25 Indian LGBTQIA+ Milestones From Pre-1900s to Present 

The strands of LGBTQIA+ identity have long been woven into the vast variety of India’s abundant cultural history, sometimes hidden under the rules of society and colonial past.

This article goes into the numerous layers of this journey, noting important milestones, cultural developments, legal battles, and public perceptions that have shaped the landscape of LGBTQIA+ rights in India. From pre-1900s acknowledgment to present campaigning, the story of LGBTQ people in India illustrates perseverance, determination, and the constant attempt for equal rights and acceptance.

Ancient Roots and Acceptance:  

1. Homosexuality has existed throughout the history of mankind for centuries. Even in ancient times, such as the Vedic Period around 3102 B.C., non-heterosexual orientations were understood. According to research conducted by the Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association (GALVA), homosexuality was identified as “tritiya prakriti,” or the third nature.

2. The transgender population in India has ancient origins. For example, the Koovagam festival, which began in the third century BC, honours transgender people. It also celebrates the account of Krishna taking a feminine form and marrying Aravan before the Mahabharata battle. This event remains a prominent annual meeting for trans individuals in India, reflecting the profound historical acceptance of varied gender identities.

3. Furthermore, temples built between the sixth and fourteenth centuries, such as the ones at Puri and Tanjore, showed homosexual relationships with graphic imagery. Although current society considers such portrayals taboo, these ancient works of art depicted a wide range of love and yearning.

4. Historical rulers such as Babur, the very first Mughal Emperor, had recorded same-sex relationships. Babur’s obsession with a teenage lad named Baburi is documented in his memoirs, “Babur Nama,” and in poetry about love written by the emperor.

Shifting Attitudes and Early Activism:  

5. Opinions about homosexuality altered during the mid-twentieth century. Mahatma Gandhi, the beloved father of the Indian nation, condemned homosexuality as a deadly doctrine.

6. Ashok Row Kavi’s 1986 essay for Savvy Magazine constituted a watershed moment as India’s first public “coming out” narrative. Kavi’s bravery paved the path for more visibility and acceptance of LGBTQ people in Indian society.

7. In 1987, two Madhya Pradesh police officers, Leela and Urmila, defied cultural norms by marrying. Their gallantry came at a cost, as they were released from duty after their wedding ceremony.

8. In 1990, Ashok Row Kavi launched BombayDost, India’s first queer men’s magazine, to promote and share queer perspectives and experiences. The journal helped build a network and raise awareness about LGBTQIA+ issues.

9. Furthermore, the first homosexual rights protest in India occurred in 1992 at an AIDS and healthcare conference in New Delhi. LGBTQ campaigners wanted acknowledgment and rights for gay men, emphasising the importance of inclusive health policy.

10. In the 1990s, Gita Thadani founded Sakhi, a helpline and resource centre for queer women, which gave much-needed support and awareness for India’s lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities. Sakhi promoted networking and community development among LGBTQIA+ women around the country.

Representation and Advocacy:  

11. “BOMGaY,” a 1996 short film, provided insight into the lives of Mumbai’s homosexual community. Despite its restricted release, the film remains an essential contribution to gay cinema in India, showcasing a variety of themes and perspectives.

12. Thadani’s book “Sakhiyani: Lesbian Desire in Ancient and Modern India,” released in 1996, investigated the history of lesbian desire in Indian culture. Thadani illuminated the rich and complicated tradition of female same-sex partnerships by researching ancient writings as well as contemporary realities.

13. In 1997, activist Arvind Narrain sponsored the first LGBTQ rights conference at the National Law School in Bangalore, starting discussions around queerness in colleges and universities. This seminar paved the way for future activism and advocacy in academic settings.

14. The introduction of helplines such as Sangini and Humraz in 1997 gave critical support and services to LGBTQ people in difficulty. These helplines provided a lifeline to individuals in need and played an important role in linking LGBTQ groups throughout India.

15. The Calcutta Rainbow Pride march, India’s first gay pride march, conducted in 1999, was a watershed moment in LGBTQ history. Despite its humble origins, the march delivered a powerful message of pride and exposure to the nation.

Inclusivity in Action

16. In 1999, CALERI released the “Lesbian Emergence” manifesto, which addressed queer women’s invisibility and marginalisation in Indian culture. This manifesto sought to raise the viewpoints and experiences of lesbian and bisexual women while questioning conventional conventions and stereotypes.

17. The publishing of “Facing the Mirror: Lesbian Writing from India” in 1999 allowed lesbian women to express their stories and experiences. This anthology of texts improved the visibility and representation of lesbian voices in Indian literature.

18. The Naz Foundation and The Lawyer’s Collective filed the first petition against Section 377 in 2001, which represented a watershed point in the struggle for LGBTQ rights in India. This court case aimed to repeal discriminatory laws and promote LGBTQ rights.

19. In 2001, trans activist Gauri Sawant bucked traditional standards by adopting an orphaned girl, thereby defying misconceptions about trans parenthood. Sawant’s narrative celebrated the transgender community’s perseverance and love, urging others to reconsider traditional concepts of family and identity.

20. When Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil came out publicly in 2002, it was a watershed event for LGBTQ visibility in India. Despite family pressure, Prince Manvendra’s boldness and candour helped pave the road for greater acceptance and understanding of LGBTQIA+ identities.

 Pride and Setbacks:

21. In 2009, the Chennai Rainbow Coalition organised the first Rainbow Pride Walk, demonstrating the LGBTQ community’s growing visibility and solidarity in South India. This event gathered together several LGBTQ organisations and allies to celebrate pride and push for equality.

22. In 2013, the Supreme Court recriminalised homosexuality, dealing a severe blow to LGBTQ rights in India. The overturning of the Delhi High Court’s progressive decision restored colonial-era legislation, making LGBTQ people vulnerable to discrimination and persecution.

23. Despite difficulties, LGBTQ communities in India have continued to defend their recognition and rights. Guwahati’s inaugural Pride walk in 2013 celebrated the perseverance and determination of LGBTQ people in the Northeastern regions.

24. The episode “Accepting Alternate Sexualities” on the TV show “Satyamev Jayate” in 2013 was a watershed event for portrayal in mainstream media. Aamir Khan hosted the programme, which questioned preconceptions and urged acceptance of different sexual orientations and gender identities.

25. Transgender artists created Durga Puja idols in Kolkata for the first time, demonstrating the growing acceptance and inclusion of transgender people in religious and cultural events. This act represented a greater shift towards accepting diversity and questioning established gender roles.

An Evolving Narrative: 

LGBTQ people’s journey has been one of endurance and transformation, from the dark depths of colonial legislation to the bright lights of legislative wins and cultural celebrations. Despite the victories, the shadows of ongoing struggles—discrimination, violence, and legal ambiguities—remain. However, with each step taken, the chorus of voices demanding justice and inclusiveness becomes stronger. As India strives for a future where love knows no borders, let us learn from the past. And embrace today’s variety to set a road for a more open tomorrow, one in where each person can live proudly and truthfully. No matter who they love.

Next Read: Blood Sisters: Lesbian Activists Who Fought the AIDS Crisis Together

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