LGBTQ Rights & Hierarchy in the South Asian Diaspora (Featured on

Sometimes your most spontaneous decisions are your best decisions. About a year and a half ago I was randomly looking for a GPA boosting class for the Winter Term at Rutgers University. I selected Gender, Race, and Sexuality a course that challenged me to explore the most taboo subjects in modern day society. I loved it.

I was a business major, but there was something lacking in my studies. I always felt the absence of genuine human connection. We can study financial formulas and market trends, but I always felt at least for me there was the lingering due of impostor syndrome. Hey I am a person who will try to learn everything, but more than anything I wanted to learn about people a bit more than green stacks and derivatives.

I come from a South Asian background, one flooding with diversity on a plethora of levels. No two South Asians are alike – different religions, hundreds of dialects and languages, cuisine, history, the list goes on. However, coming from a South Asian background I have a tendency to question the orthodox ways of thinking we have vs. the new waves of western thinking.

The United States is currently run by a right wing president and a government that thinks their definition of promoting moral behavior is controlling personal decisions of human beings (i.e. abortion rights, immigration bans, etc). Things aren’t the best right now, but where I’m going with this is in the United States at least people have been exposed to the broad spectrum of gender identities and orientations. Other countries are getting there. 

This gap in exposure inspired me to research the triumphs and failures of NGO’s in promoting LGBTQ rights across three major countries – Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. I wanted to learn about how in three countries where the Penal Code 377 exists where the government openly bans sexual intercourse for certain individuals, how were non-profit organizations working around these restrictions to fight for LGBTQ rights.

Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine. (377, Unnatural Offenses)

It was an eye-opening experience that also made me realize the governments of all three countries impose a hierarchy within the LGBTQ community. In the media we see the pride countries have for acknowledging the transgender population as a third gender, but I always wondered what about the rights of lesbians or women transitioning to become men? 

Hijras and Kothis are recognized as a third sex in all three countries. However we have to realize they along with gay men often receive the spotlight from HIV/Aids organizations and have more legal rights than other members of the LGBTQ community.

For instance, the Bandhu Social Welfare Society of Bangladesh targets specifically MSM (Male who have Sex with Men) and Hijras for their assessments on HIV/aids and other social issues. The BSWS organization organized the 1st national consultation meeting on male and sexual reproductive health in Bangladesh, but it was targeted towards maintaining the rights of Hijra and male community.

Even in India, local NGOs target HIV/Aids education towards Kothis and MSM over other members of LGBTQ community. In India there are other transgender categories especially those who are female but identify as male. In Tamil Nadu, there are the Thirunambigal, in Andhra Pradesh there are the Magaraidu, and in Karnataka the Jogappa. These categories of people still are pushing for their recognition in society. It is said Hijras receive most recognition due to their acceptance as a third gender and acceptance of their guru-chela culture.

I think the richest experience that defined this disparity within the LGBTQ community was when I had the opportunity with my peers to chat online with a Bangladeshi woman who was hiding her sexuality from her parents. She was in her late 20’s and emphasized that if she was more open about her sexuality it would be more than a question of being disowned by her parents, she would be vulnerable to physical attacks by her community. I thought how could someone live their life constantly as someone other than their authentic self?

South Asian society has opened one eye certain populations in the LGBTQ community but closed another to the rest of the spectrum.

I don’t mean to discredit any work NGO’s have done so far as members of these NGO’s risk their lives on a daily basis to help others. My purpose was to study the extent of progress keeping legal forces in mind.

Strides of progress do include:

-If we are to also look at Pakistan and similarities to India and Bangladesh, we see NGO’s such as the Naz Male Health Alliance conducts HIV testing for LGBTQ groups. Their office has no solid security, but we do see doctors shielding their identity to help LGBTQ citizens. There is no government protection.

-The Naz Foundation in Pakistan also holds secret social events for its transgender woman and gay community where individuals can socialize in an accepting environment.

-CARE in Bangladesh educates about HIV/AIDS prevention to MSM, drug addicts, and even lesbian individuals.

-In India, Two NGOS, the Humsafar Trust and Naz Foundation Trust received a 50 Lakh Check from the Reliance Foundation for their efforts at LGBTQ justice on national TV. The Humsafar trust stated it will use the money to answer queries from those in remote villages, and support initiatives for Lesbian, Bisexuals, and Transsexuals including job opportunities. Naz will use this money to continue fighting against the 377 penal code and helpful hotlines. We also see high profile celebrities such as Celina Jaitley and Amir Khan openly support LGBTQ rights. If more celebrities/government officials partnered with these NGOs I would assume further strides of progress would be made. 

-The Equal India Alliance, a non profit for LGBTQ Equality in India promotes awareness about mistreatment of LGBTQ community. They have a QueerCampus event in Pune, Maharastra, Bangalore, and Delhi targeted towards providing a comfortable space for LGBTQ community to come together and tackle emotional issues. The organization partners with Naz, MINGLE, and others to also bring equality in the workplace as well. Currently companies such as Goldman Sachs, IBM, JP Morgan, and several others have upheld equal treatment of their employees as a result of these workshops.

-India still currently does not recognize marriage between same sex couples, however we do see smaller scale courts defying national law. A Gurgaon court did recognize the marriage two women in 2011. Other good news is that it is legal for transgender individuals to adopt and change their gender as of 2010.

However there are areas these NGO’s will have to work harder to push for full equality include working for government representation and as a start recognizing marriages of the LGBTQ community.

In 2009, in Naz Foundation V. Govt of NCT of Delhi, adult concensual homosexual relations were decriminalized in the Indian Penal Code. The court stated 377 violated India’s fundamental rights to its citizens. However, in 2012 the Ministry of Home Affairs reversed the ruling calling homosexual relations “immoral”.

Anti-discrimination laws are also only for transgender and transsexual individuals. NGOs will have to fight for the protection of all individuals.

I think the opportunity to dive into a subject like this was beneficial because working with these primary and secondary sources, I realized how liberties I take for granted others work on a daily basis to grasp even for a day. I admire the people who really go out and challenge taboo topics under conservative roofs, because LGBTQ equality is a human rights issues that we can’t ignore.

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