Rise of Queer Activism: Marching with Pride from Stonewall to Assam
June is observed globally as Pride month
June is observed globally as Pride month to honour the years of struggle for civil rights and the constant pursuit of equal justice under the law for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community. But, why was the month of June chosen? Because it is when the Stonewall Uprising took place way back in 1969. Located in New York's Greenwich Village (Manhattan), Stonewall Inn was a haven for the city's marginalized LGBT community, where people congregated to share their narratives of sexual orientation and gender identity. Raided by city police on June 28, 1969, when solicitation of homosexual acts was essentially prohibited in every state except Illinois, a worldwide liberation movement arose, sparking activism and awareness across the United States. The Stonewall uprising was arguably the first event in the history of LGBTQ+ rights that galvanized queer people all over the globe to recognise their collective cause as a wider political movement. Marked as the beginning of a new era, Stonewall energized the struggle for equality, creating an impetus for a new generation of activists with a slew of concerns to address.
Today, parades are a key aspect of Pride month, which, in addition to being a month-long celebration, provides a platform for peaceful protest and raising political awareness of current concerns confronting the community. Ironically, the Stonewall demonstrations had an impression on rising nations such as India. Significant beginnings, ranging from literature and magazine to networks have helped in making invisible identities visible, as well as spurred queer groups to question the violence and unjust laws in India. With this, history was made with the first Pride Parade held in Kolkata in July, 1999, creating a public space where one might celebrate one's own identity and heralding the beginning of queer politics in the nation. And today, Pride marches can be seen in over 21 Indian cities, including the Northeastern States, such as Assam.
Growing up in the country's most multicultural region with diverse communities, queer identities appear to be either non-existent or marginalized. As a result, the discourse on gender and sexuality remains beyond the scope of discussion and debates, making it difficult to find a position on the global, national and policy-making platform. It was not until February, 2014 that history was made with a Pride walk held in Guwahati and the whole Northeastern region for the first time. The movement, which commenced with only five people from the LGBT community and the support of its allies, has now seen an overwhelming involvement of thousands of people not only from Assam but also from other areas of the Northeastern region. And, for the ninth year in a row, Queer Pride Guwahati has been the largest gathering of Assam's LGBTQ+ community and allies, with this year's theme being 'Irresponsible and Insensitive Representation of Queer Lives by Media'. Having followed that, the movement served as a stepping stone to further activities in the region that would carry the narrative around queer rights to make it more visible and inclusive in nature. This is evident in the establishment of various queer collective organizations in Assam, such as Xukia, Xobdo and Xomonnoy, which have advocated extensively for LGBTQ+ rights to ignite a larger discourse about queer rights and boost queer activism across the State. In this direction, it is important to highlight Assam's first shelter home for the transgender community, the Rainbow Home of Seven Sisters (RHoSS), the brainchild of Sister Prema Chowallur, which proved to be a beacon of hope for individuals who have been marginalized by our society.
Being considered India's 'periphery', the 'Eight Sisters' of the North-East have long been an insignificant component of the pan-Indian mosaic, having limited clout in national and international activities. In this vein, when it comes to queer movements, most of the conversations remain confined to major cities. In this context, it would be necessary to shed light on some of the most pressing challenges that keep minority groups, such as queer people, and their concerns at bay. The absence of queer representation in liberal democracies is the reason why the queer community remain invisible in this region. Starting at the regional level, the Assam Transgender Welfare Body, a six-member board representing the whole North-East area, has just one trans woman as a representation of the queer community. This lack of representation is exemplified by the National Council for Transgender Persons which includes five nominated members from the transgender community, none of whom representss the North-East. Even academic forums such as conferences and workshops seem to be indifferent to the discussions on such topics. But when they organize, they tend to invite resource individuals who seem unaware of the grass roots concerns of queer people's everyday lives. Over time, they become the spokespersons for the region, and to no one's surprise, they seem to have no interest in putting out proposals for policymakers that would benefit the community. Due to a lack of representation, whereas the region receives a plethora of developmental projects and funds, national organizations tend to lend no importance to collaborating with the queer communities, leaving funding a major issue for queer collectives in Assam.
Unfortunately, this is the result of our people themselves revealing a degree of animosity towards the people of the same region, irrespective of gender identity. Yet, despite all of these struggles, these organizations have sustained and continue to expand in size by reaching out to remote areas and providing a platform for voices that go unheard. Without any acknowledgement or institutional support, different strands of queer activism in this region have already awakened, which hopefully will lead to community-building by bringing forth non-manipulative leaders and thereby generating inclusive environments. In light of this, with Drishti: A Queer Collective, holding the first Upper Assam Pride Walk in Jorhat (April, 2022), this June will see a surge of Pride marches in areas such as Dibrugarh, Nagaon and Tezpur for the very first time, as the time has come for the rainbow to beam across Assam's sky.
Finally, it is important to remember that queer liberation cannot be achieved if it remains isolated as the queer community is heterogeneous. Like intersectional feminism, a wave of intersectional queer movement is constantly forming in the country. Last but not least, we should consider alliance as a deed rather than a label. It is simple to designate ourselves as allies, yet the title is insufficient. To be an effective ally, one must be willing to consistently support and defend queer rights against injustice. True acceptance and respect need the participation of all members of society. So let us get started.