Queering the Net

Five years ago,if one googled gay and lesbian,the search engine threw up a plethora of sites from the West but nothing from India...

Written by Georgina Maddox | Published: July 19, 2010 2:27:57 am

The Indian gay community goes visible online

Five years ago,if one googled gay and lesbian,the search engine threw up a plethora of sites from the West but nothing from India,save for the Humsafar Trust,one of the first queer NGOs to go online. Today,however,the internet is teeming with websites related to LGBTI (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Inter-sex). And they range from the nonchalantly cool to serious,activism-driven sites.

“There have been some queer sites,like the Gay Bombay website (gaybombay.com),but an increased online visibility happened only after the Delhi High Court decriminalised homosexuality,” says queer activist and writer Gautam Bhan. “These new online spaces are a positive development,but they are not hugely accessed and there is a need for non-virtual community building.”

It took 15 years for LABIA (Lesbians and Bisexuals in Action),a Mumbai-based activist group,to find its way to the Net. Their website,labiacollective.org,talks about their campaigns,workshops and conferences. It also features editorials of their bi-annual magazine Scripts that printed its first issue in 1998. “We would like to go bilingual,” says Chayanika Shah,a founder member of LABIA.

Jiah: For Women with Heart is another new online magazine. “It’s easier to reach more people online than in print. We also reach NRIs who don’t know much about the queer scene in India,” says its Pune-based editor Apphia K. Its eco-feminists are determined to keep the magazine online,and the third issue has just been uploaded. Jiah has over 1,000 subscribers and has also given birth to an LGBT support group,Birds of a Feather.

A young,closeted gay points out that virtual spaces answer the need for anonymity. “The internet gives visibility to our cause. Many of us have not come out about our sexual orientation. The online presence of groups makes it easier for us to connect and express our concerns,” says Ajay (name changed).

Shobana of the online book portal http://www.queerink.com says that while there are more queer books in stores today,a website caters to people who are too closeted to go to an actual store. “We are also committed to unearthing new queer voices. Our site invites new writers to contribute poems,short stories,etc,” she says.

Simran and partner Sabina’s online store for queer products azaadbazaar.com sells rainbow-themed boas,tees,mugs,lamps and rugs. “Indians are a little new to online shopping. Many don’t have credit cards and payment gateways are not too reliable. But more than that we are still touchy-feely about our shopping,” says Simran. So they set up stalls at parties and rent a store in Bandra during queer pride.

Several new sites like gaysifamily.com are set up by Indians who have returned home from abroad. “They’ve been living and working abroad and want to start something online. They have money and the technical knowhow. Since they’re a little wary of the established gay groups,they would rather start their own thing,” says Vikram of Gay Bombay.

With inputs from Somya Lakhani

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