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Celebrating Diversity: Sitting Down With Romal Singh

We all believe we are accepted for who we are – our rudimentary unabashed versions. What we identify ourselves as is personal, and what we become, as people, is based on our decisions, our choices, our thoughts, and our conscious beliefs. The ability to love everyone and everything is inherent in us, right from the moment we ascend into the realm of consciousness. But sometimes it just needs a little reawakening.

The MIT Post had a chance to talk with Mr L Romal M Singh, an activist associated with Namma Pride, about his experiences with the LGBTQ+ movement in India – a call for the reawakening of love and acceptance.

Could you tell us a little about yourself and why you decided to get involved in activism?

I’m a 30 year old practicing Christian, who identifies as gay. I’m also a journalist, stylist, writer, and activist. I’m more Indian than I’d like to accept – I prefer to identify as a Tamil-Malayali-Meitei person instead. I was born in 1986, in a small village called Saikot, in Churachandpur District, Manipur. I grew up in Kotagiri, in the Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu, and have lived in Bangalore and Mumbai since 2002.

My involvement with the LGBTQ+ community began in 2008, when I was asked to cover Bangalore’s first pride parade. I walked the Pride as a journalist but I felt like I had to be on the other side, representing my community. My work with the community began when I joined CSMR (Coalition for Sex Workers and Sexual Minorities’ Rights, Bangalore) the same year, and there has been no looking back. I have since worked for almost every Pride in Bangalore, save 2014 and 2015, when I was in Mumbai, and have been a regular volunteer with CSMR.

I started my own performance art based advocacy movement, called QAMI (Queer Arts Movement, India), in 2014. I also work with Queer Ink, Mumbai, and Solidarity Foundation, Bangalore on a regular basis. I took over the Bangalore Queer Pride in 2016 and re-branded it as the Namma Pride, to ensure the Bangalore Pride was more openly inclusive of all communities that identified themselves under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. From ensuring events catering specifically to women and trans-people, to including underground communities like the BDSM network and polyamorous people, we try to ensure as much representation as possible. We’ve also managed to make Namma Pride a disabled-friendly Pride.

Could you shed some light on the parade goers and their reactions to events of this kind?

An important role for anyone involved in the organizing of a Pride is to talk to Pride participants – both during and after the Pride. You always need feedback to help ensure that mistakes aren’t repeated and the facets that are appreciated are maintained.

Were you able to achieve your goals for Namma Pride?

I was able to achieve most of the goals I set for myself last year, but failed to take the Pride beyond Bangalore as I had wanted to. I was quite relieved when we were able to partner with the Article 19 to organize the Manipal Ally March in Manipal. Hopefully, the new organizers of the Pride this year will be able to take Namma Pride to other districts in Karnataka.

What kind of challenges and setbacks did you face while organizing Namma Pride?

As is always the case, there were setbacks – many people take the organizing of a Pride to be a personal milestone of sorts. They don’t understand that the Pride is for the community and that everyone needs to be represented. With such narrow perspectives and purely personal agendas to contend with, it gets tough to deal with their inability to listen to anyone else. Years of dealing with the Pride have, however, taught me to deal with such people.

What are your future goals with respect to this movement?

My personal goal for the LGBTQ+ movement is to continue fighting for rights. Today, it might be the scrapping of Section 377, or pushing for more visible trans-rights initiatives. Tomorrow, it might be solidarity with Dalits and other marginalized communities. The LGBTQ+ movement has to continue fighting for rights, especially in a country like India – that is the true spirit of a Pride.

What are your views on the current scenario of the LGBTQ+ community in India? Do you think our country has become more accepting towards diversity in sexuality?

The current scene is hopeful. More people are coming out and more parents are accepting their queer children. We’re talking more openly about different sexualities and genders, and that’s a great thing. What makes me particularly happy is that this generation might not have to bother with labels as much as previous generations have – the community has evolved beyond them, and this broad-mindedness is slowly seeping into all sections of the community.

India has always looked at diversity very differently and so, while I do not want us to judge ourselves by first-world parameters, on an international level, at the very least, I feel we’re catching up to those ideas of equity and equality.

Do you have any message for the people out there who identify themselves under the LGBTQ+ banner?

You have nothing to be ashamed of. Be proud of who you are and let the world know who you are; the more we make our voice heard – our pride heard – the easier it will be to convince people of who we are, and ensure that we are accepted as we are. You’ll be doing the next LGBTQ+ generation a big favour by doing this.

As told to Nida Khan

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