“I can still see him sitting there near the playing fields of our youth, his shirt sleeves rolled up, his glasses glinting in the moonlight, telling me: “Stay in America for your education and your career if you need to. You don’t have to stay away because you are gay. Things will change here. Believe me.”

So writes novelist Sandip Roy for his piece in the New York Times about one of India’s first gay rights activist, Siddharth Gautam. Gautam was a young lawyer, “a lanky young man with charmingly crooked teeth” who co-founded the AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan (ABVA).

In what was a pioneering study at that time, Gautam and six others from the ABVA came out with Less Than Gay: A Citizens’ Report on the Status of Homosexuality in India. The publication was remarkable, not only for discussing such a taboo topic at that time but also because it catalogued the stories of LGBT+ people and their battle with heartbreak, sexuality and AIDS.

 

According to inUth, it also spoke about how many in the community were forced to resort to prostitution and how transgenders were only seen “through the lens of AIDS”. It showed how homosexuality was not a despicable aspect of Western culture but that it had strong roots in Indian history, mythology and culture. It spoke for people in the community and how they had been completely brushed under the carpet by the government – elected leaders who had sworn to protect the constitutional rights of the citizens.

Now, years later, when Section 377 has been struck down and India’s LGBT+ population is closer to equality than ever before, it is imperative we remember Siddharth Gautam and those who laid the foundation.

(Header credits: Siddharth Gautam, shot by Jean-Pierre Ady Fenyo in 1980)