Some words carry a potent power when spoken by a specific individual or group. Pride is one of those words. Ask a roomful of LGBTQIA+ persons what Pride means to them, and you’re certain to get a rainbow-wrapped bouquet of responses — embracing our differences and apartness only makes us stronger. For some, it’s a time to take stock of the rights and freedoms achieved since the movement-emboldening Stonewall Riots, which broke out in a New York bar in June 1969. Certainly, there are those who view Pride as more than just a feeling. It’s a clarion call for equal opportunities for all queer people between the margins and the mainstream to live love and thrive without secrets, no hiding in the closet. Still others feel it’s an occasion to come together and reclaim the radical roots of Pride, which is both a party and a protest.
No matter where you sit on the sexuality and gender spectrum, one theme chimes loud, clear and queer: visibility is crucial to fighting shame and social stigma during Pride month of June and beyond. With the purpose of creating inclusive conversations to help see the bigger picture, I spoke to four personalities about why LGBTQIA+ representation and connection matter.
Reasons to love actor Bani J, 35: 1) her intrepid rabble-rouser character Umang in the ongoing Four More Shots series (Amazon Prime), spotlights the elusive B in LGBTQIA+ while bringing meaningful conversations about inclusion and acceptance 2) she is fit, AF, 3) she has reclaimed power over her body with tattoos.
SS: What one thing would you want to share with a young person struggling with coming out?
Bani J (BJ): I’d say, please be gentle with yourself, love and accept yourself first before stepping out and deciding to share your truth with the world. Understanding ourselves better gives us a sense of inner confidence that is not easily disabled by a lack of external validation. Please know that some people may need time to process while others will be wonderfully supportive, all of this is okay. Do it at your own time and for your own reasons.
SS: Why is LGBTQIA+ representation in TV shows and movies so important?
BJ: Having LGBTQIA+ individuals see characters that reflect their own experiences and identities can be incredibly powerful and validating. It helps them to be seen and heard and broadens their sense of acceptance—especially for young people who may be questioning their own identities and wondering why they don’t see anyone else like them on screen.
Storytelling that positively shows LGBTQIA+ humanity and diversity can literally influence society and change mindsets. What’s more? It helps cisgender, heterosexual people understand and empathise with the experiences of the community, which helps form allyship and awareness for the need for equality.
SS: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self?
BJ: You got it, G.
Faraz Arif Ansari
Directed and written by Faraz Arif Ansari, Sheer Qorma presented us with an understated but powerful study of anguish and love of families and LGBTQIA+ issues through the prism of a queer, gender non-binary child played by Divya Dutta and their Ammi, starring the enigmatic. Shabana Azmi. The 30-minute film has found critical praise and prestige even as it continues to reach global audiences through film festivals — it has toured 100 big-ticket festivals between its release in 2021 to present day. The 32-year-old gender non-binary filmmaker (they/them) is once again teaming up with Sheer Qorma producer Marijke deSouza on their first feature film—which plumbs the depths of a father-son bond. “It’s Anne of Green Gables-meets-The Little Prince- meets-Totto Chan in a Jane Austen world but queer,” is all the filmmaker is ready to divulge about the film that’s scheduled to release next year.
SS: The importance of LGBTQIA+ visibility in cinema?
Faraz Arif Ansar (FAA): My entire existence as a filmmaker is about being visible. As a community, we fight for fair representation on screen, yet it’s so rare to see queer films being told by queer writers and filmmakers. They add voice to the community, parse out diverse and complex nuances of sexuality and identity that are often flattened in cinema.
SS: What one message close to your heart do you want to hear this Pride?
FAA: Pride never stops. We are fighting multiple battles every single day. Why not make kindness and acceptance our compassionate choice to inspire change?
SS: Who are your icons?
FAA: American actor Billy Porter is the modern-day queer figurehead. As a person of colour, Porter provides the much-needed representation for pridefully embracing and celebrating who they are.
Dr Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju
Dr Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju, 26, knows shared experiences can often feel like a saving grace. One of India’s first openly transgender doctors, she uses her social platforms as a tool for advocating transgender community building, with greater care and emphasis on dealing with law and society, mental health and medical treatment. Today with 14.9k subscribers on ‘The Trinetra Method’— her YouTube channel—and 258K Instagram followers, she has created a safe space that, above all, nurtures acceptance of all kinds of people, expressions and conversations.
SS: How would you define the term pride?
Dr Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju (Dr THG): To me, pride means being able to embrace and accept every part of my identity. Pride lives long beyond the confines of one month—it’s something we each carry within us every living moment of the year.
SS: When did you first feel truly seen as your authentic self?
Dr THG: I must have been around four years old when I first draped my mother’s dupatta like a sari. At that age, a child is unaware of the stigma and social norms around gender and sex. I look back at that time as the freest I have felt sans labels or expectations. Today, I am reclaiming the sari to express my identity.
SS: What are the key identified barriers to transgender healthcare?
Dr THG: The primary role of the healthcare system is to ensure that all people, including transgender persons, get the best available care in a timely, dignified, affordable and accessible manner. But when both doctors and hospitals are not trained to understand transgender people and the intricate nuances of their bodies and their complex experiences, it leads to a significant barrier in the way a trans person has access to primary medical help or appropriate gender-affirming care. It also gives way to the ever-increasing cases of quackery.
“Music is the soundtrack of my life,” says Ma Faiza, 53-year-old DJ and music producer, often proclaimed the ‘Mother of Electronica’. And rightly so. Music has helped form her identity, and really reshaped her journey as “a proud woman and a lesbian”. When she plays a set of high-octane electronica to tens of thousands at venues in India and abroad, her music blurs the lines of sexual orientation, identity, class and gender. The self-confessed “freak” believes in queering sexuality through subversion of the traditional conventions and redefines the boundaries of “what is normal?”
Shweta Shiware (SS): Can music transcend norms and connect?
Ma Faiza (MF): Absolutely. Everybody is equal on the dance floor. Music has that transcendental beauty to move us in mysterious ways; it provides a missing link between reason and emotion. When I play at clubs, music becomes foreplay; like an arrow from Cupid, to seduce my audience.
SS: What one thing would you want to share with a young person needing support for coming out?
MF: That there is no other powerful expression. Denying yourself that power not only endangers your own mental well-being but also your relationships. Each coming out is a rite of passage—to believe and stand up for yourself is supremely powerful.
SS: Do you remember your first Pride?
MF: My chest sticks out a little bit when I think about my first Pride it was 1992 in London A beautiful chaos of over 2000 people marched in unity and strength through Parliament Square. We were cheering for Kiranjit Ahluwalia, who had won an appeal against her murder conviction and set a historic precedent for domestic violence. This made me understand that there is more to Pride than just one big party.
ELLE India Editor: Ainee Nizami Ahmedi; Photographer: Mehi Shah; Fashion Editor: Zoha Castelino (Styling); Jr. Fashion Editor: Shaeroy A Chinoy (Styling); Asst. Art Direction: Sanjana Suvarna (Art Direction); Words: Shweta Shiware; HMU Artist: The Hair Bar; Bookings Editor: Aliza Fatma; Assisted by: Komal Shetty, Jade Christina (Styling), Zehra Ahmedi, Priyal Varma (Bookings); Backdrop Artwork: Param Sahib; Production: CutLoose Productions