“When all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free.” -¬†Barack Obama
In New Delhi for a town hall,former US President Barack Obama demonstrated that he not only has sugar-coated words to say but also has the guts to abide by them.
Around 40 minutes after the event started,a transgender rights activist expressed her ordeal about discrimination against the LGBTQ (lesbian,gay,bisexual and transgender) community.
“When the state terror is against minorities – be it transgender, sexual minority, caste, class, creed, religious – when you have been stigmatised, when you’ve been discriminated and patriarchal power and domination is against you – I am a criminal before Section 377 which criminalises transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual -how do I then raise my voice?” Akkai Padmashali said.
But this elucidation of turmoil wasn’t enough for her.The applause by the crowd on this throbbing question had barely faded when Ms. Padmashali asked another short but enthralling question to Mr. Obama. “Can I hug you?” she said, which sparked more cheers from the crowd.
“A hug was not out of order and could certainly be arranged after the event,” Mr. Obama said.The former president,however, wasn’t intent to comment on the state of Indian law.
“I can’t speak to the specifics of legislation in India because I’m not qualified, I’ve not been keeping pace with exactly what’s happening in the parliament around these kind of issues,” he said.
But he did reply to the broader question of the noted transgender rights activist. “It begins with what you just did, which is to find your voice, and articulate your views, your experiences and tell your story. And that’s true of any group that is marginalised, stigmatised,” Mr Obama said.
“Finding that voice and being able to tell a story so that the perceptions that somehow you are different are changed… people start recognizing their own experiences in you, they see your humanity,” he said.
He also expressed the hope of enlightenment of more people on this issue and their active participation too.
The 44th US President’s record on LGBTQ rights has been significant. From being an opponent and undecided on same-sex marriage,Mr Obama went on to become the first president to support it. He also repealed the US military’s Don’t Ask,Don’t Tell rule which banned the service of openly gay troops.LGBT Pride Month,observed in June, is celebrated around the U.S. with parades and activism events.
But the former US President’s stand on LGBTQ rights would have few impediments in India. The archaic Section 377 of the Indian constitution carries forward a 19th century colonial-era law that criminalizes homosexual acts with the argument that they are “against the order of the nature”. While it was struck down by the Delhi High Court in 2009, the decision was repealed by the Supreme Court in 2013, with the understanding that the matter relating to LGBTQ rights and decriminalization of homosexuality should be left to the legislature.
Since then,an overwhelming number of lawmakers have shot down requests from MP’s like Shashi Tharoor to take up the issue.