Law and Society

Vocalising Queer Rights

Prannv Dhawan speaks with LGBTQ Rights Activist Anish Gawande in an exclusive Q&A for LSPR.


This post is the 10th Installment to Law School Policy Review’s Election Series, 2019.

Anish Gawande is a Columbia University graduate and director of the Dara Shikoh Fellowship. He recently created ‘The Pink List’ – India’s FIRST list of LGBTQ+ friendly politicians contesting the Lok Sabha elections.
In this exclusive Q&A, LSPR asked Mr Gawande a series of questions ranging from the struggle after the Section 377 judgement to the controversial Transgender Bill.


After the S. 377 judgment, a new wave of cultural movements and political struggles for substantive equality for the sexual minorities has emerged. How do you see the way forward after the beginning of decriminalization of queer love and sexuality?

The fight against Section 377 brought together the entire queer community under a single umbrella cause. With that fight behind us, the real challenge lies in confronting the social transformations necessary for taking the struggle for equality forward. There needs to be greater intersectionality in our discourse around gender and sexuality, more complex engagements with class and religion. We must support the struggles of marginalised groups within the LGBTQ+ community (particularly the transgender community, which is fighting against a regressive Transgender Rights bill). We must also rally behind causes that go beyond mere civil rights like marriage and tackle more fundamental inequities (like the need for a anti-discrimination law).


The concerns of sexual minorities, like other subaltern communities, remain invisible and marginalized. How do see you the Transgender Bill introduced by the government in this light?

I would be careful with using a loaded term like “subaltern communities” lightly to uniformly describe queer subjects. Queerness is often not the central axis of discrimination for most people in the LGBTQ+ community – caste, class, religion, and gender still remain more pervasive forms of oppression. Politically, the Transgender Bill was created without widespread consultations with the transgender community. It was unethical, irresponsible, and most definitely not empowering. Academically, the Transgender Bill reflected the forced invisibilisation of members of the transgender community: there was a reluctance to allow trans people to identify as they wish, a strong desire to control how they are marked out in society. We cannot have a progressive Transgender Bill unless we redefine our understandings of gender .


How do you think novel initiatives like ‘The Pink List’ can help in political mainstreaming of the interests of the queer community? Tell us more about the various responses and the impact.

The Pink List is an archive, a collection of utterances that helps collate publicly available information on politicians supporting LGBTQ+ rights that can then be parsed, critiqued, taken apart and analysed. Since support for the queer community can never really translate into traditional votebank politics, given the diverse intersections of identities within the community, The Pink List tries instead to become an ethical resource for activists, academics, and allies to draw from. As far as initial direct impact goes, we’re hoping that this is a starting point for queer folk who want to enter politics, a space where they can identify politicians who can help them rise up the ladder.


Multiple waves of subaltern assertions like Bahujan assertion have achieved real victories only after attaining an independent political formation. How do you see this in the context of sexual minorities? Do you find the idea of reserved constituencies feasible?

No. There cannot be reserved constituencies for the LGBTQ+ community as a whole because, as mentioned earlier, there is no central axis of discrimination around sexuality. Queer people are Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis too. They already hold access to independent political formations. The challenge is to make communities queer-inclusive, to open up the possibility of queer politics within existing struggles for equality. This, of course, does not hold true for certain communities – like the hijra community – for whom gender identity is in fact the central axis of marginalisation.


How can ideas of solidarity and movement-based politics help in attaining a rightful share of the queer community in the national political and policy discourse? What are some legislative and policy solutions that the movement should campaign for?

Personally, I feel that policy discourse needs to be more consultative in order to come up with the least oppressive policy frameworks. A progressive Transgender Rights Bill and a comprehensive anti-discrimination law are the most important policy changes in my mind.

Political discourse, on the other hand, needs to be emancipatory and based on solidarity. Queerness has the potential to craft an emancipatory politics that creates shared struggles – struggles that intersect across lines of caste, class, religion, and gender. There’s a need to mobilise queerness as a progressive force, one that doesn’t restrict itself merely to sexuality.


How can the limitations of the State-oriented approach to societal reform be resolved in the specific context of the movement against heteronormativity in the private/family/workplace domain? What are some methods for meaningfully attaining dignity and agency in the private sphere where heteronormativity silences millions of queer individuals and hinders their actualization?

The fight against Section 377, unfortunately, has trapped the queer movement in statist discourses that forget that the queer struggle is an inherently personal struggle. The end of criminalisation does not mean the creation of new, rainbow beginnings with guaranteed equality. Moving away from this statist discourse requires a renewed focus on sensitisation towards LGBTQ+ issues, particularly in languages apart from English. This requires the recrafting of queerness as a social, rather than a legal-political movement housed in courts. How we move ahead on that path remains to be seen!

Image Source: Everyday Feminism.

Categories: Law and Society

2 replies »

  1. Since the school began collecting data about gender identity so recently, it’s hard to say with any certainty, but I get the sense that trans people are underrepresented at HLS. To the extent I’m right, I suspect it has a lot to do with the applicant pool. Trans people face discrimination and life-altering hardships at wildly disproportionate rates well before they ever encounter an institution like HLS. These hardships undoubtedly keep the average trans person from amassing as many of the credentials that make applying to places like this feasible, and diminish their faith in the law as a tool of social transformation. But these disadvantages are exactly why we need to go out of our way to give new trans professionals the keys to success, and to equip a new generation of trans advocates with the tools to change law and society for the better.