienced in our youth Canadian gays have long seen the states as an opportunity.

  • 12. Balu  |  April 27, 2010 at 7:24 am

    They are holding back because it can potentially backfire. Many educated folks (including doctors) in India do not know much about LGBT issues and rights. Being openly Gay can lead to harassment and injury. The chances of that happening are much higher than in reddest US states.

  • 13. Bob  |  April 26, 2010 at 4:05 am


  • 14. Bob  |  April 26, 2010 at 4:09 am

    signing on

  • 15. Richard A. Walter (s  |  April 26, 2010 at 5:36 am

    Yes, and these struggles outside the US are all the more reason we can never give up our fight, because there are others looking to us to point the way.

  • 16. Happy  |  April 26, 2010 at 5:55 am

    Have not travelled outside of America, but have been all through most of the continental US, some of Canada, and of course, good ol' Tijuana.

    Stereotypically, the biggest reactions I've gotten to the "one bed" request have come from mostly rural areas, especially in the Southern states starting with Texas and heading East, and almost everywhere in Utah. Oy, Utah!!

    (Happy shakes head in a slow, "tsk, tsk, tsk" manner)

    People in Canada were dreamy; Tijuana didn't seem to care one way or another.

  • 17. Straight Ally #3008  |  April 26, 2010 at 6:41 am

    Brian, that scene from Bend it Like Beckham is exactly what went through my mind before I got through the first paragraph!

    Tony: Look, Jessie. You can't plan who you fall for. It just happens. I mean, look at… Posh and Becks.
    Jess: Well, Beckham's the best.
    Tony: [chuckles] Yeah! I really like Beckham too.
    Jess: Well of course you do. No one can cross a ball or bend it like Beckham.
    Tony: [shakes head] No, Jess. I really like Beckham.
    Jess: What? You mean… [incredulous scoff] But you're Indian!

  • 18. Ronnie  |  April 26, 2010 at 7:03 am

    I have never been outside the USA…I am so sheltered….wait does Fire Island count?…..<3…Ronnie Mc

  • 19. Kathleen  |  April 26, 2010 at 7:36 am

    UPDATE: Hak-Shing William Tam has joined the other D-Is in the request that the original order requiring discovery of campaign documents/communications be struck down or revised.

  • 20. fiona64  |  April 27, 2010 at 1:18 am

    That's because (as we all know), he was chewed up and spat out during the trial. If the order is struck down (please correct me if I am wrong), that means his testimony is eliminated from the record.


  • 21. fiona64  |  April 27, 2010 at 1:19 am

    PS — This should, however, mean that his request to no longer be part of the D-Is should be ignored.


  • 22. Andrea  |  April 27, 2010 at 1:38 am

    'Morning, Fiona!

    Tam's personal testimony as a witness can't be taken out. NOM is trying to get rid of the documents that showed he was a puppet of larger national groups. No targeted national animus-based campaign, just a single nut-job acting alone, nothing to see here, move along. Operation Sacrifice-The-Patsy is in effect.

    It's an easy argument for NOM to make; EQCA and ACLU have written it for them.

  • 23. Ronnie  |  April 26, 2010 at 8:13 am

    I'm trying to argue this case (trial) with this nazi on FB whats the next step after this?….<3…Ronnie

  • 24. Kathleen  |  April 26, 2010 at 8:20 am

    Next step after what, Ronnie? No clear to me what you're asking. <3 – K

  • 25. Ronnie  |  April 26, 2010 at 8:23 am

    Ok so what level is the trial at i forget..the supreme court?

  • 26. Kathleen  |  April 26, 2010 at 8:44 am

    The trial is in a United States District Court (basically the lowest level of Federal court).

    Once a decision is reached in the District Court, the losing party will have a right to appeal it to the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. This is usually in front of a panel made up of three Circuit judges. This is also the only guaranteed appeal; all other appeals after this is at the discretion of the various Courts.

    Once the 9th Circuit panel reaches a decision, the losing party can ask for an appeal in front of a larger group of Circuit judges (usually 11 judges). It is up to the Court whether or not to grant this additional appeal.

    Once the case has completed appeals at the level of the 9th Circuit, the losing party can ask the US Supreme Court to review the decision. Again, there is no guarantee for this appeal; 4 of the 9 judges must agree to the review in order for the Supreme Court to accept the case.

    Does that answer your question?

  • 27. Ronnie  |  April 26, 2010 at 8:50 am

    yes thank you…<3…Ronnie

  • 28. Teri  |  April 26, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    Maybe its just me… but all this senseless hate and violence makes remaining closeted seem like a pretty good deal…

  • 29. Ronnie  |  April 26, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    Yeah if you want to lie to everybody in your life and live a life of meaningless existence with no where to go and no one to love but the closet and a huge tub of chocolate ice cream until you finally decide that the world has completely failed you and with every passing day that bottle of pills is looking more and more like your one true love and the only way to be with it for all of eternity is to finally leave the closet to get a bottle of vodka and drown yourself in your own self loathing nothingness until every last breath is gone….

    Yeah I definitely want to go back to that day….NO!!!!….If you are gay…OUT AND PROUD IS THE WAY…TRUTH, HONESTY, LOVE, AND FREEDOM…..<3…Ronnie

  • 30. Teri  |  April 27, 2010 at 2:32 am

    I would like nothing more than to come out to family and friends. I tried and came out to 3 people one of which turned out to be violently homophobic and now i have to deal with him every day. I decided that i should stay closeted at least until I'm 18 and living on my own but its more difficult then ever.

  • 31. Ronnie  |  April 27, 2010 at 2:45 am

    Yeah get away from that….Make your own family…surround yourself with people you can trust and love you unconditionally and will do the same in return…It's a shame that our community makes biological families look evil because complete strangers will love you more….<3…Ronnie

  • 32. Bob  |  April 26, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    Teri, I hear ya, sexual orientation is not a choice, but how we integrate it into our lives is a choice. thanks for sharing that option, the senseless hate and violence is still there even if you are in the closet, It just means you prefer to be in denial about it. Not confront it, and hide. many people choose that option. In our history, that was at one time the only opition, thank goodness we have others now.
    I'd sooner die for being who I am, than live in the closet,

  • 33. fiona64  |  April 27, 2010 at 1:20 am

    Rev. Sky Anderson, one of the earliest pastors of the Metropolitan Community Church, wrote an excellent essay entitled "The Closet is a Spiritual Tomb."

    Seems like a good time to share it:


  • 34. Ronnie  |  April 26, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    Ok so just for a little inspiration I found this today….It's a compilation of the speeches given at the March for Equality on D.C. last October with over 200 thousand people….I think they did a good job of compiling over 4 hours of footage into 6 minutes and 21 seconds…..I was there and every time I watch these videos I feel more and more proud to be an openly Gay Man fighting for equality, freedom, and love…..<3….Ronnie:

  • 35. Sheryl  |  April 26, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Thank you, Ronnie, for posting this.

  • 36. Ronnie  |  April 26, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    you're welcome…. ; ) ….Ronnie

  • 37. Bob  |  April 26, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Teri, just wanted to add, an apology, it would have been more sensitive of me to ask, how you define living in the closet.

    And for me to get some understanding of your experience, as I said throughout history many people lived in the closet, but also many of those contributed much in terms of art, literature , etc. perhaps you can contibute from the closet.

    Where are you in terms of connections with other people like you, sometimes people relate secretly in gay groups, as long as you are able to be comfortable and confident in yourself, not everyone has the potential or wants to be an activist.

    I think current statistics take this into account making out LGBT's a smaller percentage. Are you happy and fulfilled?

  • 38. Matthew  |  April 26, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    The closet is such a toxic place. It destroys a persons integriy and sense of self esteem. It forces you to lie to your loved ones, reinforces the lie that there is something shameful about being gay. It poisons a persons sense of self worth and makes them doubt that they deserve happiness and equality. It makes you internalize those feelings of shame and creates fear for your on safety and fear that your secret may come out. It makes any life you try to build for yourself empy and loveless. In the sense that you will never be a complete person.
    It is an intensely personal decision to come out and there can be very real consequences for doing so. For me coming out was the hardest thing I ever did and it is an ongoing thing. It's also the most fulilling thing I've ever done. It empowered me to be who I was born as and to be honest with my family and friends. To share my partner with my friends and family. To proudly hold his hand in public and I dare anyone to say something about it. Come out come out wherever you are. It's the best decision you'll ever make.

  • 39. The Plight of Gay Iraqis &hellip  |  April 27, 2010 at 7:40 am

    […] I wrote about the LGBT community in India, and while times aren’t always easy there, they do have it better off than our community in […]

  • 40. Charles  |  April 27, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    While I rather like the articles you write these days, what set Prop8trialtracker appart was that… well, it was a prop8 trial tracker.

    These days, the info I get about the trial come from other sources, and with none of the expertise and analysis that made this blog interesting and special.

    Why no talk about the recent threat by Walker to fine No on propr 8 proponents? Etc etc.

  • 41. Kathleen  |  April 27, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    Charles, can you tell me where else you're keeping up on the trial? I'm interested in any sites you may know about, in addition to the ones I've reported (Michael Ginsborg blog, Nan Hunter, Teddy Partridge at Firedoglake). Someone else also pointed me to:

    If you know of others, I'd like to know.


  • 42. Andrea  |  April 28, 2010 at 2:13 am

    I'm right there with you both, Charles and Kathleen.

    Why no talk about the recent threat by Walker to fine No on prop 8 proponents?

    Same reason NOM's twitter feed went silent when Bill Tam jumped the shark on the stand, I think.

    While Plaintiffs cannot stop the ACLU from choosing to go into contempt, the Ninth Circuit’s order makes clear that such a tactic and any subsequent appeal would be futile.
    — Ted Olson, last Thursday, as reported by Keen

    That KeenNewsService link is pretty good. Thanks for it, and bookmarked.

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