From Margins to Mainstream: The Escalating Recognition of Queer Individuals and Non-Heterosexual Relations in India

There has been a significant rise in homosexual and bisexual relationships across the world, with the United States experiencing a threefold increase in bisexual relationships since 1990. Similarly, India reflects this trend, with 5-20 crore people identifying themselves as homosexuals.
Recent discussions in India have centred around the recognition of gay marriages, highlighting a societal shift towards acknowledging and embracing diverse relationships.
Recent discussions in India have centred around the recognition of gay marriages, highlighting a societal shift towards acknowledging and embracing diverse relationships.

New Delhi - Recent trends indicate a notable increase in queer relationships, not only in Western societies but also in India. This surge can be attributed to the influence of social media apps, mainstream media and, significantly, the robust queer activism that gained momentum in the late 20th century.

According to a report published by Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar, homosexual relationships are experiencing a notable increase globally — with a particular surge in bisexual identities. A recent study reveals that the United States had witnessed a threefold rise in bisexual relationships since 1990, indicating a growing openness towards diverse sexual orientations.

Similarly, India mirrors this trend, with reports suggesting a significant population, ranging from 5 crore to 20 crore, identifying itself as homosexual.

Recent discussions in India have centred around the recognition of gay marriages, highlighting a societal shift towards acknowledging and embracing diverse relationships.

According to the ‘LGBT+ Pride 2021 Global’ survey, approximately 3% of the Indian population identifies as gay or lesbian, while an additional 9% identifies as bisexual — expressing a capacity for attraction to both genders. 

Furthermore, 2% of the population identifies itself as asexual, lacking any specific sexual orientation.

While these figures suggest that around 14% of the country, roughly 20 crore people, are associated with non-heteronormative identities, it’s crucial to note that these statistics are not officially endorsed and have faced scrutiny.

Various organizations propose varying estimates, with the government’s 2011 statement to the Supreme Court — indicating only 25 lakh homosexual men in the country, a figure contested by LGBT activist groups who believe the actual number is much higher.

In 2023, India was on the cusp of legalising same-sex marriage but in a disappointing turn of events, the judiciary put the responsibility on the shoulders of Parliament to helm the big change. But the discussions have not died out.

The advent of social media has proven to be a boon to queer couples, who have used the platform to show people that couples can exist outside of a heterosexual relationship. Queer influencers such as Yogi and Kabeer, Divesh and Atulan and Manish and Ritesh have flaunted their relationships on social media platforms such as Instagram.

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According to a research paper titled ‘Social Media and its Role in Establishing Identity of LGBTQ in India’, “the advent of the World Wide Web has created a distinctive support network for the LGBTQ community, facilitating connections and fostering online activism that manifests in events like pride marches and protests”.

“This digital platform enables individuals to challenge outdated legal systems, defy religious doctrines, and oppose oppressive social norms, particularly in the face of moral policing,” says the research.

The study further states that over time, numerous narratives of coming out and embracing one’s sexuality with pride have emerged — contributing to a positive shift in societal attitudes.

There is a growing familiarity among heterosexual Indians with their LGBTQ and non-binary friends, family, neighbours and colleagues, fostering coexistence between the minority community and the heteronormative society.

Heterosexual people talking about their partners were always seen as normal. Now, even LGBTQIA+ people are taking the same troupes and making them queer — showing the conservative nation that love comes in all shapes and sizes.

Apart from social media, the entertainment sector has also been playing its part in making such relationships a part of dinner table conversations. In India, impactful TV series like ‘Made in Heaven’ and ‘Little Things’ spotlight LGBTQ+ characters — shedding light on their experiences. The series contributes to a growing awareness and understanding of LGBTQ+ issues.

Similarly, movies such as ‘Fire’ and ‘Aligarh’ provide poignant portrayals of love and discrimination within the LGBTQ+ community in India. These representations contribute to a positive trend in recent years — promoting inclusivity and acceptance in the society.

The data also highlights an interesting point that the rise in queer relationships is being observed since 1990. It is because queer activism in the country began around the late 90s — making the community feel more accepted.

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History of Queer Activism in India

In the early 1990s, the AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan (ABVA) played a crucial role in advocating for LGBT rights, particularly in response to discrimination against those affected by HIV/AIDS in India.

Notably, the ABVA protested against arrests in a gay cruising park in 1992, marking what some consider the first gay demonstration in the country. In 1994, facing opposition from authorities, the ABVA sought to repeal Section 377 — a law criminalizing homosexuality.

Despite internal debates, they enlisted Soli Sorabji, a senior lawyer, for legal representation in the Delhi High Court. Unfortunately, their petition was ultimately dismissed.

Later, in 2001, the Naz Foundation, a non-governmental organization focused on HIV/AIDS and sexual health, approached the High Court — challenging the constitutionality of Section 377.

In 2004, the court dismissed the Naz Foundation’s petition. However, in 2006, the Supreme Court directed it to review the case.

Finally, in 2009, it delivered a landmark verdict — declaring Section 377 unconstitutional as it violated fundamental rights under Articles 14, 15, and 21 of the Constitution.

In 2013, the Supreme Court overturned the Delhi High Court’s decision on Section 377 — deeming it “legally unsustainable”. The court suggested that the matter be addressed by Parliament.

In 2014, the Supreme Court rejected a review petition by the Naz Foundation.

In 2018, after hearings challenging the constitutionality of Section 377, the Supreme Court, on September 6, decriminalized the provision — marking the end of a prolonged legal battle.

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