Indian society struggling with gay rights: activist

Thu May 10, 2012 2:18pm EDT
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By Atish Patel

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Legalizing homosexuality has had little impact on the deeply entrenched homophobia in India, where thousands of gays still face discrimination and a lack of basic rights, the country's most prominent gay rights activist told Reuters.

Hours after U.S. President Barack Obama turned the global spotlight on gay rights by saying that he believes same-sex couples should be able to marry, Anjali Gopalan applauded the comments but despaired over the grudging pace of acceptance for India's gay and lesbian communities.

"I'm glad Obama has taken the stand he has taken because every step helps in this long battle," she told Reuters by telephone on Thursday.

The activist, who was listed last month in Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World for her work to advance the rights of gays, said in a wider interview with Reuters last week that three years after the Delhi High Court decriminalized gay sex, homosexuals were still not socially accepted in India.

"Just because a law changes, doesn't mean the way of thinking changes. That's a slow process and something we have to keep working at," the 54-year-old Gopalan said last week.

"Homophobia is so entrenched I don't think we realize we're being homophobic. I'm talking about those of us working with the community too. So you have many NGOs working with the community who show very high levels of homophobia," she said.

Gopalan, who heads a pro-gay charity called The Naz Foundation, was behind the change in India's colonial-era law which described homosexual lovemaking as "carnal intercourse against the order of nature."

In 2001, she filed a petition in the Delhi High Court calling for the law to be thrown out. Eight years later, the court overturned the statute in a landmark ruling hailed as a major victory by gay rights activists across the country.   Continued...