Arif Jafar had no choice about coming out as gay. In 2001, he was arrested in the northern Indian city of Lucknow at the AIDS prevention agency where he worked, charged with running a sex club, jailed for 47 days, and named in the newspapers, in a case that helped spark a legal challenge to India’s sodomy law, known as Section 377. (Needless to say, he denies that the AIDS agency was a sex club.)
“Before jail, I was open, but not that open,” says Jafar, 42, a mosque-going Shiite Muslim who now runs the Maan Foundation, an AIDS prevention group (“maan” means “respect” or “pride”). “Now everybody in the city knows.” Despite the arrest, Jafar (right) says he loves Lucknow and will never leave. “If I ran away, people would start having the perception that I did something wrong,” he says.
Jafar’s case has dragged on for 11 years without coming to trial, but in the meantime, the law criminalizing homosexuality has been overturned in Delhi High Court. Retired Justice Ajit Shah, who wrote the decision, is an unassuming man, greeting us in sandals in his modest apartment. Yet his landmark opinion broke through several centuries of bias and freed up India’s nascent movement of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people to come into its own.