There are times when the queer community is in the news, and there are times when it’s not—the latter particularly being when homophobia (the irrational fear, hatred and discrimination of those from the queer community) comes into play. Homophobic and transphobic attacks are on the rise. Over the last few months, we’ve heard cases of a transwoman being attacked in a bar in Mumbai, a lesbian couple being thrown out for dancing at a pub in Chennai and another lesbian woman being arrested in Madhya Pradhesh for looking out for her partner’s safety. Incidents like these often go unnoticed and underreported because they happen to a select few people. In a similar way, on the eve of Diwali, 70 members of the queer community in Mumbai found themselves stranded outside a popular five-star hotel—a piece of news that has been largely limited to us who are part of the community. Here’s what took place.
About 70 members of the queer community in Mumbai tried to get inside the premises of Taj Lands End in Bandra, Mumbai, to enter a venue called House of Nomad, wherein a Diwali party was organised by Hive Events for the LGBTQIA+ community. But despite some of them being on the guest list, they were barred from entering the venue, and many of them say that it’s because of the “crossdressing”. News broke out about the incident when the party was called off after heated deliberations and some of the queer patrons took to Instagram. The video, later posted by Yes, We Exist on IGTV, has now been relentlessly shared across social media by queer rights advocates.
“When I reached there with some of my friends, we were stopped by the hotel management from entering the venue,” Alizeh, a queer activist who was one among those stuck outside the venue, told VICE. “We were asked to wait outside till the organiser arrives. So we waited and we waited some more, but when a crowd started gathering, a lot of queens heard the news that the party might be cancelled.” The day of the party, being the eve of Diwali in India when most celebrate with either their families or chosen families, was an important celebration a lot of queer people wanted to be a part of. “They advertised it as free entry, so obviously, queer people from all strata of society showed up, including trans and gender fluid people. Slowly the crowd outside the hotel got agitated and started clapping and protesting against this behaviour.”
Anjali, another patron, was really upset about the fact that they had the names of the people who were supposed to be at the party on the guest list, and yet were denied entry. “If clothes were the problem, we would have changed. But the problem was obvious, it was a class thing.”
To know their side of the story, I also contacted the management at Taj Lands End. But they did not want to go on record and maintained that to their knowledge, the organiser, Hive Events, had double booked for the party, the other venue apparently being Monkey Bar which lies not too far from the hotel. According to them, it was the organisers themselves who cancelled the party.
But Eric Mathew Knowles, the founder of Hive Events, disagrees, “When I reached the premises, I saw over 40 to 50 queer people standing outside the hotel gates, and not the venue entrance.” As a gay man himself, Knowles understands the need to make queer parties accessible, since not everyone can afford to go to a club or a drag show. But according to him, the management was not accepting of the crowd that turned up to enjoy a free-entry party. “They had a problem with the crossdressing. So they told me they won’t cancel the party only if I go outside and handpick who gets to come inside, to go well with their five-star vibe. So, I just cancelled the party myself at that point because there’s no way I would have done that.”
Alizeh, Anjali and their friends then went to Monkey Bar, where again the last minute nature of it all, found them cramped with regular patrons. Most of them were pretty pissed at the way their night had turned out, and so, instead of letting one more instance of homophobia fly, they decided to file an FIR against the discrimination at Bandra police station. The cops refused to take our statement because they didn’t find anything wrong with a hotel reserving the rights to admission because they have their own rules,” said Anjali. Legally, however, Article 15(2) of the Indian Constitution prohibits restriction to any citizen of India on entry to a public hotel, restaurant or place of entertainment on the grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex (and/or) place of birth.
Anjali adds “We were clearly being discriminated against for being men in saris and gowns. When the police officer finally budged, they asked the organiser to come to the police station to also attest to this. But no one showed up from the organising team.” When asked, Knowles said that he just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to go to the cops after the evening he had had. Dismayed, the group finally left the police station and went to Bandra Bandstand to go live on Instagram and raise their voices about this. “It’s been harrowing,” Alizeh said.
Having gone to several queer parties held at regular bars, I know what it is like to deal with the glares the regular staff throws at you. But this kind of discrimination is unacceptable, over a year after Section 377 got read down. “There’s a clear divide within the queer community,” Alizeh told me. “Even on the Instagram post (mentioned earlier), there are homosexuals who are being homophobic. On the day of the event, there were other ‘well-dressed’ queer people who were aghast they couldn’t go to a party because others don’t know how to dress like their assigned gender for one day at least. We all knew this homophobia and transphobia—from other people but also from those within the community—exists, but now it’s just out there in the open.”
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