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Bangalore’s brush with homophobia on the night of the Gay Pride 2011

This message was originally posted on the Good as You mailing list by Vijay on behalf of his colleague.  It is being reproduced on Orinam.net with consent of the author and individuals involved in the incident.

Nov 29, 2011, Bangalore:

I have been at my wit’s end grappling and struggling to come to terms with a rather unsavoury and a nasty incident that two of my gay friends A and B, my boyfriend and I have had to face and suffer – quite ironically – on the night of the LGBTIQ Pride in Bangalore.

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in the Pride and happened to drop into Empire restaurant for dinner after the party around 12 midnight.  Little did we know as to what was waiting to ambush us there.  As we ordered our dinner, I stepped out alone for a smoke.  No sooner than I returned and settled down, I felt some particles falling on me. Much to my disbelief, I realised that sugar was being showered on me from behind.  I looked at my boy friend and two other friends to see if it was their prank.  It wasn’t!  It was being thrown at us by two young seemingly straight and clearly homophobic men around 24-25 years of age. I was livid and screamed out “How annoying!  B*stards are throwing sugar at us!” to which the two guys yelled in return to say “Talk to us if you have a problem”.  All of us chose to ignore it hoping to end it there.  In no time, one of them said something rather offensive in Kannada.  I could sense that from their tone, facial expressions and body language.  One doesn’t need to know the language to pick up the underlying tone.  They charged up to us and bombarded us with a slew of impertinent, dehumanizing and vulgar questions like “Are you gay?”, “Do you like to suck c*cks?”, “Do you like a pole?”, “I know you like men and you like to sleep with them” … just to name a few.

My boyfriend tried to intervene to diffuse the situation by telling them “Its okay!  We have nothing to do with you.  We are just eating food!”.  They went back but continued throwing sugar at us.  One of my friends – friend A – got really upset and yelled out “What is your problem?  Why are you doing this?”.  To which, the two guys hurled a volley of expletives and invectives like “C*ck up!  We know you are gay”, “You want to fight with us?”, “You guys are shame to us” etc.  Their body language, facial expressions and tone were belligerent and the guys were itching to ignite a fist fight at any cost.  They wanted to do/say everything they could to make us attack them first. My friend B retaliated aggressively saying “Try it.  Dare you hit one of us!” and called out for the manager.

All that the inept manager did was to tell us to sit at our table and tell them to sit at theirs.  On seeing the manager, the guys went back.  We decided to leave as it was already very embarrassing and ugly.  As we left, my boyfriend took a few seconds to drink water.  One of the unruly guys – guy X – pulled the glass of water off my boy friend’s hand and yelled at him “Leave now!!”.  We paid the bill and got out to buy paan.

They were waiting at the stairs to accost us again at the exit.  We ignored them and went past them.  At that juncture, one of the guys – guy Y – exclaimed at the manager “What kind of people do you entertain here!”.  We got out and got into an auto rickshaw and wanted to just flee.  We asked him to take us to “Xxxx colony”. To add to our discomfiture and embarrassment, the auto rickshaw driver screams out to confirm our locality loud enough for the guys to hear.  This only added to my horror of being stalked till home and the recent Keenan and Rueben case was on our minds.  Much to our terror, the two guys stood against the auto and would not allow it to leave. We had to scream and yell at the auto driver to leave.  As we left, one of the guys – guy X – hit my friend B quite hard on his shoulder.

This was a dreadful and a scary experience that should not happen to anyone.  It is over now.  But as I reflect in retrospect, I need to know the following:

1.  This incident was very fast and caught us largely unawares.  With its sudden course and the lightening turn of explosive events that led from one to another, was there a more effective way of dealing with it then?

2.  Why is it not safe yet for the LGBITQ community to just be themselves – and now more so in Bangalore?

3.  What are our options now under the law?

4.  How can we make Empire a better and a safe place for the LGBTIQ community and everyone else to hang out?

5.  How do we sensitize the management of Empire [and other businesses like it] on dealing with a diversity of clientele?

Please share your suggestions below.

Thank you!

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10 Comments. Add your own »

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  1. I have a sense of how scary the incidents you spoke of would have been, especially coming as it did in the immediate aftermath of the euphoria of self-expression at Pride.

    For me, it is a reminder that homophobia is quite wide-spread, and especially for those of us who don’t/ won’t or can’t ‘blend in’, a real possibility of encountering it in unexpected places and with real danger. It takes a lot of courage to continue to be ourselves in our appearance and behaviour, to be able to walk with pride each day beyond Pride, to yet be safe on the face of bullying, unwelcome propositions and worse.

    Your courage to be still yourselves, talk about the challenges, explore what we can do and your ability to keep yourself safe is heartening.

    1. This incident was very fast and caught us largely unawares. With its sudden course and the lightening turn of explosive events that led from one to another, was there a more effective way of dealing with it then?

    >> Though I have not faced major homphobia with the immediacy that you report, I carry the Sahaya, ALF and Sangama helpline numbers with me at all times just in case, so I can call for support. Even if I don’t use them regularly, knowing I have it helps.

    >> Your presence of mind, ability to deescalate, pull in support and take care of yourself are important. Moving to safety is perfectly OK when threatened, and there is no call to judge oneself/ community harshly for doing so

    2. Why is it not safe yet for the LGBITQ community to just be themselves – and now more so in Bangalore?
    >> I believe it is safer now than before, and yet, with more visible queerness, some retaliation could always happen. At the same time, being able to take strength from the growing community support, popular media, law and institutional support is helpful when safety is threatened.

    3. What are our options now under law?
    >> If faced with harrassment, one can always approach the police for protection. Again, Sahaya/ ALF/ Sangama can guide on who would be approachable should there be doubts on if the police themselves would be harrassing.
    >> Again, legal action calls for continued investment of time and energy, and that is often a deterrant to following through on legal options

    4. How can we make Empire a better and a safe place for the LGBTIQ community and everyone else to hang out?
    >> I believe continuing to be there as you are, and showing courage is a key step in making any place (work, family, community, hotels etc) more accepting and safe.

    5. How do we sensitize the management of Empire on dealing with a diversity of clientele?
    >> Sahaya/ ALF/ Sangama and other organizations strive very hard to continually sensitize police, work and other communities to queer issues – it is a long road and a lot depends on the initial openness of the institution as well.
    >> Sensitizing retail establishments is another matter altogether, and I am not sure how one would go about it for homophobia from other clientele without active support from their management. In Chennai recently, a hotel’s employees’ homophobia was reported and acted on by the community, resulting in a formal apology and assurance of welcome to the community.

    All that said, for me, it is clear that the personal experience of homophobia is scary and scarring for the individual. Systemic answers aside, for the person, it is important to be able to talk through it and be able to build on from there for your own personal safety, esteem and comfort.

    Thanks for sharing your stories.

    – Mahesh

  2. This is outrageous and sad! I can imagine how traumatic it could have been for you. It was wise of you to move away from the situation. Mahesh’s suggestions are great. I would keep crisis helpline numbers handy and reach out for support if things turn ugly.

    Sadly, law enforcement in India is a joke! Even in 2011, women are harassed and abused in public places, so we really can’t expect thugs to treat Queer community with respect. And it is not always smart to engage with them.

    Love and hugs!

  3. Oh my god! thats horrible! :/ ..i can imagine that… sheesh! .. scary.. clearly the management should stand responsible for such behaviour, they should be supportive, and not homophobic, this is insane, only when the higher authorities are supportive, we can be safe, if not these morons wil continue doing this! .. hope they dont haunt you guys at your colony again, bloody jobless ppl!! ..

  4. homophobia is alive and well all around the world.Normally the wise thing to do is ignore it. the slightest provocation will invite escalation of intimidation .If you are upto a physical challenge to your adversaries then go for a vociforous verbal rebuttal making it very obvious you will take them on to its logical conclusion , a full scale physical encounter.
    In such a scenario you will probably get hurt ,but you would have gained far more in your self esteem and respect. Moreso you would have come out of this with a new maturity to deal with both triumph and disaster and treat both imposters as the same..

    1. I would agree with you regarding defending yourself verbally; but just make sure that if you’re male you don’t allow your voice to go shrill and whiny, and don’t start making wild gesticulations with your hands. You will only look even more girlish and will make them lose all fear of you. Keep the tone of your voice at a lower level and avoid too much body movements. Stand erect and square, look them in the eyes steadily and respond as calmly as you can. Ask them questions. Ask them why they say what they say. Ask them what they mean by what they say. Ask them where they learnt whatever accusations they make against you. They will find it hard to keep up their tirade when you don’t “behave like a gay”. Like street dogs who back away growling when conftonted, these people too are likely to do the same when confronted boldly.

  5. So sorry you had to go through this. I think, given the incident happened so fast, you probably did the right thing by being safe and getting out of the restaurant. I hope you will find justice soon.

  6. This unfortunate incident just reveals the latent homophobia in society, something which we can choose to ignore at our own peril. Anyone with an ear to the ground will be aware of how exactly gay people are perceived by the rest of our society.

    Read the rest of Neel’s message here.

  7. OMG @ EKS Please we don’t need to be preached about how we need to carry ourselves… Every individual is beautiful just the way they are and no one needs to tone down for someone. I am a queen by all means and I pretty much can throw a punch, pull a jaw out and smash a skull; I love doing them. But not many would prefer that. The rainbow flag denotes diversity and we need to understand, be sensitive and celebrate diversity.

  8. This completely a rehash of an ‘advice’ sent about this incident, I copied the words with my idea of what it should have been. While doing so, I wondered if the advice would have been different if 4 straight women, out for late night dinner would have got into a similar situation.
    BTW the last line is completely my own. 🙂
    I agree with you regarding defending yourself verbally and physically; allow your voice to go shriller and whinier (at the police station when the drama gets over and the two goonks rot in custody), make wild gesticulations with your hands, just work on all theses advantages and bangles, keys, bag’s strap, anything everyday that you have and helps you defend.. this has nothing to do with physical strength which falls flat when faced with inner strength, the power that automatically one should rustle up when faced with such dangers. For you, to have even more girlpower and will make them all fear of you, keep the tone of your voice at a highest level (connect to your inner banshees) and allow body movements which involves calling up the police no.s (speed dial 1), LGBT helpline no.s (speed dial 2, 3, 4), … slapping, kicking , ….got the drift, while help is on it’s way. Don’t you see that you had outnumbered those guys by 2:1, that was an advantage that you did not think about.

    Now for the aftermath: that’s meet the Press – Stand or sit or whatever that suits your fancy and, look at them journalists square in the eye, steadily and respond as calmly about the incident as there will be some more homophobes in the media. Ask them questions. Ask them why they say what they ask. Ask them what they mean by what they ask. Ask them where they learnt whatever accusations they make against you and the community. They will find it hard to keep up their tirade when you are the “wronged who had enough”.

    Like a pack of wild dogs which can even bring down a tiger, [source: wiki], confront these people, as bullies too are likely to run, when confronted boldly. As a woman who has faced and retaliated at every attempt of eve teasing, its time you work up the girl-power.

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