Elska magazine, which profiles regular gay men from a different city every issue, landed in Mumbai for its latest edition. Formerly known as Bombay, the city is one of the most beautiful in India, blending ancient architecture and culture with a modern cosmopolitan flair.
But while Mumbai is India’s gayest city, homosexuality is still a crime in the country, thanks to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. The section was initially decriminalized by a court decision in 2009 but then reinstated in 2013, with the court maintaining that any repeal should be left to Parliament, not the justice system.
Culturally, while the country lacks the fundamental Christian fervor fueling homophobia in America, family and marriage is extremely important. (Many men and women live at home until they marry.)
Still, the magazine was able to find models willing to open up.
“Although I didn’t find it very hard to find guys wiling to take part, almost every one of them seemed surprised that they weren’t the only participants,” says publisher Liam Campbell. “We shot out in their neighborhoods, in their homes, even sometimes with their mums hanging around in the background. So it didn’t seem like an issue.”
Sadly, most of them men were cynical when it came to how India treated gay men in general.
“They all thought they were unique for being out and for not having such a hard time for it. They showed me they were proud, even lucky—but also constantly kept bringing up the dreaded Section 377.”
But, he adds, they all reminded him that the law “was a ’gift’ from the British.” Perhaps, that means it will be easier to eradicate homophobia in India, since it isn’t a “natural” part of the culture. (In a 2015 survey, 95% of respondents favored decriminalization.) Campbell cites LGBT films from Bollywood, a growing number of out celebrities, and Mumbai Pride, which attracted more than 14,000 people in January.
“Of course there’s a long way to go,” he says, “but I’m feeling optimistic.”