Gauri Sawant To Grace Banu: Indian Queer Women We Must Celebrate This Pride

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As India celebrates Pride month, it is important to look back upon the history of pride and see how the world has changed over the years. Notable personalities ranging from lawyers to activists to screenwriters have impacted how society sees and treats members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

These Indian queer women made waves in society by dedicating their time and effort toward the welfare of the LGBTQIA+ community. By forming non-government organisations that empower the queer community to creating films that represent the community respectfully, these women have made an impact on the members of the community.

These queer women helped fight for the rights of the community and normalised queerness in society and media.

Indian LGBTQIA Women To Celebrate

Menaka Guruswamy

The decriminalisation of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was a landmark judgement in the history of LGBTQIA+ rights in India. Section 377 criminalised all sexual acts “against the order of nature” and was used to criminalise homosexuality.

Lawyer Menaka Guruswamy worked alongside a team of lawyers to challenge the constitutionality of Section 377. Alongside the team of lawyers, Guruswamy filed a petition on the behalf of five LGBTQIA+ petitioners led by Navtej Singh. The petition marked the first time LGBTQIA+ Indians filed writ petitions that alleged a violation of their rights.

Guruswamy also appeared on behalf of the petitioners and Section 377 was ultimately decriminalised in India.

In 2019, Guruswamy revealed that she was in a relationship with Arundhati Katju, with whom she had worked on the case of decriminalising Section 377. She spoke about being seen as a ‘criminal’ in the eyes of the law and then going to court as a lawyer and said that the decriminalisation of Section 377 was a personal win.

Arundhati Katju

Arundhati Katju is a lawyer that worked alongside the aforementioned Menaka Guruswamy in the fight to decriminalise homosexuality. Katju represented the five petitioners in the case to decriminalise Section 377.

In another notable case, Katju represented a 19-year-old trans man who was deceitfully brought to India from the United States by his parents. Katju filed a petition in the Delhi High Court on his behalf for protection from harassment and his right to return to the United States. The court ruled in the petitioner’s favour and ordered his parents to return his travel documents.

Menaka Guruswamy Marriage Project

Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju

Grace Banu

Grace Banu is a Dalit and transgender activist who has spoken several times about intersectionality in her activism. Banu spoke about how transphobia can exist in Dalit communities and how upper-caste transgender people dominate leadership positions and define the needs of the transgender community. Banu believes that reservations have a transgenerational impact that cannot be replicated by temporary government and non-government schemes.

Banu is the founder and director of the Trans Rights Now Collective, an organisation that works towards empowering transgender people through education and employment rights.

The collective also urged the government to provide reservations to transgender people without clubbing them into the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category. Banu said that categorising all transgender people into one category doesn’t reflect the diversity within the trans community. “We are not all OBC category people. We have different caste backgrounds and many of us are facing caste-based oppression within our own community too,” said Banu.

Gauri Sawant

Gauri Sawant is a transgender activist who was made the goodwill ambassador of the Election Commission in Maharashtra. She was featured in an advertisement by Vicks, where her real-life story of raising and adopting a child was shown.

In 2000, Sawant founded the Sakhi Char Chowghi Trust, an NGO that promotes safe sex and provides counselling to transgender people. In 2008, Sawant adopted a girl named Gayatri after her mother passed away. Sawant became the first transgender person to file a petition in the Supreme Court for adoption rights for transgender people.

Sawant is also known for petitioning in the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) case, which led to the Supreme Court recognising transgender as the third gender.

While Gauri Sawant’s activism for transgender rights resonated with people, her motherhood after she adopted her daughter and her fight towards enriching the lives of the children of sex workers have made her mark on society. She was involved in setting up Nani Ka Ghar, a drop-in centre for the children of sex workers.

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Still from the Vicks Advertisement featuring Gauri Sawant

Shonali Bose

Shonali Bose is the writer, creator, and director of the film 2015 film Margarita with a Straw. When it comes to queer representation on screen, Margarita with a Straw marks one of the first movies with a queer woman as the focus that was created by a member of the community.

Bose had come out as bisexual and the main character in Margarita with a Straw is also a bisexual woman with cerebral palsy. LGBTQIA+ women are underrepresented in media and are often subjected to over-sexualisation and the male gaze. Margarita with a Straw discussed the main character’s sexual desires and sexuality and the film discussed it in terms of the woman herself rather than male pleasure.

Suggested Reading: This Pride Month, Here Are Five LGBTQ-Centric Films To Watch On OTT