Don’t criminalize love


Tanishka Mehta | Contributor

Featured image courtesy of Unsplash

Imagine a world in which the way you love is illegal. This is the case for the LGBTQ+ community in most of the world. Currently, only 26 countries in the world have legalized same-sex marriage. Unfortunately, some people still have to live in restrictive environments. I believe everyone should be given the freedom to express how they love, and who they choose to love. They should be able to express their identity. So, why does this stigma still exist?

One example of a region where the LGBTQ+ community is oppressed is the Middle East. I was raised in the Middle East from the age of six to 19. There was no exposure to the LGBTQ+ community. I never knew that homosexuality existed, until I read the international news online, or visited North America where bright, rainbow flags were proudly raised. We have to realize that religion is not the sole reason behind these notions, but it’s also the perception and interpretation people make based on their, social, and cultural backgrounds.

In the Middle East, most of the news is censored, hence, we remain uneducated about most social issues in the region. There can be extreme forms of punishment ranging from the death penalty, to extended periods of time in prison (in places like Saudi Arabia and Yemen). Saudi Arabia is one of the largest countries in the Middle East that has no tolerance towards homosexuality. Some places like Turkey and Jordan have legalized it, but certain actions can still be penalized. This restriction pressures individuals to hide their sexuality, or be blacklisted by their families, and communities. In some cases, their families can consider honour killings. Ultimately, this means that no one is safe to come out as homosexual in these areas.

I am an Indian citizen. The day homosexuality was declared legal was one of the rare cases I was proud of my country. On September 6, 2018, India’s Supreme Court reversed Section 377 of the penal code, which criminalized consensual gay sex. Section 377 of the code was imposed during British rule, and a maximum sentence in prison was enforced on individuals who violated it.

If people came out as homosexual, they would often be considered mentally ill, or confused about their feelings and desires. Being an Indian, I won’t hold back when I say some Indians have an ‘old school thought process’ homosexuality is considered taboo, and is rarely spoken about.

Before independence, India was a British colony. Before colonization, homosexuality was not criminalized in India. Gender fluidity was not accepted by Britain’s strict, Victorian Concepts. By 1861, they had imposed Section 377 of the penal code which would lead to individuals being imprisoned if they committed acts of homosexuality or sodomy. However, it is funny to think that 20 years after India’s independence in 1947, homosexuality was legalized in Britain in 1967. It took five decades for that change to be made in the Indian system. Thankfully, things are changing now, and LGBTQ+ members have gained the rights to live freely.

I decided to get an opinion from some of my friends from India about this recent change, and here’s what they feel. I can happily say that all of them agree India has made a positive change.

“According to me, this is a good progressive decision that India has made. I believe the government has no right over who one chooses to love. I hope countries that have not yet legalized homosexuality understand how important the subject is, and how it affects the well being of their citizens and their choices.”

– Anam Sanghavi

“I think it’s great news that homosexuality has been legalized in India because people can be their true selves now. A vast majority of Indians still believe that homosexuality is a felony. No doubt, this community has gone through a lot of struggles but at last, they won’t be condemned on a legal basis. In my opinion, it would still be hard for them to ignore what people say about/behave with them. five to six years from now, I guess a higher percentage of the population will completely support it! According to me, the true test of whether a person is okay with homosexuality is if they can imagine their child to be a homosexual and support them without questioning their choices.”

– Saryu Miglani

“Homosexuality has always been a taboo in conservative India, and that is something I’ve frowned upon as an Indian. India claims to be one of the top developed countries and to be inclusive and accepting of all. The decriminalization of section 377 is a massive step towards a progressive nation. I hope to see more and more people engage in this conversation and change their mindsets. We have a long way to go as a country.”

– Falguni Gianchandani

“I believe the decriminalization of Section 377 on Sept 6, 2018 in India is an act of importance. It is an act which will be cherished for years to come because it is a step towards progress. This is an act that proves to the West that we truly do believe in embracing difference- difference in culture and traditions and difference in terms of sexual preferences. I am proud to call myself an Indian, because yes, we definitely did change the course of history in our nation!”

– Insha Rajwani

It’s been two months since I have moved to Toronto for university, and I can already see the difference here. People are so open to the idea of homosexuality, transgenderism, and being queer. Everyone is respected regardless of their sexuality and sexual preferences to the point where you are asked for your preferred pronouns.

Canada legalized gay marriage in 2005. Currently, Ontario has the largest LGBTQ+ community in the nation, with Toronto itself listing 13,210 relationships. People who identify as LGBTQ+ are given access to the same social and tax benefits—the same benefits as heterosexual married couples.

Like in Canada, in some regions, situations are changing for the better. Even though the Middle East is a restricted region, an LGBTQ+ rights group called HELEM exists. In India, organizations like The Humsafar Trust and Udaan Trust are a platform for the LGBTQ+ community. Canada also supports a large number of organizations like the Equal Rights Coalition and the Commonwealth Equality Network which support the LGBTQ+ society.

Eventually, these ideas will become more widely accepted, and nations will not discriminate against homosexuality. Most millennials are actively involved in projects concerning social issues like these, and someday, there will be a change. Here’s to hoping for a more accepting culture. Love is love, regardless of what the law says.

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