GUEST COLUMN

Wise bench, touching apology

My focus was solely on the next generation in the LGBTQ community

55-wendell-rodricks Wendell Rodricks | Valeska Helbig

ON OCTOBER 19, 1983, all it took was a blind date and an hour-long walk on a beach in Oman to realise “This is it”; that this person was beyond special, and whoever was going to get him would be lucky. Six months later, Cupid’s arrow struck deliciously deep. I was the lucky person to get Jerome Marrel as my partner for life. Of course, there were apprehensions. To start with, he is French. My folk commented that, hopefully, this was not a summer romance, and that I would be dumped with a broken heart. However, when the family met him, those doubts flew out the window.

When I look back, 23 seems too young to make up one’s mind. But, over the years, the bond grew stronger. From Oman to Los Angeles, Paris, Istanbul, Bombay and Goa, and brief stints in Lisbon and New York, the world was truly our oyster, till we finally put down roots in Goa.

Heterosexuals have many reasons to stay together. Having children is a big plus. My friends would tell me: “Your bond is stronger as there are no crutches. If not for the children, we would have separated long ago.” For us, there were issues like different nationalities and cultural differences. But, there was no bigger hurdle than Section 377 and [the absence of] equal rights. Rights that most take for granted.

Many have not read Section 377, and most think this is a law aimed at LGBTQ persons. Rather, this unjust colonial law applies to every Indian. Anyone engaging in sex from innocent frottage to oral and other sex “against the law of nature” is a criminal. The section put us alongside rapists, child sex abusers and those that have sex with animals.

Until we signed a PACS [French civil solidarity pact that offers legal status to same-sex couples], we had no rights as a couple. Families had precedence in many areas that are taken for granted. When a partner passes away, the family gets their share of inheritance but not the partner, even though they worked together to earn the wealth. We could not sign each other off for a life-threatening medical operation, nor had the right to go through burial rites without family intervention and consent. The PACS solved these issues. The elation cannot be understood by heterosexuals. Something as simple as proudly standing together in an immigration line is a huge thing for us.

I recall an immigration officer in Miami asking us how long we were together, while entering the US. “Since before you were born—1983,” I cheekily told the young officer, who burst out laughing. But, not all countries give you recognition or respect. Till today, we must hide behind booking twin bedrooms, and cannot display affection publicly in countries like Kenya or Russia or in the Middle East. My own country, India, made us criminals. All that changed on September 6, 2018.

Through the ups and downs of the 2009 and 2013 court verdicts, family and friends questioned me about my keenness to see Section 377 amended as it would not change my life. But, my focus was solely on the next generation in the LGBTQ community. I did not want them to endure the shame, pain, ridicule and insolence we suffered.

Thanks to a wise bench of judges, the section has been revised. We were surprised by the wording of the judgment. We were no more criminal, deviant and unnatural social outcasts. When Justice Indu Malhotra said that history owes an apology to the community for what we and our families have endured, I wept. The apology made the verdict even sweeter.

September 6 was a celebration not only for India. Other countries are looking at our country with respect, and mulling over the illegality of LGBTQ in their countries. This is a proud moment for India in the eyes of an increasingly progressive world. And, we should celebrate this new India.

Rodricks is a fashion designer based in Goa.