India held its first Queer Pride Parade eighteen years ago and now the first Awadh Queer Pride Parade was held in Lucknow.
The city’s LGBIT (lesbian, gay, intersex and transgender) community walked a distance of barely 1.5 km, from the Sikandarbagh crossing to the General Post Office Hazratganj, but their message went a long way.
The first Awadh Queer Pride Parade saw at least 300 people march hand in hand, waving rainbow flags or wearing its colours. Many of them had come from as far away as Mumbai, Kolkata, Chandigarh and Jaipur.
And it wasn’t just the LGBTIA who made it to the parade – many straight people also came to support the cause.
“I am here for my friend, who is gay. We study in the same college and are really good friends. He wanted me to come with him as this is a big moment in his life. So even though I am not gay, I am here as a citizen of India fighting for the cause of my friend’s sexual orientation,” said Akshat, a college student.
“This was a full-fledged Queer Pride Parade,” said Darvesh Singh Yadvendra, the organiser of the event. “The first one was held in Kolkata in 1999 but in that, very few people turned out. Here, for the first time it was held and not only LGBIT but their family members turned out in support. It shows that they are also getting acceptability.”
Yadvendra said the parade had two objectives: to celebrate the diversity of sexuality and gender, and to protest the harassment and discrimination the community faces. “There have been cases where such people have committed suicide,” he said. “We have seen discrimination in the family, at the work place and in society.”
But Sunday’s march was mainly about the celebration. Participants danced, shouted slogans – “I am Gay, It’s OK”, “Hey Hey Ho Ho Homophobia has to Go”. One placard that got all the attention read, “I’m a Queer Muslim, Babes, Get Over it.” The young man holding it up was happy to oblige the many people who flooded him with selfie requests.
Curious onlookers asked the participants who they were, why they were dancing on the road, and about the colourful clothes they wore.
By evening, social media users in Lucknow had flooded their pages with photographs of the city’s first gay pride parade.
The parade comes just a few weeks after a new government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, has taken charge of Uttar Pradesh. Could it have been conducted under the previous regime?
“We started the preparation for a whole year. At that time, it was the SP [Samajwadi Party] regime,” said Yadvendra. “Whosoever is in power, we have to engage with them. It hardly matters. We took proper permission [for the parade] and it was given by the present BJP regime. So for us, there is no such issue. We have to engage with them for our cause.”
For Lucknow, often perceived to be a conservative city, this was indeed a brave step. As woman who attended the parade later said on social media, people were now terming her association with the parade as “un-Islamic”.
But there were many others who were cheering on the community.
All images courtesy Darvesh Singh Yadvendra, organiser of the parade.