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Jayati Godhawat

IWB Blogger

Straight Herself, Shubham Mehrotra Blends 50 Shades Of Gay Into Her Life Story

  • IWB Post
  •  February 12, 2018


“How would you feel if your Prime Minister chose to ignore your entire community and its rights related issues like it doesn’t exist?”

This question struck me hard and long after an insightful conversation with Shubham Mehrotra, LGBTQIA rights activist, I was pondering over this line.

Shubham, a media and brand marketer by profession, returned from China to India last year, to fight for the rights of the LGBTQIA community.

After coming back to India, the 24-year-old “straight” Shubham started with a national campaign for Equal rights for the LGBTQIA, “Fifty Shades Of Gay” (FSOG) in an attempt to make India a place where people understand and respect the big spectrum of gender identities, expression, and sexual orientation.

You might be thinking, “Why did I emphasize on Shubham being a straight woman?”

Well, because in the conservative society like ours, Shubham was more often than not questioned about her support for the rights of the LGBTQIA.

Shubham also took the platform of TedTalk to address the need for Sex Education which is considered a great taboo in India.

Fifty Shades of Gay India

In an exclusive interview with IndianWomenBlog, Shubham not only talks about her initiative, FSOG, but also gives a peek into her childhood, life learnings, and travels which fueled her to become a strong voice for the LGBTQIA.

Me: Was there any particular incident which led you to initiate FSOG?

Shubham: I remember, back in 2013, when I was living in Foshan, China, the SC of India dealt a heavy blow to our democracy and reinitiated Section 377. In my opinion, it was rather regressive and sad that our Supreme Court couldn’t uphold the fundamentals of our Constitution and the essence of democracy. We all take pride in the fact that India is the largest democracy in the world, but are we really democratic in the truest sense? 

Every Indian citizen, no matter their gender, sexuality, religion, class, or color, should have the right to live a life of respect and dignity. And criminalizing homosexual love not only validates the homophobes in this country but also, leads to a significant rise in hate crimes, which was the case following the judgment. 

Indians from LGBTQIA community were blackmailed, illegally detained, and physically abused by the police, were discriminated in schools and hospitals, and were mistreated by the public, in general. I still remember reading this article about a 31-year old marketing professional who was forced to perform oral sex on two men. And then taken to an ATM and forced to withdraw INR 15,000/- cash. This happened around April in 2015 in Mumbai, one of the cosmopolitan cities in India.Fifty Shades of Gay India

I was still living in China then and all the news about hate crimes back in India stuck with me. I started reading and researching more about the Indian LGBT+ community, I realized that they suffer human rights abuse both at the hands of the state and the society, on a daily basis. In fact, a very high percentage of the heterosexual population in our society considers homosexuality as a mental illness and there seemed to be a lack of organizations that provided a space to explore your understanding regarding alternative sexualities. 

I returned to India in September 2015 and started FSOG campaign in Feb 2016 in the hope to raise awareness and bridge the gap between the LGBT+ minority and the heterosexual majority.

Me: What kind of role FSOG is playing for the LGBTQ+ community in India?

Shubham: I started FSOG with one goal in mind, which was to educate and make people aware of the topics that are not openly discussed in our country, such as, LGBT+ and sexual rights, gender inequality and the dark reality of child abuse in India.

As weeks went by and the campaign started gaining traction, I was getting more and more calls and emails from people who wanted to share their stories through our platform. 

FSOG has started a dialogue in the country. People are not shying away from conversations about sexuality and sexual rights. They now realize that LGBT+ rights are essentially human rights and denying any human of those is just unfair and selfish. FSOG has created a space for people to educate themselves and explore subjects that are considered taboo in the country.

I receive emails from not only the LGBT+ community but also from straight people who want to learn more about alternative sexualities and want to support our cause. It is really overwhelming at times.

Me: Why should straight people support LGBTQ+ rights?Fifty Shades of Gay India

Shubham:  I’m not gay, but, I’ve always been a supporter of LGBT+ rights. Also, I’m not a closet supporter. I genuinely believe that ALL people deserve equal rights regardless of their race, gender, religion or sexuality. Do you really think hate crimes or terror will change people’s mind and soul? Terror doesn’t change people from gay to straight, it just hurts innocent people. Why is it so difficult for people to understand that?

So, when a significant portion of our population (approx 2.5 million Indians) who are homosexual, demand to be legally recognized and be able to marry the person they love, just like everyone else, then, of course, I support them. And, I feel they deserve all the rights that the law has selfishly bestowed on its heterosexual citizens. And to be honest, I have yet to hear a single rational argument for why our law does not support equal rights for all.

Well, because there’s no rational argument!

Me: Who is your role model as an LGBTQ+ activist?Shubham Mehrotra

Shubham: The number one would definitely be Harvey Milk. The notable efforts of THE most prominent LGBT activist in history are admirable and motivational. He refused to stay in the closet and encouraged others to come out and be themselves, at a time when homophobia was rampant. That in itself is so amazing!

I’m also a big admirer of Audre Lorde who had a strong, independent voice that spoke against any kind of injustice she saw. She encouraged others to do the same. There’s a quote by her, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own,” which always fills me up with so many emotions.

Also, millennial activists like Ellen Page, Dan Savage, Laverne Cox, Lady Gaga, Ellen Degeneres, Janet Mock and so many others are not only empowering young people every day but have also made important contributions to the society through their work and art.

Me: Living in India, most of us are brought up believing that LGBTQ+ is a taboo. Was it the same for you? When did you come to reality?Fifty Shades of Gay India

Shubham: I studied in an International school in India and so we were always given a freedom to express ourselves in whatever way we wanted in terms of fashion, clothes, accessories, etc. At home too, my mom’s approach to teaching me about things was very liberal. I still remember that during my early teens, my mom and I had a decent conversation about my private parts, its protection, sex, sex-ed, etc. So I believe that’s what shaped my perception towards things, early on in my life.

Me: Did you also face challenges in explaining your support for the LGBTQ+ rights in your social circle?Shubham Mehrotra

Shubham: *sighs* Yes, it was very challenging. While my parents always supported me, most of the people around me always raised such questions, “Why are you moving back to India?” “Why are you doing this when it doesn’t affect you?”, etc.

And, when my grandparents got to know about it, they were appalled, initially. We had a two-hour dinner table conversation with them to make them understand why I was doing this. They were in tears. I realized one thing then that many people in India, do not understand what LGBTQIA is. Most of them are either unaware or ignorant and so, they first need to be educated in a right way to make them accept it.

Totally agree!

Me: Have you faced threats from any community for supporting equal & LGBTQ+ rights?

Shubham: I did get a few anonymous threat emails. But, I didn’t pay any heed. And, now we have our own lawyer who rightfully tackles such things.

Me: *interrupting* But, do you fear these threats?

Shubham: Of course! I fear such people. This is why I am always vigilant of my surroundings and cautious of what I should say or not say, at a particular place or to a particular audience. 

Me: Share with us one story of coming out of the closet which is an inspiration for everyone.

Shubham: Six months ago, I met Vivek from Ahmedabad, who’s an asexual. So, before him, I only vaguely knew about asexuality. When we published his story, it went viral and brought so many misconceptions towards asexuality to light. 

An asexual person is someone who has no sexual feelings but is capable of falling in love and is not impotent, which is the biggest misconception about them. 

About just a week ago, Vivek called me and said that he’s marrying a gay man and his family was in full support and it would be a typical big Indian fat wedding. I felt so happy for him. 

Me: How are public figures supporting your initiative?

Shubham: Rajat Malhotra, a counsel in the Supreme Court and Delhi High Court, is a strong advocate for LGBT+ rights and equality himself. I am so fortunate that he offered to be a part of FSOG and help provide legal support to victims of abuse. Because of him, we have started providing legal and health advice to the LGBT+ victims of domestic, physical and sexual abuse.Shubham Mehrotra

Recently, we also launched a social movement called “I AM AN ALLY”, which is a national drive to engage with the heterosexual majority in order to foster collaboration and mutual support for equal rights. We’ve so far got straight allies from various cities in India such as Delhi, Dehradun, Gwalior, and Mumbai. Our latest ally is Pammi aunty, aka, actor Ssumier S Pasricha. 

Me: One story of your courage and spirit you’d like to share with us.

Shubham: When Orlando shooting took place in Gay Club, we were all deeply saddened. To condemn this act of hatred towards a particular community, and to share our grief with the people who lost their lives, we organized a gathering, Vigil For Love. When I think of it now, it was a herculean task and so many people came out in the support, including the US Consul General, Mr. Thomas Vajda.

Me: What’s the one thing you are tired of hearing:

About yourself: You must be gay because you support gay rights.

About homosexuality: Homosexuality is a lifestyle choice.

About transgenders: All transgenders are hijras and homeless.

Me: If you had to explain in the simplest of terms as to why India/the world needs equal rights & opportunities for LGBTQ+, how would you do it?Fifty Shades of Gay India

Shubham: People don’t seem to realize that LGBTQIA rights are essentially human rights. And denying human rights to certain humans due to their personal preferences is just unfair. 

*claps* Couldn’t have summed it better and simpler!

Me: Describe some shades of:

Your personality: Definitely red – people with red personality type are considered dreamers, and I am definitely one! However, I don’t just dream but also work towards them.

Your wardrobe: Rainbow, as my wardrobe doesn’t have one color but all.

Your leisure time: White, as I like to spend my leisure time in peace with my near and dear ones.

Your love relationship: A definite red

Me: One relationship lesson you learned from the LGBT+.

Shubham: Never take your right to love and marriage for granted.

Me: Recommend one must-watch movie/TV series that gives a broader perspective of the LGBTQ rights.

Shubham: I’d definitely recommend everyone to watch Gaycation, which is a tv series that explores LGBT people & cultures across the world. It is one of the most fascinating series I’ve watched.

Another recommendation would be “I AM”, which is a 2011 Indian anthology of four short stories wherein the protagonists struggle to find their identity, and uphold their dignity in a world that is callous and unsympathetic. This film will give you an insight into the lives of desi LGBT+ people.

I’ll sure be watching it. Will you, too?

Me: What word of advice would you like to give to LGBTQ+ youth who are reading this interview?Fifty Shades of Gay India

Shubham: I know the world is a tough place for you. You’re, perhaps, in the most confusing phase of your life but never lose hope. Being LGBTQIA is a normal and healthy way to be. It’s one more part of who you are – like being tall or short, or black or white. Always remember, you’re not alone. There are tens of thousands of people who feel the way you feel and there are hundreds of thousands more who are ready to fight for your rights and liberty. So, BE FEARLESS and own your personality, because you’re truly beautiful, just the way you are.

“Jayati, I may be straight and maybe it doesn’t affect me. But, I’ll have children and grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Anyone of them can be a gay, lesbian, transgender, asexual, etc. Would you be happy seeing them living in the “closet” and being denied of their fundamental rights? So, isn’t it everyone’s fight, in the end?”

P.S. You can know more about Shubam’s campaign, Fifty Shades Of Gay, here.

Photo Source: Shubham Mehrotra

This article was first published in February, 2017.

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