In a society where homophobia is the norm, some people are not afraid to express themselves just as they are. They refuse to live a lie and call it a life. These people make their lives as they want it to be and inspire thousands of others like them to not be afraid of their truth. Here are the top 15 iconic LGBTQ+ personalities and queer icons of India.
Top 15 Queer Icons of India
1. Vikram Seth
One of the most influential modern writers, Vikram Seth is best known for his novel A Suitable Boy. Seth is one of the most popular openly gay personalities in India. He is the son of Prem Seth and Leila Seth, who was also the first woman Chief Justice of a High Court in India and whose acceptance and undying support for the LGBTQ+ community were renowned. The 68-year old writer and Padma Shri recipient also wrote a heartfelt poem titled “Through Love’s Great Power”, that was packed with his anguish over the dismissal of a review petition against the 2013 verdict that criminalised gay sex in India.
2. Gauri Sawant
There is no forgetting the woman from that heart-rending Vicks advertisement that broke the gender stereotype of heteronormative parenting roles in front of a society that scorns transgenders. Gauri Sawant, born as Ganesh, emerged as a victorious icon for the LGBTQ+ community by never being ashamed of her identity. She also adopted a little girl whose mother had passed away. Gauri is a big face in the LGBTQ+ movements in India.
3. Manvendra Singh Gohil
Manvendra Singh Gohil, hailing from a royal family in Gujarat, is the world’s first openly gay prince. I mean. Iconic! The inspiration and idol of so many young people in India, the prince’s family disowned him when he first came out in public, but nothing could stop him. He has become one of the loudest voices in spreading awareness about homosexuality and the implications of AIDS since the day he came out ten years ago. He set up his own charity Lakshya Foundation that works with homosexual men and the transgender community to promote and spread awareness about safer sex practices and precautions. Despite being hindered by the police and local homo phobics, both the charity and the prince continue to work for their cause. Manvendra and his charity made headlines when they took to hang condoms from trees to bring awareness to safe sex practices.
4. Sonal Giani
Best known for her pioneering work in highlighting bisexual and lesbian women’s issues and LGBTQ+ youth work, Sonal Giani is a bisexual woman who is a very vocal and active activist and also an actress. She is the co-founder of two of the biggest LGBT initiatives, Yaariyan and Umang, which are lesbian-bisexual-transgender initiatives. Giani is also working to bring representation to her community in theatre and on screen. She is best known for featuring in Connected Hum Tum, a documentary television show, where she shared her struggle and hardships in society because of her sexual orientation.
5. Laxmi Narayan Tripathi
A transgender-rights activist, actress, and Bharatnatyam dancer, Laxmi Narayan Tripathi recognises herself as a part of the hijra community. As a child, she was sickly and had suffered from illnesses all her childhood, also being bullied at school and sexually assaulted by a relative for being effeminate. From her childhood, she was very fascinated by the art form of Bharatnatyam and decided to pursue it along with acting. She was a celebrity contestant in Bigg Boss and has also featured in three other documentary films. Vocal about the rights of her community, in 2002, Laxmi went on to become one of the founders of the Dai Welfare Society, which works for the welfare of the transgender community. She also represented Asia Pacific in the UN in 2008, where she spoke on behalf of minor gender identities as sexual minorities. She also launched The India Super Queen beauty pageant, which is a queer beauty pageant and still going strong.
6. Ashok Row Kavi
One of the most prominent voices in LGBTQ+ community rights activism, Kavi is a journalist and one of the very first and only people to talk about homosexuality openly. He is the chairperson and founder of the Humsafar Trust. Fed up and hurt by the reactions towards his homosexuality, Kavi dropped out of the engineering college and enrolled himself as a Hindu monk in the Ramakrishna Mission and studied theology. Fortunately, a senior monk gave him encouragement to freely explore and express his sexual identity. Inspired, Ashok went to study in the International School of Journalism, Berlin. His ‘coming-out’ interview made headlines in Savvy magazine in 1986. He founded Bombay Dost, India’s first gay magazine in 1990 and his organisation is still working towards the cause of STD prevention in the gay community and emancipation of homosexuals in India.
7. Anjali Ameer
A transsexual woman, Anjali Ameer came into the spotlight when she was announced the female protagonist of an upcoming bilingual film by a senior actor (who?) in early 2017. This was something the Indian cinema had never seen before. Anjali is a former model who comes from an orthodox Muslim family from Kozhikode that wasn’t very supportive of her identity. She had to run away from her home and spent the next years of her life with the Coimbatore and Bengaluru transgender communities. She also had her sex-change surgery at the age of 20. Despite the hardships, she has shined on through the foundation of her talent and bravery.
Onir made his directorial debut with My Brother…Nikhil, the first mainstream film highlighting same-sex relationships and dealing with the health effects of AIDS. After receiving a scholarship to study film editing in Berlin, Onir returned to India and worked as an editor, scriptwriter, art director, music album producer and a director. Another critically acclaimed film directed by Onir is I Am, an anthology of short films that explores themes like single motherhood, displacement, child abuse, and same-sex relationships. Apart from winning two National awards, the film also won the I-VIEW 2010s Engendered Award (New York) for Outstanding Contribution. He is one of the only openly gay directors in the Indian film industry.
9. Dutee Chand
Dutee Chand is not only a very talented sprinter who has done India proud many times and set many records but also the very first openly gay Indian athlete. In an interview, Chand said, “There is no pressure on me since I have come out of the closet. I used to feel pressured and scared when I was in hiding”. She also added that many people have shown her support and appreciated her courage on the matter. Chand came out in 2019 and announced her relationship with a woman from her village in Odisha. The relationship was objected to by her family and her sister even threatened to disown her but she was unmoved. Even when the whole village stood up against her, she didn’t back down and made history not only by her exceptional talent in sprinting but also by her courage.
10. Menaka Guruswamy
Menaka Guruswamy is a Senior Advocate at the Supreme Court of India. She is a B.R. Ambedkar Research Scholar and Lecturer at Columbia Law School, New York. She was one of the lawyers who convinced the Supreme Court in 2018 to decriminalise gay sex in India aka Section 377, and came out soon after. She has always been very vocal about the LGBTQ+ community rights and actively protests against the violence faced by the community on a daily basis.
11. Arundhati Katju
Arundhati Katju is another part of the duo of the lawyers who lead the decriminalising of Section 377 along with Menaka Guruswamy. Katju is a lawyer qualified to practice both in India and New York and has also been working on making homosexuality a norm in Indian society. Apart from leading the historic victory in the case of Section 377, Katju has been a part of many other notable cases. And get this, the two ladies- Arundhati Katju and Menaka Guruswamy came out as a couple soon after they blessed the community with their victorious endeavour. I have only one word on the matter – ICONIC!
12. Durga Gawde
Durga Gawde is a social media influencer, educator, performance artist, and TEDx speaker. They recognize themselves as gender-fluid, an identity that has not been represented much in Indian society. Gawde says that they feel like being a man and a woman together, and so a binary gender cannot hold them down. Rather than “He/ She”, it is “Them” which is the proper pronoun for Durga. Their Instagram following is more than 13k and they use this vast following to spread awareness about the people who share the same gender identity as them. They have been featured in many documentaries and short films and thereby are looked up to as a key social media LGBTQ+ influencer.
13. Alok Vaid Menon
Alok Menon identifies themselves as Trans-feminine and are known for normalising discussion on violence faced by gender non-conforming people of colour. “I had to learn to perform “boy” so that people wouldn’t harass me,” says Menon. They said that writing poems was the only thing that got them through the trauma and injustice faced by them in their early youth. They are a gender non-conforming performance artist and writer. With an Instagram page reach of over 570k followers, they use their vast platform for a better cause for people like them worldwide. Having been featured in leading channels like the HBO, MTV, BBC, CNN, and the New York Times, they have presented their support and opinions at about 500 venues in 40 different countries.
14. Rohit Singh
With over 16.1k followers on their Instagram handle Roro_love_makeup, Singh is a professional makeup artist. They break all gender stereotypes for who should apply makeup and who should not. Flaunting their gorgeous makeup looks on Instagram, they have spread awareness about going beyond shaming men for being ‘feminine’. They view makeup as an art form and are a strong believer in the fact that no one should be kept from an art form just because of their gender.
15. Priyanka Paul
Priyanka Paul has over 74.7k followers on Instagram and identifies herself as a bisexual woman. She is an artist and writer and her unique artworks are everything! Paul has received global fame because of her work and an online store that sells unique merchandise. Her artistic works have been featured in The Fader, Femina, The Huffington Post, Shethepeople, Buzzfeed, and India Today.