On September 6, the Supreme Court of India scrapped Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, effectively decriminalising homosexuality in a judgement that quoted the gay pride anthem “I am what I am.”
Queer South Asians growing up in the United States have long had to suffer from the narrative about homosexuality being an American idea; that their queerness is a result of living in the West. While the scrapping of Section 377 has no legal impact on the South Asian diaspora in the US, some believe the striking down of this colonial norm helps queer Indians abroad convince their families that being gay is not a Western idea, since this is something that many parents seem to believe.
Nishant Shahani, professor in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program at Washington State University in Pullman and author of Queer Retrosexualities: The Politics of Reparative Return, credits the recent Supreme Court of India judgment for bringing LGBTQIA+ issues into public discourse, facilitating discussions on heterosexuality not being the default setting. “When I left India in 1999 for a master’s in the US, there wasn’t any public discussion on homosexuality,” he says.
“Queer South Asians in the US have to navigate both homophobia and certain structures of racism,” says Shahani, adding that queer Indians in the West are not spared from preconceived notions of India being a land of Bollywood and snake-charmers.