'Article 377 has always been used to extort and intimidate us'
'I never chose to be the way I am'
'I did not choose a life of being harassed, ridiculed, made fun of, denigrated and abused'
'We always live with a sense of fear when we go out into the public space'
'Article 377… is like a Damocles sword hanging over your head. It is being misused'
Gay activist Sunil Menon talks about the fallout of the recent Supreme Court ruling upholding Article 377.
Sunil Menon is a well known fashion show director and stylist, and an HIV/AIDS activist. He is an outspoken gay activist who has come out openly about his gay status.
He is the founder of Sahodaran, an organisation that works for MSM (men having sex with men).
Ever since the Supreme Court overruled the 2009 Delhi high court judgement on Article 377 that decriminalised gay sex among consenting adults in private, Menon has been talking about this at various platforms in Kerala.
The Supreme Court bench has put the ball in Parliament's court by asking the legislature to debate and take a decision on the controversial issue.
In this interview, Sunil Menon talks about the issue and its fallout on the LGBT (Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.
Did it come as a shock to you when the Supreme Court overruled the Delhi high court judgement on Article 377?
It came as a big shock to me.
I was very shocked and ashamed primarily because the Delhi high court on July 2, 2009 had brought out a very clear, erudite 15 page ruling as to why Article 377 should be amended or changed and how it is a basic violation of human rights.
When you have such a nice verdict, why does the Supreme Court have to come out with such a spineless and prejudiced verdict?
I think the judges must have thought of a larger picture. It is election time and they have passed the buck on to Parliament.
Many politicians have said that the judgement was regressive. Do you think Parliament will change Article 377?
Do they have a choice? They have to do something as the Supreme Court has passed the buck to them.
If only the Supreme Court had upheld what the Delhi high court had said, it would have been easier for the ball to get rolling. As someone very emotionally said, if they (the judges) had an LGBT member in their family, they would have realised what they had done.
Image: Gay rights activists wave flags as they attend a protest against a verdict by the Supreme Court in New Delhi. (Inset) Sunil Menon is a well-known gay rights activist and the founder of Sahodaran, an organisation that works for MSM (men having sex with men).
Photographs: Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters (Inset photo: Courtesy Sunil Menon)
'I did not choose a life of being harassed'
How do you respond to people who say that homosexuality is unnatural?
I would say I never chose to be the way I am.
I did not choose a life of being harassed, ridiculed, made fun of, denigrated and abused.
If any sane human being knew this was the life in store for an LGBT person, would anybody want to be known or seen as one? No. We all want to lead normal respectable lives but LGBT members are denied that.
They are constantly being put down and harassed. We always live with a sense of fear when we go out into the public space.
On the contrary, it takes a lot of honesty and courage for an individual to come out and say, this is who I am. I can't change myself.
Article 377 says it is criminal to have gay sex among consenting adults in private. Does that not mean intruding into your bedroom, and your personal space?
The law will not restrict itself to the LGBT community; it is basically going into the bedroom of every individual.
My question is does the government and the legal system have the time to look at the sex life of 1 billion people, judge them and criminalise some?
You don't have time to catch the rapists, child abusers, murderers and people steeped in corruption, and you are letting them get away free. But you have the time to make criminals out of two consenting adults who are doing whatever they want in their private space.
Do the police and also the moral police use the article to harass individuals?
Article 377 has always been used to blackmail, extort and intimidate LGBT people. It is like a Damocles sword hanging over your head. It is being misused completely.
The Netherlands did scientific research and proved that children are born LGBT. It is genetic and not the fault of an individual.
Nobody chooses to be LGBT. If somebody is born with a disability, you accept it. The Scandinavian countries have accepted this and given the community minority status.
Will politicians do something positive for the LGBT community at least after the elections?
I was an optimist until the Supreme Court ruling came. But now I realise there is a larger political game, and scheming and planning that has gone into this.
Image: A gay rights activist carries a child on his shoulders as he attends a protest against a verdict by the Supreme Court in New Delhi
Photographs: Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters
'All political parties are playing it safe'
Do you think the LGBT community has suddenly become a vote bank?
Yes, suddenly we are looked at as a vote bank.
Another thing is that we have a lot of money. There are many affluent LGBT people. They are not going to come out and say we are LGBT, but they have the money. If you influence them in some way, they will ally with you.
The politicians do not know whether to support us or not. Some come out in support and then we see them backtracking because they are afraid of the large mass.
I feel all political parties are playing it safe.
The BJP has openly said that they find gay sex unnatural...
After winning all the states in the Assembly elections, the BJP wants to win the remaining states too. And the Congress now wants to win our votes, and you hear individual voices supporting us.
What I want to know is: how many of them would have said this if there was no election soon?
What is your reaction to Baba Ramdev's pronouncement that he could correct homosexuals and make them normal people?
These are all gimmicks. Everybody wants publicity and even bad publicity is good publicity.
Those who talk like this have completely lost their mind. No rational, educated, intelligent person would talk like this.
Sri Sri Ravishankar beautifully narrated the story of Lord Ayyappa who was born out of the union of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. He asked why we are talking about homosexuality as illegal when Hinduism has mythological stories about same sex, alternative sex, etc.
So, which political party is playing the political game for its advantage?
Despite all the corruption and the obnoxious behaviour of the Congress, the LGBT community is now forced to look at the Congress as an ally.
They (the Congress) have done this when the BJP is sweeping the north.
There was a fear among the LGBT community that the BJP would not support it. Instead of keeping quiet, the party came out with that stupid negative remark and the entire LGBT community is against them.
So, the Congress is now happy. That is why I spoke about the larger political game. Now, we have only the Aam Aadmi Party to vote for!
Photographs: Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters