There was no word of protests at the Kalinga Hockey Stadium in Bhubaneswar. On the contrary: The fact that captain Mats Grambusch wore the rainbow armband instead of a normal captain’s armband in the first game of the German national hockey team at the Hockey World Cup against Japan (3-0) did not cause displeasure. The colorful sign for the global LGBTQ+ community was accepted without hesitation.
From the spectators on site, but also beforehand from the Hockey World Federation (IHF), where wearing the colorful armband was registered in advance by the German Hockey Federation (DHB). “I do believe that you can transport values into society through sport. We would have done the same if the World Cup were to take place in the Netherlands, Germany or Qatar,” Grambusch told DW in advance. “We stand for these values and want to embody them at the World Cup. We are convinced of that.”
Symbol of hope and solidarity
Of the problems that arose during the football World Cup in Qatar, which ended last December, when the world football association FIFA strictly prohibited wearing the “One Love” bandage, probably also because the host treated himself inappropriately as a result would have felt, there is no question of the hockey players and their World Cup in India. Rather, the request of the DHB team also met with a positive response in the local community.
“There is certainly great power in visibility, especially when a leading athlete is openly committed to LGBTQ+ integration,” LGBTQ+ activist Anish Gawande told DW. “However, such a ‘message of tolerance’ should not be seen as a radical act designed to give voice to the notion of a ‘voiceless’ LGBTQ+ community in India. I would see this more as a symbol of a broader acceptance of queer and transgender people in sport overall,” Gawande said.
“Everyone deserves the right to express themselves freely,” activist Harish Iyer told DW. “The rainbow is a symbol of hope and solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community. We should celebrate it. The question shouldn’t be ‘why are you wearing it?’ but rather ‘why the hell not?'”
Landmark judgments of the Supreme Court of India
The social recognition of the LGBTQ+ community is also a long-lasting, ongoing process in the South Asian state. It wasn’t all that long ago that homosexuality was no longer a criminal offense in India: In a hailed historic decision in 2018, the country’s Supreme Court overturned a more than 100-year-old ban criminalizing homosexual acts between adults .
Yet, members of the LGBTQ+ community often continue to live in the shadows, rejected by family or society. Activists like Anish Gawande or Harish Iyer help them become more visible. “Despite significant progress over the past two decades, the LGBTQ+ community in India continues to face major challenges,” says Gawande.
Then, last summer, the same court ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to the same welfare benefits as traditional families. Another step towards “normality”. Since then, there have been further efforts by the community, with the help of petitions, to further align the law.
criticism from politics
However, there are political parties in India who have a hard time with this case law. The government of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, for example, has described same-sex marriage as incompatible with Indian culture and religion. “The community faces oppression all over the world,” laments activist Iyer.
However, Indian society, which often still lives in conservative structures, has already made a development process towards acceptance by the LGBTQ+ community. A 2019 survey by the US Pew Research Center shows that social transformation has at least begun. The survey found that between 2013 and 2019, acceptance of homosexuality in society increased by 22 percent.
Grambusch: “Must become completely normal”
“India’s Supreme Court has decriminalized consensual sexual relations between all adults and recognizes people who identify as transgender,” says Iyer, while urging: “We still have more to do, but with the repeal of Article 377 we have an important first one step taken.”
Mats Grambusch is also aware that the subject of homophobia does not only have something to do specifically with India. “This topic must be anchored more in different societies. It must become completely normal that people have different sexualities and that is not questioned in any way,” said Grambusch. The DHB captain wears a rainbow armband in India as a conspicuously unobtrusive symbol of freedom around the world.