Theatre has been a tool for self-expression since its establishment. Theatre doesn’t see a person’s caste, race, colour, or religion but sees one’s potential and love for theatre. LGBTQ+ community has been struggling for its existence for the past decade. Did you know, in the first half of the 20th century, you could be arrested for staging a gay play? The themes and ideas represented through their plays were considered vulgar and obscene. Society has discriminated against gay people, preventing them from accessing the same rights as others in society. Social criticism, government and police harassment, physical abuse are some of the issues faced by the community.
Since the 1950s, theatre has been working to bring attention to the issues of the LGBTQ+ Community. Prior to the 1950s, plays that represented gay people always treated them as problems. For instance, The Captive by Édouard Bourdet was one of the first plays to portray lesbianism on Broadway in 1926, but the play somehow caused a mishap in New York City. The play was shut down after 160 performances as outrage against the play prompted New York to develop new laws regarding obscenity. There was some progress in the 1960s-70s. A play The Boys in the Band by Mart Crowly, debuted in 1968, was one of the first plays to place homosexuality as central to its plot. It made the issues and struggle of homosexuals much more visible to society. Through the late 60s and 70s more and more theatre depicting gay themes emerged. The Other Side of Silence was the first professional gay theatre company to form in 1974 in NYC. After that by 1979, there were professional gay theatre companies formed in New York City.
In India, the LGBTQ+ community has gained visibility with the help of city hubs. Even though Bollywood does have a space for gay and transsexual characters, they have been abused and neglected. The first Indian film to deal openly with homosexual relations was Fire by Indian-Canadian director Deepa Mehta in 1997. After the release, it aroused a heated controversy throughout the country. Groups who were against the film and criticised it smashed the windows and destroyed other assets of the cinema halls also burned the posters. It not only happed in one city but was going on throughout the country. The lesbian relationship depicted in the film was criticised as ‘against our Indian culture and traditions’, they also feared that the film would ‘spoil our women’.
Two years ago, on the 6th September 2018, the Supreme court had taken down the oppressive Section 377 that criminalised gay sex. This changed many lives. Young people even the ones who lived in fear came out and showed the world who they are and are not ashamed of themselves or their community. LGBTQ+ Community has struggled for a long time. The judgement gave them a new life and youth called it ‘Victory of Love’. Before the judgment, in 2015 a queer collective group called Harmless hugs organised a queer cultural festival of films, plays, talks, and performances known as The Delhi International Queer Theatre and Film Festival (DIQTFF). The film intended to connect with the larger part of the community via the power of media, theatre, and cinema.
For Instance, Ehsaas is a one-act play that showcases a young girl’s struggle to express her feelings and emotions about other women openly. The play includes the use of props, colors, and depicts the deep emotions that a lesbian feels. It aimed to spread the message of hope and awareness about other sexualities, especially lesbian relationships. Ehsaas is not just a play fighting for acceptance but looks out for the basic human right that every individual deserves irrespective of their sexuality.
Theatre has evolved along with the LGBTQ+ community, individuals are opening up in society. Still, in Indian society, we see people have social issues with the LGBTQ+ community and are refraining to change their mindsets. But are they the ones who created you or who make choices for you? No. You are the only one who makes their own choices and creates their personality. And theatre welcomes you with wide hands!