After reflecting on my recent trip to India, I’m reminded that in many countries around the world, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community continue to face political, social, and cultural hurdles that prevent them from achieving full equality. Some of those challenges cut across borders, while others are shaped in unique ways by the historical and modern circumstances of each nation. As President and Chairman of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, I have the opportunity to travel to many of these countries—and I make a point of trying to meet with local LGBT communities to hear directly from them about their challenges, goals, and achievements.
As I often do after these meetings, I’ve reflected many times on the stories I heard from members of the Indian LGBT community, and on the particular challenges they’re facing now. In December 2013, India’s Supreme Court upheld Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a 150-year-old law that effectively criminalizes homosexuality. This decision was highly controversial and drew significant criticism from a range of sectors, including from the Indian government—and it was a devastating blow to the equality and dignity of gay and lesbian Indians.
I had the opportunity to meet with some of the leaders in the Indian LGBT community during my visit and discuss some of the challenges confronting them. I gained insight on the lives of LGBT Indians from GaysiFamily, an organization working to create a safe space for LGBT communities and promote awareness of LGBT rights. I also had the chance to meet Prince Manvendra—an openly gay member of one of India’s royal families—who shared his insights with me on the difficulties of coming out and the obstacles to equality that remain in India.
Despite the challenges and uncertainties that many LGBT Indians face, there’s reason for hope—and that reason is the courage, passion, and steadfast commitment of LGBT advocates and allies like the individuals I met, as well as organizations in Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and across the country. From pride parades to Bollywood films, awareness of LGBT issues in India is rising quickly. As long as these advocates and allies continue to work for reform, I remain optimistic that meaningful progress will soon be within their grasp—and that we in America will do our part to support their courageous work for equality.
Fred P. Hochberg is Chairman and President of the Export-Import Bank of the United States.