7 Indian Queer Icons You Should Know This Pride Month


Being queer in India isn’t a bed of roses with stereotypes, hate and discrimination being an unfortunate reality even today. Let’s not forget though, that today is better than yesterday–those who came before, braved many thorns and forged their own path.

While the Queer movement in India is relatively new, it did not emerge out of thin air; rather, it was the product of years of brave people fighting for a place in society, a fight that continues to this day. From Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil of the royal family of Gujarat coming out, to individuals like Vikram Seth and Amartya Sen calling for the removal of section 377 of the IPC, bit by bit, stories such as these encouraged other regular individuals to come out of the closet and live their truth openly and honestly.

Past and present, our country is filled with stories of queer icons who have worked to forge the path to make the world a more inclusive, safer space for all. So this pride month, when the nosy neighbour or provocative coworker quips, “Why do you need rainbows and a month?”, let’s get the conversation started on how we got here, and how for the ball to keep rolling, there were those who took the effort to push boulders, to begin with.

Grace Banu

Grace Banu is an activist who was the first transgender person in Tamil Nadu history to be accepted into an engineering institution. The Indian software engineer, founder and director of Trans Rights Now Collective, has worked on granting transgender people the opportunity to participate in TNPSC recruitment exams. She was the first recipient of the ‘Best Third Gender’ award, recognising transgender contributions to society. 

During the pandemic, Banu identified issues with transgender people’s ration cards and started fundraising campaigns. In 2021, she advocated for horizontal reservation for transgender persons based on caste. Banu believes that the intersectionality of oppression and recognition of caste-based discrimination within the queer community is crucial.

Keshav Suri

Keshav Suri, an out and proud business tycoon, is the youngest Executive Director at The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group. Suri founded Kitty Su, one of the longest-running and most inclusive nightclubs in India. In addition, he is one of the petitioners who have filed a writ in India to repeal Section 377. He established the Keshav Suri Foundation to embrace, empower, and mainstream the LGBTQIA+ community after taking up the cause of creating an inclusive country. The Foundation is the It Gets Better Project’s official Indian affiliate. Because of its projects and principles, the Group is regarded as one of the most inclusive hotel chains worldwide.

Saleem Kidwai

The medieval historian was one of the first academics to speak publicly as a member of the LGBT community. After witnessing police brutality at a nightclub in ’70s Montreal, he left his PhD study and returned to India, set to bring about change in the social system. His book Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History, co-written by Kidwai and Ruth Vanita, was initially deemed explosive by Indian publishers. However, it gained traction and was used as evidence in cases against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, making it a crucial part of LGBT Studies courses.

Navtej Johar

Navtej Johar is a Bharatanatyam dancer-choreographer, yoga practitioner, scholar and social activist with a unique style that combines dance, yoga, and somatics. Johar is a Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee in Contemporary Choreography and has received several fellowships. In 2003, Navtej Singh Johar was asked about his sexuality during a phone interview in New Delhi.

His partner then asked if he wanted to be known as a brilliant dancer or a gay dancer- the incident left him with a lasting impression.  In 2016, Navtej and five others challenged Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in the Supreme Court of India, leading to the landmark 2018 judgment in Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India

Abhina Aher

A trans rights activist veteran, for the last 24 years, Abhina has been a global activist on LGBT issues. Founder of TWEET, one of the first organisations for transgender men and women, she also founded ‘Dancing Queens Mumbai,” India’s first transgender-led dance ensemble dedicated to gender activism. Since 2010, Abhina Aher has served as the India HIV/AIDS Alliance’s Associate Director for Gender, Sexuality, and Rights.

Maneka Guruswamy

She is a Senior Advocate at the Supreme Court of India. She was the B.R. Ambedkar Research Scholar and Lecturer at Columbia Law School, New York from 2017 to 2019. Guruswamy has been a visiting faculty at Yale Law School, New York University School of Law and the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. She played a significant role in many landmark cases before the Supreme Court, including the Section 377 case.

Arundhati Katju

Arundhati Katju is a lawyer qualified to practice in India and New York. She has litigated many notable cases at the Supreme Court of India and the Delhi High Court, including the Section 377 case. Katju represented the lead petitioners in Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India (2018) pertaining to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in India.

Let us never forget the myriad of people past and present, without whom the beautiful mosaic that is pride would not be what it is today, as we honour the queer community this June.

Happy Pride! 🌈

Also, read: Here’s Why The Queer Representation In The Thai Entertainment Industry Deserves More Acknowledgment

Thai BL Dramas Worth Watching For The Unique Portrayal Of Love And Romance

Contributing Digital Writer

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