First published in 1990, Bombay Dost, a magazine for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders (LGBT) in India, emboldened LGBTs to speak out and those who were willing to walk out of the closet to put the magazine under the quilt, on the coffee table, or any place that could be seen by other family members, either deliberately or not, at a time when the gender concept remained immature and LGBT was unfamiliar in the public, and when LGBTs did not know how to express themselves to this world.
Winner of the National Film Award, filmmaker Sridhar Rangayan said, “I was still in the closet when Bombay Dost was first published, and I was very confused about my sexual orientation. I can clearly remember that I was in class at the Film and TV Institute of India (FTII) on that day, when my friend Suhail unexpectedly gave me a copy of Bombay Dost. I was extremely surprised and put it in my bookbag immediately. After I read it attentively alone, I made a lot of reflection. I realized how important the magazine is to people like me who hide themselves deeply in the closet for fear to talk about their true sexual orientation.” With high identification with and a sense of mission for Bombay Dost, Ranganyan worked for the magazine for a few years after his graduation from the FTII. After years of hard work, Rangayan has now become a widely praised filmmaker who can speak for LGBTs with his films.
Every group needs a channel to speak out and maintain their own rights and interests for the world to know them and understand their needs, and for people to know why they need to be cared for and not to label them anymore. LGBTs also need this kind of channel, whether it is the press, the internet, or other media. However, it is a pity that despite the desperate and huge need for such channels, the media for LGBTs is still extremely sparse in India. More sadly, Bombay Dost, a lighthouse for LBGTs in India established by Ashok Row Kavi, eventually shut down and became history on the advent of its 30th anniversary due to funding shortages.
Meanwhile, many followers are making efforts to create funding sources to maintain a stable income, such as the famous Gaylaxy, an online magazine created by Sukhdeep Singh in 2010; Pink Pages created by Udayan Dhar in 2009; Gaysi Zine, a paper and online magazine first published in 2012; Varta, an online magazine created by Pawan Dhall; and other minor magazines including Orinam (from Chennai), Jiah (from Pune), The Queer Chronicle (from Pune), and Swakanthey (from Kolkata) are trying every method to survive.
Due to funding shortages, many magazines cannot transform low circulation into capital flows, and so a vicious cycle is unbeatable. Magazines in a better situation are making efforts to solicit advertising contracts to barely support their survival. Although they can solicit advertising contracts from homosexual dating websites, homosexual travel agents, and owners of homosexual hotels, the volatility of income from advertising is high and everyone in the business knows that they cannot survive with such a highly volatile income source, and hardships are still out there.
In recognition of the importance of exposure to the survival, magazines have tried to promote themselves over Facebook. The effect is quite good and many readers are attracted. Due to the constantly changing algorithms of Facebook, however, audience reach has become increasingly tougher, and Facebook also asks for a high advertising fee from them.
Are there any other methods? With the rise of crowdfunding in 2014, many great proposals have been realized to raise the required funding through crowdfunding. To these magazines, crowdfunding can be another option, though it is not the best one for the moment.
Some recommend the integration with financially powerful and influential major media. However, another issue will come up: As the control is in the hands of such media, they may change the contents of the magazines at any time or the concept to be disseminated by LGBT groups to meet the needs of the masses.
Last September, the supreme court of India abolished “Section 377”, which is generally considered as unfriendly to homosexuals, and positive changes in various social aspects began. Whether or not society begins to accept this or the ancient bias would end, many issues proposed by human rights activists in the past eventually came to light for public discussion. Although the effect of the abolition of Section 377 on the survival of LGBT magazines remains unknown, significant changes in the orientation of these magazines are foreseeable. In the past, the abolition of Section 377 was the most discussed and most criticized issue of these magazines. After the first victory came, there is still a long way to go. They still need to clear anything standing in the way of equality for LGBTs. After all, the abolition of Section 377 is just the beginning.
Discrimination in many civil rights is seen for LGBTs. For example, discriminating diction is still seen in the transgender bill and the surrogate bill recently passed in India. According to the surrogate bill, surrogate is an option only for “legally wedded” “mixed-sex” couples. This will certainly be the target of another struggle by LGBTs.
Most LGBT magazines have high confidence in the influence of the abolition of Section 377. For example, these magazines will hopefully benefit by the abolition with regard to funding, the biggest threat to survival. Enterprises or individuals would not sponsor these magazines for fear of the legal disputes in relation to Section 377. Now, it will be easier for these magazines to find sponsors, and readers can read these magazines openly. A continuing cycle will thus form in both cases. More importantly, related events will not be sanctioned anymore.