LGBT culture in India

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Asia's first Genderqueer Pride Parade at Madurai with Anjali Gopalan[1]

Homosexuality is criminalized in India for up to ten years, but there is a vibrant gay nightlife in metro cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore. It is these metropolitan cities that have become the hub of the new Indian gay culture with its urban outlook and acceptance towards homosexuality. Although there are not many exclusive gay clubs and bars yet, a few upscale straight bars and clubs in these cities have regular designated nights of the week tailored for gay clientele. The reports of harassment of homosexual individuals and gatherings by the police have seen a gradual decline since 2004. Additionally, many social and human rights activists have been working to promote an increased acceptance of homosexuality.[2][3] Time Out (Delhi) has a dedicated column covering gay events in Delhi every week. Now with the emergence of several LGBT support groups across the nation, the much hidden queer community has increased access to health services and social events[4]

Sexuality in ancient India[edit]

Ardhanariswara from Gangaikondacholapuram
Two women

Throughout Hindu and Vedic texts there are many descriptions of saints, demigods, and even the Supreme Lord transcending gender norms and manifesting multiple combinations of sex and gender.[5] There are several instances in ancient Indian epic poetry of same sex depictions and unions by gods and goddesses. There are several stories of depicting love between same sexes especially among kings and queens. Kamasutra, the ancient Indian treatise on love talks about feelings for same sexes. Transsexuals are also venerated e.g. Lord Vishnu as Mohini and Lord Shiva as Ardhanarishwara (which means half woman).[6] Homosexuality was never viewed as a crime, on the contrary, alternative sexuality formed an inalienable part of society.[7] Apart from male and female, there are more than 20 types of genders, such as transwoman, transmen, androgynous, pangender and trigender etc. and in ancient India it was referred to as Trithiya prakirthi[8]

"“Hindu society had a clear cut idea of all these people in the past. Now that we have put them under one label ‘LGBT’, there is lot more confusion and other identities have got hidden."[9]

— Gopi Shankar in National Queer Conference 2013[10]



The Internet has created a prolific gay cyber culture for the South Asian community. Khush-list, the first mailing list for LGBT South Asians, predominantly Indians in metropolitan cities and those living abroad, was established in 1993. In 1999, LGBT-India was established on egroups, and later transitioned to yahoogroups. Such mailing lists, established well before the advent of social networking sites, continue to remain the mainstay for discussion among middle-class, English-speaking Indians, and include LGBT-India, GayBombay, GoodAsYou (Bangalore), Pratibimb (Hyderabad), and Movenpick/Orinam (Chennai). (established in the late 1998) and (established in 2006) are among the oldest websites that function as online resources catering to a local (Mumbai and Chennai, respectively) and national readership. Dating websites provide an alternative way for meeting people; online communities also offer a safe and convenient environment for meeting gays all around India.[11] The blogosphere has also not been immune to the modern emergence of a queer desi identity. Web logs highlight stories and issues specific to this marginalised community.[citation needed] With India becoming more open to homosexuality, several organisations in the country have recently started promoting the country as a destination for gay tourists from around the world.[12] Many online magazines like Pink Pages and Gaylaxy also publish regular issues .

Delhi Queer Pride poster

On September 11, 2013, India's first Queer Radio channel, Qradio - Out and Proud, completely dedicated to LGBT audience was launched . With variety of talk shows, music, debates etc., the channel now runs 24 hours a day [13][14]

On February 2014, Wonderful Things Happen was founded with the objective to serve the Indian lesbian/bi women community. It is India's first and exclusive match making service for gay women and their mission is to bring positive changes in the way Indian society perceives gay dating and relationships.

Film and Television Depictions[edit]

Though Bollywood has gay and transsexual characters, they have been primarily ridiculed or abused. There are few positive portrayals of late like Onir's My Brother Nikhil, Reema Kagti's Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd., and Parvati Balagopalan's Rules: Pyaar Ka Superhit Formula but they have been sporadic and not mainstream. There have also been a few independent films that deal with homosexuality like Sridhar Rangayan's Gulabi Aaina – The Pink Mirror, Girlfriend (2004 film),Yours Emotionally, 68 Pages and Ashish Sawhney's Happy Hookers. The first Indian film to deal openly with homosexual relations was Fire by Indian-Canadian director Deepa Mehta. With its 1997 release in India it stirred up a heated controversy throughout the country. In 2004 The Journey (2004 film) Malayalam feature film written, directed and produced by Ligy J. Pullappally, inspired both by her short film Uli and a true story of two lesbian lovers in the South Indian state of Kerala. Fire is explicit in stating that the main characters enter their relationship due to the failure of their heterosexual marriages, Sancharram The Journey (2004 film), the Malayalam name for the same movie, The Journey, is clearly a film about two lesbians who fall in love with each other.

Recently, Bollywood has appeared more tolerant toward homosexual relationships and has begun to portray them in a better light, such as in Dostana and Men Not Allowed. Actors of Indian descent have played homosexual roles in foreign movies. Lisa Ray and Sheetal Sheth played gay roles opposite each other in Shamim Sarif's I Can't Think Straight and The World Unseen. Jimi Mistry played a man trying to come out to his mother in Ian Iqbal Rashid's Touch of Pink.

In 2010, a Tamil film Goa, dealt with gay couples, their love and romance. It was the first Tamil film to portray same-sex love.

Indian television has also begun to depict gay characters. In 2011, the popular soap opera "Maryada: Lekin Kab Tak?" (Honour: But at What Cost?) featured a plot line involving a gay couple, and was among a handful of television shows including gay characters.[15]


Gay Pride March in Bangalore (2013)

Since the decriminalization of homosexuality, the majority of pride parades have been established in various major cities of India:

  • Bengaluru Pride (2008)
  • Chennai Pride (2009)
  • Chennai Rainbow Film Festival (2013)[16]
  • Bhubaneswar Pride (2009)
  • Delhi Queer Pride Parade (2008)
  • Mumbai Queer Azaadi March (2008)
  • Kolkata Pride (1999) - This is the first pride march to be organised in South Asia, that was organised by members of the support group Counsel Club, and witnessed participants walking down the streets of Kolkata starting from Park Circus Maidan.
  • Puna Pride (2011, second to be established in Maharashtra)
  • Ahmedabad Pride Parade (2009)
  • Kerala Queer Pride (2010)
  • Asia's first Genderqueer pride parade and Alan Turing Rainbow festival, Madurai (2012)[8]
  • Bhawanipatna Pride (2012)[17]
  • Guwahti Queer Pride Parade (2014)
  • Cochin Queer Pride (2014)
  • First Gujarat state LGBT pride parade in Surat (2013)[18]
  • Baroda (2014) [19]
  • Kerala Queer Pride 2015 at Thiruvananthapuram[20]
  • Orange City LGBT Pride March, Nagpur (2016) [21]

A tradition in Indian pride parades is the wearing of colorful masks for the partial purpose of hiding the wearers' identities from public view and avoiding altercations with family members. This is expected to change as less reprisals are feared from the general public, as shown with the inaugural Pune Pride Parade in December 2011, which required participants to dress professionally and avoid wearing masks or colorful makeup.

Participants in the parades hail from various indigenous gender and sexual minority groups and infuse the largely-Western-derived aesthetic of pride with local and national cultural trappings. Western and international tourists also participate in pride celebrations in India.

Nowadays LGBT rights are getting more acceptance in local peoples in India, the main e.g.: was the Free Hugs Campaigning conducted in Kochi (Ernakulam)[22] and TVM in Kerala


There are many organizations in many cities of India, such as Humsafar(Mumbai), Alternative Law Forum (Bangalore), Sangama (Karataka), Chennai Dost [1] working for LGBT rights. Many of these organizations operate in a very informal way and locally funded.[23] In Kerala, organization named Queerla given a new face to LGBT rights. Beyond NGO's and CBO's student movements which are registered under the government of India are Srishti Madurai a student volunteer LGBTQIA and Genderqueer movement based at Madurai.[1] Chemistry Club, a queer youth campus was formed by Chennai Dost in 2011 to provide a support space for students in colleges and universities.[24] In June 2016, a platform named Amour ( is launched in India to help LGBTIQ community members find long term companions.[25]


  1. ^ a b "One Who Fights For an Other". The New Indian Express. 
  2. ^ "News archive of gay-bashing incidents in Mumbai, India". 
  3. ^ "News archives articles about homosexuality and related issues". 
  4. ^ "Fear and loathing in gay India". BBC News. 17 May 2005. Retrieved 17 April 2008. 
  5. ^ ritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex, p. 40
  6. ^ "GALVA-108: Gay & Lesbian Vaishnava Association". GALVA-108: Gay & Lesbian Vaishnava Association. Retrieved 22 August 2015. 
  7. ^ "What went wrong for gays in India?". Retrieved 22 August 2015. 
  8. ^ a b Karthikeyan, D. (2012-07-30). "Cities / Madurai : Madurai comes out of the closet". Chennai, India: The Hindu. Retrieved 2012-10-10. 
  9. ^ Shrikumar, A. (18 October 2013). "No more under siege". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Gay Dating Trend In India". 
  12. ^ Shabina Akhtar (28 June 2009). "Travel goes gay". The Telegraph. Calcutta (Kolkata). Retrieved 4 January 2010. 
  13. ^ "India's First Queer Radio Station Launching on Sep 11". Retrieved 22 August 2015. 
  14. ^ "Indian queers soon to have their own Radio channel". Pink Pages. Retrieved 22 August 2015. 
  15. ^ "Indian TV soap operas step out of the closet". Yahoo! Entertainment New Zealand. AFP. 2 October 2011. Retrieved 3 October 2011. 
  16. ^ "Film Festival in Chennai, Tamil Nadu: 7th June, 2013".  External link in |website= (help)
  17. ^ "Pride Walk in Bhawanipatna, Odisha: July 13, 2012". 
  18. ^ "First gay parade held in India's Gujarat state". The Daily Telegraph. London. 7 October 2013. 
  19. ^ Dilip, Mangala. "Baroda's First LGBT Pride Festival: "We Pay Taxes, We do our Duties; Why Don't we have Equal Rights?"". Retrieved 6 December 2014.  External link in |website= (help)
  20. ^ "LGBT Community Organises 'Queer Pride March' in Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram". 
  21. ^ "LGBT community, supporters take out 'pride parade' in Nagpur". Retrieved 6 March 2016. 
  22. ^ Karthikeyan, Shruti. "Kochi youth hugging their way to happiness". Retrieved 6 December 2014.  External link in |website= (help)
  23. ^ "Queer Groups in India & Abroad". Retrieved 22 August 2015. 
  24. ^ ["Queer campus group". The Times of India. 25 June 2011.  "Queer campus"] Check |url= value (help). The Times of India. 25 June 2011. Retrieved 29 December 2016. 
  25. ^