Images Exploring What It's Like to Be Part of India's Queer Community

Photographer Jake Naughton and Art Director Aarti Singh of Suno Labs depict more complex narratives about India

by Jake Naughton and Aarti Singh
Jun 20 2018, 2:00pm

This story appears in VICE magazine and Broadly's 2018 Privacy and Perception Photo Issue. Click HERE to subscribe to VICE magazine.

In 2009, the Delhi High Court decriminalized Section 377 of the Indian penal code, which had made same-sex sexual activity illegal. When the decision came down, the local LGBTQ community danced with joy in the streets, and many believed it was a huge step in a march toward progress in the rapidly changing country. So it was a widespread shock when, just a few years later in 2013, the Supreme Court nullified that decision. As a result, India has the peculiar distinction of being one of the only countries in the world to have decriminalized and then re-criminalized homosexuality. In January this year, the Supreme Court announced it would revisit its decision by October, and activists have said they are “cautiously optimistic.” Until then, however, the uncertainty continues.

Aarti Singh and Jake Naughton, who formed a creative incubator together called Suno Labs, explore what it’s like today for India’s queer community through Yesterday Tomorrow Today, a project supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Born in the United States, and raised in northern India, Singh seeks to tell more complex narratives about India, and to make sure they are seen and consumed in India as well as abroad. Naughton, a gay American living in London, often works on stories about queerness around the world.

Through extensive interviews as well as still and video portraits, Yesterday Tomorrow Today explores the jarring effects created when social progress abruptly changes course, and addresses other frustrations, such as the limited narratives allowed for stories coming out of India, the way stories from the region are often taken away and never shared with the community that they come from, and the limited frameworks and media those stories are allowed to be told in.

Though the project was designed to be open-ended enough to let people come to their own conclusions, Singh and Naughton hope that viewers leave with an understanding that progress for any marginalized identity isn’t linear—what was taboo yesterday may be accepted tomorrow, and today, meanwhile, we move forward in whatever way we can.

Garlands and images of deities hang over the doorway of an apartment in the Dharavi area of Mumbai, India. This particular part of Dharavi is home to many hijras, a formally recognized third gender in India.

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