LGBT rights: There’s a lot Tim Cook could do in the war on Section 377


Apple CEO Tim Cook’s visit to India started with an early morning aarti to the iconic Siddhivinayak Temple; the visit sent a message to the LGBT communities in India that hopefully Ganpati Bappa will not just remove the hurdles to Apple’s entry into India but also give us, the Indian LGBT, the hope the obstacles created by Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code would be overturned by the Supreme Court bench.
However, the real import is not in his visit but in his forthright in-your-face gay identity that he flaunts for Indian mainstream society. It is known for example, that even President Barack Obama had to take gay issue off the table after the PMO made it clear in no uncertain terms that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was uncomfortable with the issue. Obviously the President of the world’s most powerful nation had other items on his agenda besides fighting for our cause.
However, both Modi and the homophobic lot that dominate this political class will have a problem with the first ‘out’ gay corporate honcho, who not only flaunts his homosexuality as an integral part of his personality, but also as someone who admires and practices Hinduism in its most conservative form of entering a garbha griha and standing with folded hands in front of a pagan idol.
In fact, one has to enter cyber space to read the derisive comments equating Cook’s homosexuality with Hinduism in line with the old British habit of equating Hinduism with effete “vile practices”, a rather clever phrase that hides sexual repertoires like homosexuality and anal sex.
The first signal that such practices would not be tolerated in sacred spaces was the murder and hacking to death by Islamist activists of Xulaz Mannan, the Bangladeshi LGBT activist and editor of Gulbaan, the gay magazine he published from Dhaka. In India, Queer activism had moved in tandem with other movements by marginalised groups. The example of Koonal Duggal and Moses Tulasi in Hyderabad comes to mind. Both have successfully challenged majoritarian norms and embedded LGBT rights as part and parcel of the fight by Dalit groups. Although both are fighting against enormous odds, they are getting quiet support across the board — not financial, but moral from LGBT activists in Telangana and in Andhra Pradesh.
Networks like the Suraksha Network for LGBT in Hyderabad and over 20 grassroot hijra/Shiv Shakti/transgender groups are backing their fight. But, unlike Bangladesh and Afghanistan, nobody has dared hack them to death or try to harm them physically, although Tulasi took a stint in jail in his stride. That this was not even pointed out by an alleged academic who defends paedophilia and has been sacked from universities and colleges for abusive Hindu hate and malpractices is, of course, the point. This is obfuscated on purpose by the Hinduphobes funded by the Church whose own record on paedophilia is well-known (a Catholic priest with a police FIR against him for child abuse has been reinstated in Mumbai by the Catholic Church).
Cook’s visit must make that distinction as he wades his way through Corporate India. In Bengaluru, IT firms like Infosys, which a decade ago refused to accept that LGBT help groups existed in their midst, have accepted and nurtured support groups in the workplace. The Indian IT giant got a Pune activist to do a sensitisation program for them at their huge campus in the college city on the quiet last year.
Cook will be glad to know that scores of Indian corporates have been meeting with an NGO called ‘Community Business’, which works for diversity and inclusion in the workplace, to learn how to get more women, minorities and LGBT into corporate spaces and engage with glass ceilings that keep them away from promotions and progress up the corporate ladder.
What first started as a simple gender issue is now into serious strategic engagement for trans-people in the workspace. For example, ‘Community Business’ has held annual meetings at the Hindustan Level House in north-west Mumbai with a large number of Indian corporates attending the Human Resources workshops on the subject of LGBT inclusion. Nearly all groups have been hindered by the fact that Section 377 is an obstruction to inclusion because it allows for harassment, extortion and blackmail of LGBT employees and not many corporates are willing to challenge the law.
Maybe Cook must be told that Apple could take the fight against Section 377 right up to the PMO in a strategic way. It was Arun Jaitley who threatened gay diplomats with Section 377; Cook can point out that this is the main reason why gay talent on the planet refuses placements and transfers to India. In many cases, stressed-out gay Indian men have asked me to provide affidavits to them to procure refugee status in the US, Canada and Sweden after even a single incident of abuse in the family or workplaces, for being gay.
The Economic Times on Thursday carried an article saying activism by CEOs on social issues did make a difference at the grassroots level. The article quoted a paper by two researchers of Duke University and Harvard Business School, titled ‘Do CEO Activists Make a Difference’ to point out that Cook’s coming out had gone down well with the American public and actually helped sell the Apple brand better. Seeing his example, other MNCs like Unilever, Starbucks and Goldman Sachs have been walking the talk on inclusion issues.
In India, for example, Vodafone has been making yeoman efforts to increase Muslim representation and LGBT inclusion in the workplace through continuous meetings with community groups. Although it is not yet certain whether Cook will bring up Section 377, he was pretty quick to get onto the perpetual companion of gay men on the iPhone, the ‘Grindr’, where gay men find each other in cyber space. The Humsafar Trust’s cyber outreach workers found his profile on Grindr circulating in Mumbai on Tuesday morning when he had just finished his visit to Ganpati Bappa at Siddhivinayak and he made no bones about it.
So you see Bappa Morya did at least remove one obstacle in Cook’s path — he gave him a raw glimpse into the world of gay Indian men through a mobile app that gets hundreds if not thousands of Indian gay men to cock-a-snook at Section 377. Gay love will find a way and Cook knows it; Apple could do an ad on that alone and show the Indian government that ancient stupid laws have no place in a modern society.

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