By Yougan Tamang & Devika Gurung

Homosexuality has been a widely talked about but tabooed topic through the years. Lack of awareness or lack of empathy or utter ignorance, the reason can be any that made homosexuals (as per the heterosexuals) as individuals who are not ‘easily’ understandable and ‘not’ normal. However, it can also not be denied that with the changing world, and homosexuals being vocal about their rights, the approach towards this section of the society is witnessing a gradual change positively.

Sikkim too witnessed a media breakthrough recently when Sikkim Chronicle released a first ever video podcast of two individuals expressing openly about their homosexuality and preferences, making thousands of people watch and listen them in ‘real’.

The videos, “In conversation with Edu Tshering Bhutia and Gaurav Probir Pramanik’ speaks about the conservative society we live in especially in regards to alternative sexualities ‘LGBTQI’ and the stigma one faces on being homosexual from the so called mainstream society.

In skepticism the interview was delivered and further released. In no time, the interviews got real time feedbacks which were immensely positive.

Perilla Bhandari, the daughter of former Chief Minister of Sikkim Lt. NB Bhandari after having watched Edu’s interview commented, “We are all humans. Anyone who sees anything else and tries to make one feel less than human… those are the people who don’t belong in any society. Calling themselves ‘conservative’ is a slap in the face of society. I am conservative but I also believe in the basic human rights of all those around. Edu Tshering Kaleon, bahini (younger sister) you are by far one of the better human beings and I have nothing but love/respect for you. What you have done here is tried to live an authentic life and no one can take that away from you. I am forever proud of you and your beautiful heart”.

Likewise, Gaurav’s interview garnered positivity from the public. A comment read, “thanks for an informative interview. Hope more Gauravs will come out in Gangtok who are suffering from double standard life which only LGBT community knows. Proud of you Gaurav”

Though few hate comments made its way, however, the overall positive response to the podcasts do signal a sign of a progressive society. It also shows that the Sikkimese society has accepted and is tolerant towards alternative sexualities just like they are towards heterosexuals.

In a recent article published in the Indian Express, the former Chief Minister of Sikkim Pawan Chamling, had expressed that if he had returned to power, he would have focused on the LGBTQ community.

“I would permit gay marriage in my state, there would be no opposition here”, he had shared.

Leaders understanding the plight of alternative sexualities itself confirms a reforming society.

One of the big names in Indian politics who has been real vocal for the LGBTQI rights in the parliament and in various national and international platform is Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram, Sashi Tharoor. Time and again he has voiced out to bring modifications to the archaic law of Section 377 which now is fortunately struck off. He felt that Section 377 was a draconian law in the Indian Penal Code.

Recently, Sikkim got it’s lone new young Member of Parliament Indra Hang Subba. The 30 year old MP seems to be equally sensible and aware about gender equality and the rights of alternative sexualities.

In his address during the recently held Youth Summit on Sustainable Development Goals in the capital, he strongly emphasized on the rights of the LGBTQI and claiming them to be equal part of the Sikkimese society.

“Gender equality can only be defined real when the alternative sexualities are treated equally with respect and honour. Everyone deserves equal respect and dignity,” he stated.

Though the statement didn’t make it to the headlines for any media house in the state, but it can be counted as a political conformity of the rights and existence of invisible population of LGBTQI in the Sikkimese society.

The youth summit on SDGs was also addressed by Gaurav who is a LGBTQI and a columnist. He writes about ‘Gender issues and sexual minorities’.

It was the first time ever Gaurav confessed about himself in the physical presence of many people. His address in the summit proved to be an absolute breakthrough.

“My recent experience at the SDG summit was nothing short of eye-opening. The kind of acceptance and validation that I received from the people of Sikkim was almost life-altering. I can proudly say, looking at the response post the Youth Summit, that the people of Sikkim are really progressive and forward thinking. That is a huge step to making the state a better place for people from the LGBTQIA+ community” expressed Gaurav while speaking to Sikkim Chronicle.

Speaking more on LGBTQI rights he further added, “we have only just legalised same-sex in India, our next step would be to legalise same-sex marriage in India and there would nothing better than Sikkim leading the way by legalising it at the state level. Also, we need to bring people from the LGBTQIA+ community into the mainstream, ensure they get equal opportunities while looking for jobs”.

It was in September 6, 2018 when the Supreme Court termed IPC’s Section 377 as irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary. It was the day when the section got struck off and homosexuality was decriminalized in India.

Decriminalising homosexuality is only the first step. Despite homosexuality being legal in 128 countries, it is possible for same-sex couples to marry or adopt only in a few of them. For instance, South Africa is the only African country which recognises same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples. While it is same-sex marriages are legal in Mexico, their adoption rights are not recognised. On May 24 2019 Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalise same sex marriage likewise on June 7, 2019 Bhutan’s lower house of parliament voted to scrap laws criminalising homosexuality. On June 13, 2019 Ecuador’s highest court also authorised same-sex marriage in a landmark case seeking to expand LGBT rights in the small South American nation.

Despite of the scrapping of IPC section 377, questions still loom over India regarding other aspects of alternative sexualities.

Edu who presently in a relationship with a girl in Sikkim feels liberated to some extent after the September 8 verdict of Supreme Court. She wants to marry her girlfriend but the legal non-recognition of same-sex marriage despairs her.

“It is delightful to see Sikkim progressing when it comes to social acceptance. After coming out publically as a homosexual in an interview with Sikkim Chronicle I was bit skeptic about the responses I may be getting from public but to my surprise I got nothing but love and overwhelming support from the people around. It was a heart warming experience”, she says.

“Sikkimese society is a progressive society, and Sikkim can set an example in the country by becoming the first state to torchbear the protection of lgbtqi rights and same-sex marriage. I hope the new governemnt will consider the plead of many LGBTQI population”, she adds.

Roshnila Gurung, UN speaker from Sikkim feels that Sikkim has taken a very progressive stand in accepting and embracing the LGTBQ+ community unlike the rest of the country.

“But what we need today is the community being accepted not just within the boundaries of family and homes but by the larger society. We have introduced the concept of gender mainstreaming while developing various policies and legislations to protect the rights of the women so similarly we also need LGTBQ+ mainstreaming to be followed so that we do not only have social inclusion but economic and political inclusion as well”, she asserts.

Miss India Supranational 2017 Peden Ongmu Namgyal is also one of the allies of LGBTQI community in Sikkim.

“It feels really nice to know more people are coming out everyday, all over the world. It’s even a greater thing that our state Sikkim is taking the LGBTQ scene positively and I honestly think that is how it should be. I feel proud and happy to support the LGBTQ community”, she says.

Sikkim’s path towards progress has been long in a short span of time. Sikkim has time and again proved that though the state may be one of the smallest in the country, the broadmindedness that people bear is larger than the rest of the nation. With leaders disputing over their political stands and differences, it feels encouraging to realise that when it comes to the state’s progress they are thinking in the same line. If this continues, soon positive decisions revolving around other aspects of alternative sexualities may again shine Sikkim in the ‘first-of-its-kind’ map.

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