Slain US gay youth's life gives ray of hope to Mumbai's LGBTs

Jun 15, 2016, 07:39 IST | Maleeva Rebello

The community drew inspiration from Matthew Shepard, who was a victim of a hate crime, after watching a documentary on his life

The air at the US Consulate at the Bandra Kurla Complex was heavy with emotion, as 100 people from the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community watched the documentary ‘Matt Shepard Is A Friend of Mine’ yesterday evening.

(From left) US Consul General Tom Vajda, activists Pallav Patankar and Ashok Row Kavi at the screening. Pic/Satej Shinde
(From left) US Consul General Tom Vajda, activists Pallav Patankar and Ashok Row Kavi at the screening. Pic/Satej Shinde

The documentary explored the life of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay American through the eyes of his friends and family. Shepard was brutally killed in a hate crime in 1998. The screening was timely after the Orlando massacre unfolded on Sunday, which was also a hate crime.

After the screening, there was an interesting discussion between Randy Berry, the US special envoy for LGBT rights, Judy Shepard, Matt’s mother and Michele Josue, director of the film and Matt’s friend. Human rights lawyer Mark Bromley was the moderator.

US Consul General in Mumbai Tom Vajda introduced Pallav Patankar from the Humsafar Group, which works for LGBT rights.

Patankar asked the first question to Judy, “What role does religion play in propagating homophobia?”

Judy replied, “Religion plays a deep role in tolerance as well as intolerance. We need to work deeply to end this.”

Activist Ashok Row Kavi asked the next question, “From your son’s murder to Orlando killings what progress have you seen? I am very depressed.” Judy replied, “We need to figure out a way to end the unacceptable remarks made about the gay community. A lot of progress has been made and the gay community needs to be a united front and work together to end hatred.”

Several other discussions followed on the gay community and acceptance of homosexuals in the country. At the end of it, the sentiment of hope was all around as LGBT couples walked out hand in hand on a rainy June night, drawing inspiration from the discussion and film.

Debina Dey
After this film and discussion, I saw how ahead they (US) are when it comes to LGBT rights, but homophobia is still present. In India, the situation is even worse, but because we have gun control, mass murders are not happening. But I’ve been scarred by many for being a lesbian. This interaction has given me a lot of hope.

Ramnath Kulkarni
As a community we are very close knit. There are also many people who accept and support us. India is a homophobic society, maybe like the US when Mark was murdered. But hope always exists.

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