Though things have begun to look up a little with more awareness and inclusive attitudes among the people, it wasn’t always the case. Things have never been easy for a person belonging to the rainbow community in a country like India. Amidst the structured taboos and societal norms, some people had the courage to be themselves, irrespective of what got thrown in their way.
Here are some of the well-recognised figures from the LGBTQIA+ community in India who have chosen to break the barriers and become inspirators:
Aishwarya Rutuparna Pradhan
She is the first openly transgender civil servant and Odisha Financial Services officer. Pradhan’s journey of coming out of the closet is nothing less than an ordeal. In an interview, she said that she came to know about her orientation when she was in Class 6. Humiliation at the hands of teachers and classmates was routine for her.
Born as Ratikanta Pradhan, a native of the Kanabagiri village in Odisha’s Kandhamal district, Aishwarya is now serving in Odisha Financial Services as a Commercial Tax Officer at Paradip Port Township. But even after getting into the prestigious state civil services as a male in 2010, it took her several years before she could make her identity as a transgender public.
Gopi Shankar Madurai
Ze is an intersex and genderqueer politician, recipient of the Commonwealth Award and founder of Srishti Madurai.
Born in the year 1991 as Sarvapunya S Mukhopadyaya, ze is now known as Gopi Shankar Madurai and is an Indian equal rights and indigenous rights activist. Madurai was one of the youngest, and the first openly intersex and genderqueet candidate to contest in 2016 Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly election. Ze is also the founder of Srishti Madurai Student Volunteer Collective. In an interview, Madurai said, “If possible, please use the gender-free neutral pronoun ‘ze’ for me.”
Madurai's work inspired the Madras High Court (Madurai Bench) to direct the government of Tamil Nadu to order a ban on forced sex-selective surgeries on intersex infants. Ze has been quoted as saying, “Only unconditional love can create a truly inclusive society."
Nataraj is the first transgender woman to receive the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and the first transgender woman to be awarded Padma Shri, India's fourth-highest civilian award.
She was born as a boy in 1964. At the age of 10, Nataraj realised she was a girl from within. She feared to step out of home. Her journey of becoming an accomplished Bharatnatyam dancer and getting named as Narthaki Nataraj after receiving the Padma Shri award in the year 2019, has been long and hard.
Nataraj's spectacular performances on Shriranga Padams and Jaavalis are full of grace when she is showcasing the Nayaka-Nayaki bhavam. The mesmerising feminine moves could take one through the crests and troughs of the magnificent art form.
She is the first transgender Gazetted Officer in India and is currently serving as the Assistant Commissioner of the Commercial Tax Department in Tamil Nadu.
Swapna was born in 1990 as a male in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. Earlier, she was known as S. Nazar. Swapna carried out a protest in front of Madurai District Collectorate along with Gopi Shankar Madurai on October 7, 2013, demanding reservation and to permit alternate genders to appear for examinations conducted by TNPSC, UPSC, SSC and Bank exams. The board had denied her application because of her transgender gender identity for the TNPSC Group IV Exam in 2012.
She later filed a petition at the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court to allow transgender women to take TNPSC exams as female candidates. In 2013, the appeal was successful and she was allowed to take the exam as female candidate, making her the first transgender woman to take this exam.
Bandyopadhyay is India's first openly transgender college principal and first transgender person to hold a PhD.
Born as Somnath in 1966, she was the youngest son in a middle-class family in Naihati, West Bengal. Somnath underwent a sex-change operation in 2003 which finally allowed her to embrace her femininity. She took a new name, Manabi, which means “beautiful woman” in Bengali.
Bandopadhyay completed her MA in Bengali and then became the first transgendered person from West Bengal to complete a PhD. In another first, she became West Bengal’s first transgendered professor when she joined Vivekananda Centenary College in Jhargram as a lecturer in the late 1990s.
These people have mocked the social barriers by accepting themselves the way they are. They came out loud about their identities and became an inspiration to the rainbow community by changing the pre-existing notions that portrayed them to be shameless roadside beggars. They have normalised the existence and acceptance of the people from the LGBTQIA+ community.