Chair, Regional Advisory Group,
“During those years, things looked hopeless many times, but activists and their allies persevered.”
On 6 September 2018, the Supreme Court of India unanimously ruled that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, the infamous sodomy article, was unconstitutional “in so far as it criminalises consensual sexual conduct between adults of the same sex.”
This historic victory is the result of almost 30 years of advocacy and struggle by Indian gender and sexual minority activists and their allies, with the support of lawyers, writers and journalists, and some politicians, At APCOM, we are proud to recognise that in 2001, the late Shivananda Khan, APCOM’s founder and first Chair (2007-2013), through his organisation, the Naz Foundation (India) Trust, joined the fight, and was highly influential in the process.
During those years, things looked hopeless many times, but activists and their allies persevered. And it is very heartening, that just within a few years after the Court ruling, many people from mainstream Indian society have opened up and embraced people and communities of diverse genders and sexualities. As a follow up to the historic ruling, activists and allies are pushing for a ruling on marriage equality at the Supreme Court.
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On 17 May 2019, the Legislative Yuan (Parliament) of Taiwan approved the same-sex marriage bill, which was signed by President Tsai Ing-wen on 22 May 2019 and came into effect on 24 May 2019, making Taiwan the first Asian country to legalise (limited) same-sex marriage. Immediately after the landmark marriage-equality law in Taiwan, talks about marriage equality became popular in other countries in the region, for example in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Nepal.
The political decision to enact the law, did not come out of the blue. The struggle for marriage equality had begun more than 30 years before, initiated almost single-handedly by activist Chi Chia-wei, whom APCOM proudly presented with the HERO (HIV, Equality & Rights) Awards as a Community Hero in 2017.
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And thus, struggles continue all over our region, some quietly, because of social stigma and political persecution, such as in Indonesia, while other fights take place with partners and allies, such as pro-democracy activists, for example in Myanmar and Thailand.
As you are reading this, Thai activists are challenging a recent Constitutional Court ruling in November 2021 which states that the ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional. An online petition to overturn the ruling has been signed by more than 200,000 people.
What have we learned from the struggles in the last 30 years?
- Victories are possible. We must never give up hope, however dim, since, in the words of Audre Lorde, not having any is tantamount to letting the oppressors win.
- Victories need to be fought for, slow and hard, they do not happen overnight and require patience, magnanimity, persistence and sacrifice.
- It is important to read the signs and moods in a society, and we must be ready when the tide is turning. Indeed, the tide has turned for gender and sexual minorities, as a result of decades of struggle. We must not be discouraged by the so-called backlash from conservative forces. It is happening exactly because they see that we are gaining ground and we must continue to change the narratives.
- As I learned from my friend and colleague, Radhika Chandiramani, long ago, human rights are a dream, a goal. It is a promise, that we must remind the powers that be, to keep.