Archive for the ‘LGBT’ Category


LGBT+ artists – creating everything from movies to music – say state censorship, far from a deterrent, acts as a muse

By Sonia Sarkar

SINGAPORE, Oct 16 (Openly) – Homosexuality is banned in Singapore and arts are strictly censored – yet performers say the tough line helps foment a thriving, LGBT+ cultural scene in this conservative city state.

Drag artists stage sellout shows at upmarket bars, gay performance poets are in demand and singers use rap to come out.

Gay sex remains illegal – even in private – but LGBT+ artists feel they now have a firm foothold in popular culture.

The tiny island plays host to three LGBT+ arts festivals a year and performers say their work stands in resistance to the government as they weave past censors to reach a wider audience.

“It is our way of pointing at the world we live in and saying it’s ridiculous and wrong,” said drag queen Becca D’Bus, whose shows attract a young, prosperous and professional crowd in some of the city’s busiest downtown bars.

LGBT+ artists – creating everything from movies to music – say state censorship, far from a deterrent, acts as a muse.

“The harshness of the government … increases the ingenuity of artists in staging events without actually using words like ‘queer’ or ‘gay’,” said poet and author Cyril Wong.

“A word such as ‘gender’ is used instead.”

Gay sex between men – though not women – is a crime in the Southeast Asian city state, a state governed on strict lines and conservative values.

“In terms of laws, our rights for gay and bi men are bad. Gay sex is still a jailable offence. This is worse than many other neighbouring countries where gay sex is not illegal,” said writer Ng Yi-Sheng. “But again, we haven’t had crackdowns on gay men such as in Malaysia and Indonesia.”

Lawmakers are cautious on social reform, citing the rich ethnic and religious mix in Singapore’s 5.6 million inhabitants.

Activists are increasingly pushing back against the ban on gay sex, aiming for change in the courts and an end to discrimination across their young and modern society.

“From theatre to performance and visual art exhibitions, LGBT+ artists in Singapore have slowly carved out space and pushed the comfort zone for dialogue around gay counterculture,” said Tristan Cai, a Singaporean, who teaches art and Asian studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland in the United States.

LGBT+ festivals such as Pink Dot, Queer Zinefest and Love and Pride Film Festival have sprung up as a form of resistance against state restrictions on LGBT+ art and culture.

In July, popular musician Joshua Su came out to his parents by releasing a new track on which he raps: “G-A-Y-B-O-Y OK.”

Academics say the high-profile arts scene helps the wider push for LGBT+ rights.

“The LGBTQ community has been working hard for inclusion and against discrimination over the past decade….Their efforts have contributed to a level of greater acceptance in Singapore society,” says Ian Chong, associate professor in the department of political science at National University of Singapore.

The National Arts Council, a government funding body, said art had “the power to bring people in our diverse, multicultural society together” and reflected the many voices of Singapore.


“I talk a lot about queerness in my comedy, trying to debunk myths and stereotypes people may have about me,” 32-year-old bisexual poet and stand-up comedian Stephanie Chan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Film-makers have learnt to use the internet to get round the state censors of their LGBT+ output.

“If we were to make a film to show in cinemas, we will have to get a classification rating and some scenes may get cut,” said filmmaker Leon Cheo.

“Queer festivals make us feel less alone since social discrimination never goes away,” said 42-year-old poet and author Cyril Wong, a winner of the Singapore Literature Prize.

Yet Singapore has liberal credentials compared to some countries in the region.

Brunei sparked outcry this year over plans to impose the death penalty for gay sex, then backtracked after intense global criticism. In neighbouring Malaysia, the authorities caned two women last year after they were convicted of same-sex relations.

Popular opinion in Singapore appears divided.

Last year, an Ipsos survey revealed 55% of Singaporeans support the ban on gay sex. Yet a study by the Singapore-based Institute of Policy Studies found six in 10 people aged 18-25 believe same-sex marriage is not wrong.

Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong says his country occupies a middle ground on LGBT+ rights.

“We are not like San Francisco, neither are we like certain countries in the Middle East,” Lee told a conference in June.

“It’s something in between. It’s the way this society is.”


All plays and public performances – including poetry readings – must be screened and approved by the government’s Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA).

There are no official statistics on how much content is banned each year and the IMDA declined to comment.

In 2007, Ng was banned from reading a short story at a Pride event as it described a civil servant who turned gay after reading a piece of erotica.

“I felt indignant and frustrated, but it was also funny. By banning my story about a banned story, they were fulfilling this image of Singapore as a censor-happy nation,” Ng said, noting the irony of the government banning a story about censorship.

The National Arts Council (NAC) said it had regularly supported Ng’s projects.

Yet many gay artists and writers say their projects are rejected by the NAC and complain of missing out on teaching jobs at public universities.

A spokesman for the NAC said the body supported all artists and arts groups “according to our strategic priorities”.

The situation has improved immeasurably since the 1990s, Wong said, when LGBT+ art was limited to independent galleries or low-key informal events for fear of police persecution.

Now, there is more of a spirit of openness with local companies sponsoring festivals since as PinkDot, he added.

“This freedom cannot be underestimated,” Wong said.

Mainstream media, such as digital sites Today and Nylon Magazine, also prominently feature drag queens, added D’Bus.

The other visible change is that people – from both the straight and LGBT+ communities – flock to her shows.

“I find fun, glamour, frivolity, beauty and pleasure productive,” she said.

“They bring people together.”

[This story appeared in Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Openly on 16/10/2019. Original Link to the story:

(Reporting by Sonia Sarkar @sonia_26; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths and Hugo Greenhalgh. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit

Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.


A marriage bureau in Gujarat is facilitating gay marriages. What does this trend say about the future lives of homosexuals in India? Sonia Sarkar reports


  • AN EQUAL MUSIC: (Top)The Ahmedabad bureau has gay prince Manvendra Singh Gohil (below) as a counsellor

After years of dilly-dallying, Vishal, a marketing manager with a pharmaceutical company, decided to get married. The news far from pleased his parents. First, they threw a fit, then dragged him to a tantric. Next, his father brought home a female prostitute – for him.

“All this because I said I wanted to get married to a man,” says Vishal, who is from Mumbai but is currently settled in Ahmedabad.

When he couldn’t convince his parents, Vishal approached Arranged Gay Marriage (AGM), India’s first gay marriage bureau. A couple of interactions later the matchmakers there managed to get through to his parents. “They saw several videos on gay relationships on the Internet; they read about gay marriage on various websites; they sat through several counselling sessions to know how gay relationships work,” says Vishal. Once they were convinced, they started looking for a partner for him.

The search ended with Kartikey, a professor in a Mumbai college. “We are getting married in December,” says Vishal. Maitree Basu, who works for an IT firm in Bangalore, also met her partner Tanushree through the bureau. The two tied the knot last year.

Like Vishal and Maitree, over 23 other homosexuals – gays and lesbians – have found their partners through this Ahmedabad-based marriage bureau since it was founded a little over a year ago. To date, the bureau has facilitated four such marriages in India and 20 abroad. And its Facebook page is perennially flooded with queries.

Unlike Australia, Belgium, Norway, Spain, Canada, South Africa, the Netherlands and some states in the US, gay marriage is not legally recognised in India. In fact, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code prohibits it.

But legalities don’t seem to deter Urvi Shah, the 23-year-old owner of the bureau. “Gays and lesbians also have the right to live a normal life just as any heterosexual,” she says. “Everyone needs a life partner. Moreover, marriage reflects traditional Indian values.” Having said that, she is well aware that in India “coming out” is no easy task, forget deciding to get married. She feels strongly about the social exclusion and psychological distress homosexuals are subjected to and through the bureau offers counselling support to those who want to come out of the closet.

For homosexuals opting or wanting to get married, the idea is to publicly claim their societal space as a married person just as any married heterosexual person. Only last month, Manjit Kaur, a 30-year-old Punjab Police woman sub-inspector married another woman at Pucca Baugh, in Jalandhar, complete with Hindu rituals. Mumbai-based Gaurav Salve, a chartered accountant, married Jake, an American, last year. He says, “I am a religious person and I wanted to get married. For a man in India, getting married to a man was impossible.”

Manvendra Singh Gohil, the celebrity gay prince of Rajpipla in Gujarat, often counsels the clients of AGM. He asks, “When heterosexuals have the liberty to marry, why should gays be deprived of the same right?”

No reason, except that among other things it isn’t easy for homosexuals to find partners keen on a long-term relationship and commitment.

“Homosexual men do have a tendency to have multi-partner sex as their stable relationships are not recognised by society,” says gay rights activist Ashok Row Kavi. “Our first baseline survey in Mumbai in 2000 showed that gay men had an average of 11 casual partners in a month. This figure has now come down to four and even this is reducing,” says Ashok who is chairman of the gay rights organisation, Humsafar Trust. He stresses that as society is getting used to same-sex couples, the chances of stable gay relationships are increasing.

In the meantime, however, the going continues to be tough for Urvi who runs the bureau out of Gujarat, the BJP-run state that supports criminalisation of gay sex. She will tell you it is considered “unethical for a Hindu girl to support homosexuals” and she is used to receiving random threats. Recently, an anonymous caller threatened her with acid attack.

On the home front, too, niggling worries abound. Her parents seem to have got past the initial worry about what people will make of such an initiative. But they cannot stop worrying about how it will impact Urvi’s own marital prospects. Perhaps they worry that no one will believe that she is herself of heterosexual orientation.

Urvi, however, is unbudging. Her steadfastness holds out hope to the homosexual community. Gaurav is thinking of adopting a child.

From counselling and facilitating same-sex marriages will AGM diversify into helping homosexual couples raise a family? It well might, once the trend they’ve floated settles in.

The gay community in Bangladesh is in despair. Brutal attacks on the editor of Bangladesh’s sole gay magazine and an activist have prompted gay people to go into hiding or leave the country, finds Sonia Sarkar
True colourS: A rainbow rally in Bangladesh; Pic:Roopbaan; (below) Dhee, the nation’s first gay comic strip character

Dhee, the curly-haired small-town girl, is in love – with a girl in her class. As she grows older, her parents urge her to marry a suitable boy. She doesn’t know what to do – should she get married to a man or take her life? Should she leave her country or stay back to speak for gay rights?

Dhee is the protagonist of Bangladesh’s eponymous first gay comic strip.

Like her, the 24-year-old gay activist Sharif Hasan Bappy of Sylhet, some 240km from Dhaka, is unsure about his future. Islamist radicals have threatened to kill him for his sexual orientation.

“The caller asked me to have my last meal and say my last prayers because they would kill me soon,” Bappy says. “If I have to be safe, I have to leave Bangladesh.”

The threat is real, as most gay people in Bangladesh know. Last month, 35-year-old Xulhaz Mannan, who edited Bangladesh’s only lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) magazine, Roopbaan, and fellow activist Mahbub Tonoy, 25, were killed in Dhaka. A member of the banned Islamist group, Ansarullah Bangla Team, was arrested for the murders.

Homosexuality is a crime in Bangladesh, as it is in India. But what worries the community is the attack by radicals, who see homosexuality as un-Islamic. After Mannan’s death, most gay rights activists have gone into hiding. Some have left Bangladesh or are preparing to leave.

International human rights groups say they have been getting requests from activists in Bangladesh seeking help to flee the country. “Over the past year, we have been helping a range of activists in Bangladesh, including from the LGBT community, who are in need of protection – some of them have been forced to flee the country. It is a sad indication of how dire the situation is that these requests for help are becoming more frequent,” says Amnesty International’s South Asia director, Champa Patel.

Help has been sought from gay rights activists in India, too. “Gay people from Bangladesh have been contacting me to understand if India can be a safe haven for them,” says Harish Iyer, equal rights activist and advisor for the think tank, Mission for Indian Gay & Lesbian Empowerment. “I have been telling them that if people are unsafe in a small town in India, they can go and live in any big city. Nobody is running after gays with a machete in their hand,” he adds.

But threats to life stalk members of groups such as Roopbaan, Bandhu and Boys of Bangladesh. The warnings, they say, come from Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh Islami Chhatrashibir, Bangladesh Awami Olama League, Ansarullah Bangla Team and Hefajote Islam. Most threats are on the phone or conveyed through anonymous letters or the social media.

After Roopbaan came out with its first edition in 2014, Mannan received a death threat. The printer of the magazine was also warned.

A close watch is being kept on the work of academics dealing with gender rights, too. Sources in Dhaka University and Rangpur’s Begum Rokeya University say students affiliated with radical organisations record lectures on gender rights in classrooms and threaten their teachers later if they feel that the lessons are “un-Islamic”.

The situation has worsened with the killing of atheist bloggers, teachers and Sufi leaders in the last one year. “A fear psychosis has been created to ensure nobody dares to think out of the box,” says Saikh Imtiaz, chair, department of women and gender studies, Dhaka University.

It is this climate of fear that prompted Riamoni Chisty, 22, to move to Munster in Germany in January. He claims that he received threats from various Islamic groups for working for gay rights in Comilla. He says that he was sexually assaulted by a group of radicals in 2010. In 2012, the youth wing of a fundamental group said he would be paraded naked if he continued with his activism.

“Either you choose to leave the country or you remain confined to your house,” Chisty says.

Visual artist Xecon Uddin, 29, moved to Paris five years ago. Uddin’s paintings depicting male nudity angered the fundamentalists, he says. “Bangladesh is a country for those who remain silent about sexuality; not for those who choose to talk about it,” he says.

But Islamist organisations stress that they will continue to oppose anything un-Islamic. “In a Muslim-majority country like ours, how can we allow a handful of homosexuals to damage our culture and society,” asks Hefajote Islam secretary-general Junaid Babu Nogori.

Police, however, say gay rights activists have nothing to worry. “We are prepared to give full security to anybody from that community,” assures Muhammad Abdul Batin, joint commissioner (detective branch), Dhaka Metropolitan Police.

Gay rights groups have been active in Bangladesh for the past 17 years. In 1999, a Bangladeshi known just as Rengyu started an e-group called GayBangladesh. Later, other closed online groups – Teen_Gay_Bangladesh and Boys of Bangladesh – came up.

In 2012, a film on homosexuality in Bangladesh, titled Amra Ki Etoi Bhinno (Are we so different?), received the award for best documentary film in the Mumbai International Queer festival. The same year, Boys of Bangladesh participated in an LGBT festival organised by the Goethe-Institut in Dhaka.

There is encouragement coming from within Bangladesh, too. When transgenders were officially recognised as the third gender in Bangladesh in 2013, gay rights activists gathered strength. In 2014, the first gay parade was organised. “The parade was the first sign of defiance and also a public appeal to decriminalise gay sex,” a gay rights activist says.

Online dating sites such as and somoprem and blogs on gay relationships such as and have become popular, too. Light humour on gay relationships is a hit on social media. A video by a Dhaka-based comedy collective ShowoffsDhk, titled “If Gay marriage is legalised in Bangladesh”, went viral on YouTube last year.

Some gay rights groups have been discussing issues at meetings, or bringing them up through poetry, storytelling, photography and paintings. In 2014, Roopbaan was launched and in the same year, Bangladeshi photographer Gazi Nafis Ahmed held a photo exhibition “Inner Face” on gay relationships. A year later, Dhee came out as a comic strip, circulated among gay groups.

” Dhee gave voice to many lesbians in Bangladesh, who were under-represented,” says Rizwana Rahman (name changed), who was part of the team that conceptualised the character.

Dhee’s fate remains undecided – just like that of thousands of homosexual people in Bangladesh. “The first part of the comic ends with Dhee’s dilemma. In the second part, we will sketch out her journey but that will be decided by the people of the community through workshops. Workshops are now stalled because of these threats,” Rahman says.

For many activists, the future lies in continuing the battle at home. “Once you leave the country, you close all doors of return,” Chisty says.

(This story was originally published in The Telegraph on May 29,2016.Link:

Ajay Jain has lost many of his men friends. He knew it would happen. After hiding the fact he was gay for 15 years, the Delhi resident finally broke the news to his pals. They reacted — as he’d expected — with fear, scepticism and hostility. “Some told me to force myself to have sex with women so that I could prove I was not gay. Others avoided my company,” the 30-year-old public relations manager says.A Supreme Court ruling that maintains that gay sex is criminal — announced earlier this week — is not the only problem the gay community is faced with. Despite the fact that the gay movement is vibrantly out on the streets today, a section of people still finds it difficult to accept homosexuality. As more and more men come out of the closet, they find that people they earlier considered friends are turning their backs on them.

“I always fear that I will be dropped by my heterosexual male friends or ridiculed if I tell them I am gay. I have seen and heard my heterosexual male friends ridicule gay men as hijras,” Mumbai-based software engineer Prithvi Patel stresses. “I haven’t told them I am gay because I don’t want to be subjected to that kind of humiliation,” he says.

Sociologists believe that homophobia — the fear or dislike of homosexuality — is common among many heterosexual men. Humiliating gay men, ridiculing them and avoiding them are all traits of homophobia, says Sanjay Srivastava, professor of sociology, Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi.

There are many reasons for this, including fears that experts shrug off as baseless. Some heterosexual men, for instance, live in the fear that gay men will make passes at them. “Lack of knowledge about the behaviour of homosexual men has led to this wrong impression,” says Anjali Gopalan, founder of Naz Foundation, an NGO working for the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

Some believe that being seen in the presence of homosexual men may lead people to think that they too are gay. Take the case of Rishav Banerjee, a Delhi-based banker, who no longer spends time with a friend ever since he found out that he was gay. “If I am seen with him, many will think I am a part of the club. And I don’t want to be labelled gay,” Banerjee says.

But the larger issue, experts hold, is that in a society where patriarchy holds sway, gayness is seen in most quarters as a sign of femininity in men, and therefore to be shunned or made fun of. Some argue that heterosexual men fear losing their conventional masculine identity.

“Since we have a patriarchal society, heterosexual men look down upon gay men because they are believed to be woman-like or effeminate,” says Srivastava, author of Sexuality Studies. “If he is not able to take charge, he is called a woman.”

Many of these doubts are aired when heterosexual men contact the Mumbai-based Humsafar Trust, an NGO that works on transgender rights. “‘Will I be considered gay if I hobnob with gays’ or ‘how do I reject an advance made by a gay friend’ are common queries from heterosexual males,” founder-chairman Ashok Row Kavi says.

On the other hand, women, gay men maintain, do not show such homophobic traits — though again there are exceptions. “They understand the feelings of gays and lesbians because they empathise with the ones who are oppressed and are being discriminated against,” says writer and poet Kunal Mukherjee, the author of My Magical Palace.

Homophobia, gay activists point out, takes various forms in the country. Ridiculing homosexuality is just one aspect of this. At another level, there is severe harassment, often by the police. Politicians also often make homophobic remarks. In 2011, Union health and family welfare minister Ghulam Nabi Azad described homosexuality as “completely unnatural”. Earlier this week, when BJP’s Prakash Javadekar was asked for his views on the Supreme Court ruling by a TV journalist, he turned his face away and said, “Shiva, Shiva” — a phrase that roughly translates into “Don’t even ask”.

Homophobia can also be generated out of insecurity about one’s own sexuality, say activists. A 1996 study conducted in the US claimed that 80 per cent men who were homophobic had secret homosexual feelings. “Four out of five men became sexually aroused by homoerotic imagery when they were shown gay sex videos,” it said.

Srivastava believes that some heterosexual men become homophobic out of a conflict over “what they must not become” and “what they actually are.”

But activists point out that it wasn’t always so. Homophobia — historian, author and gay studies scholar Saleem Kidwai argues — is a colonial import.

“Traditionally, Indian men were open about gay love and sex. But the official incorporation of India in the British Empire signalled the violent end of medieval India. For same sex love, that end was signalled by the 1861 law that criminalised homosexuality,” Kidwai says.

In Same-Sex Love in India, jointly authored with Ruth Vanita, he writes about Abru, an Urdu poet of the 17th century. Abru’s poem Advice to a Beloved revolves around ways a young boy can look attractive before other men. In mystic poet Siraj Aurangabadi’s work, Bustani-i-Khaya, the narrator is heartbroken over the loss of his male beloved and seeks solace in the company of women courtesans who understand his plight and try to cheer him up.

“Urdu poet Josh Malihabadi addresses ghazal singer Saghar Nizami as ‘my bride’. Painter Amrita Sher-Gil’s letters reveal her lesbian involvements,” Kidwai adds.

Some initiatives are being taken by queer rights activists to dispel homophobia. For example, lawyer Rajesh Talwar’s satirical play Inside Gayland revolves around the visit of a married Indian to a planet where homosexuality is the only natural form of intercourse while heterosexuality is outlawed. And an intense campaign led the Delhi High Court to decriminalise gay sex in 2009 — which was struck down by the apex court on Wednesday.

Activists stress that while laws indeed will empower gay men, social acceptance will come when mindsets change.

“Heterosexual men have to understand that homosexual men are as normal as they are and are very much a part of society. It is abnormal to think that homosexuality is an aberration,” Gopalan stresses.

Going by gay men’s experiences, though, it will be a while before the closets of the minds open. Including those in the highest of echelons.

(Some names have been changed to protect their identities)

A life not so gay

A growing number of teenagers are experimenting with same sex relationships.  An effort to explore sexual revolution in India’s schools

Sharmila cannot ever forget that night. Six months ago, the 15-year-old Delhi student stayed back at her friend Gayatri’s house after a late party with classmates. They were in bed, chatting with each other, when Gayatri suddenly started caressing her. That was just the beginning.

Since then, every other week they are at each other’s house, spending intimate nights together. “I felt odd to begin with. But after a few minutes, I started enjoying the caresses. It is good to connect sexually to a person I am emotionally connected with,” says Sharmila, a Class IX student of a reputed co-educational school. “Gayatri had never attracted me sexually before that first night. But now she does.”

Same sex relationships in schools have so far mostly been a boarding school phenomenon, especially in all- boy schools. But increasingly, counsellors have been noting a rise in gay relationships in schools among both boys and girls, some of them as young as 12.

“A sexual revolution is happening in urban India,” says Gaurai Uddanwadikar, head of Counseling India, a psychotherapy clinic in Bangalore. “There is more openness and less inhibition about sex in general. So homosexual relationships are also becoming more common.”

For many youngsters, though, an alternative sexual orientation is still a matter of shame. Just before his school finals, Lucknow boy Paresh Aggarwal had gone into a shell. He would lock himself up in his room for hours, painting his nails. He stopped studying and talking to his parents, who initially thought he was reeling under the stress of examinations. But when they met Delhi counsellor Geetanjali Kumar, Paresh gradually opened up.

“A lot of our sittings were spent in silence. I started talking about his interest in nail paint, his favourite colours and his relationship with his friends. After a couple of sessions, he gathered the strength to tell his mother that he was sexually attracted to boys,” says Kumar.

But experts stress that many students have been indulging in same sex relationships purely on an experimental basis. “The pre-teen is an age when children want to experiment with everything they have heard and read about. Since they are increasingly hearing about homosexuality in the public space, there is increasing experimentation as well,” says Uddanwadikar.

Indeed, for young students today, gay is no longer a dirty word. Developments in the last few years have brought gay activities out of the closet. The law has sought to decriminalise homosexuality; men and women flaunt their sexuality in colourful gay parades and several films have focused on gay themes in the recent past. “Society has started accepting gays,” says gay rights activist Gautam Bhan.

Delhi-based counsellor Etishree Bhati, who is attached to a reputed south Delhi school, points out that though there are ample opportunities for students to indulge in heterosexual relationships in her co-ed school, many have been showing sexual interest in students of the same gender.

“If three years ago two children came forward to discuss their same sex relationships, now there are at least five new cases every year,” she says. Delhi counsellor Bhavna Barni adds that she has seen a 20 per cent increase in the number of cases of school students exploring gay relationships in the last five years.

The trend is not limited to Delhi. “We are seeing this in an increasing number of children studying in Mumbai’s posh schools and belonging to affluent families,” says Dr Kersi Chavda, consultant psychiatrist at Mumbai’s PD Hinduja National Hospital and Medical Research Centre.

Calcutta isn’t very different either. “These days, teenagers are courageous enough to openly speak about ‘not so conventional’ relationships,” stresses Calcutta-based educationist Malini Bhagat.

The difference between the situation today and five years ago isn’t just the rising numbers, but the attitude of the teens as well. “Children don’t see a same sex relationship as an anomaly. It comes up in their regular conversation and they don’t see it as a big deal,” says Calcutta’s child and adolescent psychiatrist Gargi Bandopadhyay.

Not all parents see the development in the same light. Last year, the parents of a 12-year-girl, Neha, took her to Dr Barni, a senior child and clinical psychologist at the Escorts Fortis Hospital in Delhi, for counselling. Neha, who studies in a public school in Delhi, told Barni that she had got physical with her girlfriends.

“She said she felt comfortable with them and physical intimacy had been a natural outcome of this comfort factor,” recalls Barni. Neha also felt alienated from the boys in her class who teased her about her weight.

Barni believes there is an increasing trend towards homosexuality among students of Class V and VI. With the growing incidence of rape and abuse — and media focus on such incidents — young children are perceiving relationships with the opposite sex as threatening. Bangalore psychologist Sulata Shenoy adds that parents are so afraid of children having opposite sex relationships that they often encourage same sex friendships hoping that it would postpone opposite sex relationships.

“In the pre-teen age group, most children feel most comfortable with peers of the same sex. And since sexual exploration is starting at an early age today, they tend to involve partners of the same sex,” explains Barni.

But not everybody believes there is cause for concern. “Human sexuality goes through peaks and troughs during the course of development at the age of 10 to 17 years,” says Shenoy, a child psychologist at Turning Point Centre for Guidance, Bangalore. “Also, both male and female hormones surge and decrease at different growth points — all this causing sufficient confusion to the child about his or her sexuality and sexual orientation. Hence, there is curiosity to explore and tendency to experiment.”

With youngsters becoming aware of their body, there is always a desire to experiment, the experts point out. “At this age, they are trying to figure out how their body reacts and the pleasures it can give. It is but natural that they will try it out with friends they can trust,” explains Magdalene Jeyarathnam, director of Chennai’s East West counselling centre that offers same sex counselling and conducts group therapy for the lesbian gay bisexual transgender community.

This is when adolescents are unclear about their own sexuality. “For some, these feelings and thoughts can be intense and even confusing. They often tend to ask themselves ‘what does this mean?’ or ‘am I gay?’ It is this quest to seek answers to questions within themselves that they experiment with people of the same sex,” says Bhati.

To help youngsters resolve the questions in their mind, sex education in schools needs to be strengthened and children have to be sensitised about how to handle such relationships, feels Bhagat. “Some orientation is needed for school children to create an environment conducive for gays and lesbians in educational institutions. We often do it by showing films based on the issue in our film clubs,” she says.

Sunil Gupta, gay rights activist and photographer, thinks that while teenagers should be made aware of the fact that such relationships exist, they should experiment within limits. “They should be able to make an informed choice when they become adults. But at this age, they should be cautious about experimenting,” he says.

Being too young to understand the intricacies of relationships, abuse is quite common among gay partners at this age, experts warn. “Infidelity is common in such relationships and therefore there is abuse too. At least 10 per cent of same sex relationships that I come across in my school involve abuse to a certain extent,” says Bhati.

Experts say parents have to extend a helping hand to their children as they grapple with such issues. According to Calcutta psychiatrist Rima Mukherjee, parents often ask her to “cure” their child of the “disease” of homosexuality. “In a recent case, electric shocks were given to a boy to help him regain ‘normality’,” she says.

Sulata Shenoy urges parents to accept that any child can have sexual feelings which are natural in the course of growing up into adulthood. “It is best not to panic or overreact, but be calm, and at the same time tell children about sexuality and sexual practices so that they don’t grow up with a sense of guilt or anxiety,” she says. “As a society, too, the time has come for us to face these issues and not to brush them under the carpet of ignorance.”

The Telegraph conducts a snap survey of parents in Calcutta and Delhi, and finds that most believe being gay in school is just a phase

(Names of students have been changed to protect their identities)

(I thank my colleagues – Varuna Verma, Kavitha Shanmugam and Moumita Chakrabarti for providing me inputs for the story)

Do gay men make better husbands? Some heterosexual women think so. I found that straight women, wary of adulterous partners, are willingly marrying homosexual men

For Anuradha Basu, marriage was never an option. The Calcutta-based advertising professional found men difficult to get along with — till she met Sanjay. They both liked theatre and music, and got along like a house on fire. Three years ago, Basu proposed marriage to Sanjay. He hesitated, but eventually said yes. They tied the knot — and have been living happily ever since.

It’s not the usual boy-meet-girl story, for the groom is homosexual. Basu, 34, always knew that but still thought he’d make the perfect partner for her. She wanted someone who was understanding and sensitive — and Sanjay was all that. His sexual orientation did not trouble Basu.

“Sanjay is my best friend first, and then my husband. It doesn’t matter if he is gay,” she says.

Tisha Rana of Mumbai can understand Basu’s sentiments. Her husband Kaushik, too, is gay. She met him after she had broken up with her boyfriend of five years. “The warmth that I found in my relationship with Kaushik was missing in my last relationship,” says the call centre executive. Rana and Kaushik have been married for two years.

It’s not quite a trend yet, but many women like Rana and Basu are venturing into an area that few have stepped into even. They are willingly opting for gay men as marriage partners. Most women who earlier married gay men were in the dark about their husbands’ sexual preferences. Now some are zeroing in on homosexual men for a spate of reasons.

“It is said that a gay man has the soul of both a man and a woman. They understand the feelings of a woman in a better way than a straight man does and marriage is all about mutual understanding,” reasons Shashi Bhushan, programme co-ordinator of Naz Foundation, an organisation that promotes positive sexual health and fights for gay rights.

Clearly, the step is taken by women who don’t look at sex as an intrinsic part of marriage. A union between a heterosexual woman and homosexual man is often without sex. “Two people can live happily together if they have emotional compatibility; sexual needs take a backseat then,” says Basu.

Gay men are often stereotyped as sensitive and caring. And while there may well be insensitive gay males, the women who have opted for gay partners have been struck by their compassion. “Straight men can be domineering,” says Rana. “But Kaushik always respects my freedom.”

Indeed, it is the open nature of these marriages that suits both partners. The husbands opt for such a union because it has social sanction; the women find that their partners don’t hem them in. “I always wanted space in a relationship,” says Basu. “I get that from Sanjay.”

A straight marriage in modern times — with men and women as equal partners — can often be fractious. Marriage counsellors stress that changing gender equations can cause a clash of egos, which is often the cause of broken marriages. But when a straight woman marries a gay man, says Mumbai Montessori teacher Prerna Joshi, egos don’t come in the way. “I don’t think gay men have the male ego,” says Joshi, who married her gay friend Atul because he gave her the respect and warmth that she wanted.

Another factor that prompts women to marry gay men is that they face no threat from other women. Adultery breaks marriages, and women who opt for gay men say that they are secure in their marriages because their husbands are not likely to leave them for another woman. Curiously, the fact that their gay husbands will or may have relationships with other men doesn’t worry the women. “I can accept my husband having sex with men but it would have been difficult for me if he’d sought out other women,” Basu says.

Delhi-based photographer Naina Singh seconds that. “These days, one of the major reasons for divorce is extra-marital affairs,” says Singh, who saw the suffering of a few of her friends who had been two-timed by their husbands. “I find it easier to accept my husband’s affairs with other men than being cheated in a marriage,” says Singh, whose husband, Jitesh, is gay.

Because the marriages are untraditional, in many cases the women are free to look for sexual partners outside the marriage, just like their husbands. “If I can have multiple relationships with other men, why can’t my wife find sexual pleasure elsewhere,” asks Jitesh.

Some sociologists believe that the growing violence in marriages has instilled fear among women. “Domestic violence is a reason women remain single,” says sociologist Shiv Visvanathan. “When women are forced to marry to keep their parents and society happy, they find gay men a better choice as they are liberal. Also, these men are more relaxed, easy and compassionate,” he analyses.

Gender rights activist Anish Ray Chaudhuri agrees. “Women feel safe with gay men. Also gay men are gender sensitive, so it is an equal relationship unlike in many straight marriages where the men are mostly in charge,” says the Calcutta-based activist.

Experts warn of generalisations — after all, not all gay men are sensitive, and not all heterosexual males domineering. But the women in these relationships stress that with their gay husbands they have an equal status in their relationship.

Not being bound by gender-specific roles, for instance, means gay men don’t look at household chores as a woman’s work. “Cleaning the house or cooking food is not an issue with them. They are great partners in household activities and understand the pain of working women who manage both work and home,” says Lisa Nagpal, a non-resident Indian who married Vijay, a gender activist, in February.

Nagpal and Vijay were good friends for seven years before they decided to wed. “Gay men make good friends of women. And a good friend will always become a good husband,” Nagpal says.

Likewise, Singh and Jitesh are old pals. “What I liked in him was his sense of loyalty to friendship. Also, he was with me when my parents died a couple of years ago. I knew that he was gay but still couldn’t think of anyone else when I decided to get married,” says Singh.

Jitesh, however, was initially not sure how the marriage would work. So he visited a counsellor with Singh. “The counsellor told us that if we both shared a comfort zone in our companionship, there was no harm in getting married,” he recalls.

Jhumpa Bhattacharya of Calcutta, who fell in love with her gay husband Niladri four years ago, stresses that their “emotional equation” is central to their relationship. All else, including sex, takes a backseat. When her parents put pressure on Bhattacharya, a public relations officer in a pharmaceutical company, to marry, she turned to Niladri.

For Niladri, it was a marriage of convenience. “Though my parents knew about my sexuality, they still wanted me to get married to a woman. I should confess that things have become easier for me after my marriage. At least, now my parents don’t bombard me with uncomfortable questions,” he says.

Bhushan of Naz Foundation points out that for most gay men, a marriage like this is a “win-win” situation. “In India, a homosexual marriage is not legal. Marrying a woman makes a gay man look ‘normal’ in society. Plus, he is not sexually committed to his wife,” he says.

Problems, however, may arise when the couples want to have children. But clearly the partners in these marriages have given the question considerable thought. “If I want a child, I can always adopt,” says Joshi.

Some women activists, however, believe that this is an experimental trend in marriage which may get complex. “Marriage is not just about companionship but also procreation and social responsibility. Both the partners should be prepared to see the social implications of such marriages,” says Malashri Lal, former director of Delhi University’s women’s studies and development centre.

But Tejal Shah, a visual artist and queer activist, stresses that if two adults are making an informed choice, there is nothing wrong in it. “If women gain some independence for themselves in such an arrangement and the gay partner is also happy in it, society should not have a problem,” she says.

For most Indians, of course, the trend is not just new, but difficult to grasp. Actor Mugdha Godse, who played the role of a straight model called Janet who married her gay best friend Rahul, played by Samir Soni, in Madhur Bhandarkar’s 2008 film Fashion, says she will find it difficult to relate to the character of Janet in real life. “I am not sure if this relationship can last for long,” she feels.

Samir Soni isn’t so sure either. “There may be a time when the gay guy would want to move on with another gay person, or the woman may like to spend the rest of her life with a straight person as she may want children. The concept looks very progressive in a film but real life is a different ball game,” he says.

But Basu argues that no marriage is perfect. “So why not take a chance,” she asks. Like any marriage, if it works out, it will be blissful. If it doesn’t, there are ways out.

(The names of some people have been changed to protect their identities.)