A little over 10 years ago, an office colleague of mine ran a text message campaign against me because I was gay and “less a man than he was”. He urged all those who received his message to challenge my role as the CEO of the company I ran. This was my first experience of an undisguised attack on my sexuality and my rights to be who I am. It was far more polite than what many other LGBTs (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) have faced, but still it was a reminder of what society is and how spiteful it can be.

On that day, I was wracked by anxiety at being found out by the whole range of my team, be it the doorman or a senior executive. I was not aware who exactly the message had gone to. By evening, I was hyperventilating. In this period of disquiet, I turned to one of my closest friends who made just one suggestion which I wrote down on a piece of paper. I still possess it. “Do your work, prove yourself through performance” as your success in the professional world “will save you,” he said. “That’s the system, you need to conform to it and work your way through.”

What he meant was that security in life is confined within the realm of a system. You have to succeed to fit in, and through this success you can seek a bit of freedom and make your own choices. Society cannot relate to anything that does not fit into its familiar ideas. It perennially indulges in a power game that, I realised, is extremely unfair.

Fear of speaking out

Growing up, I knew that love had to be absolutely private and concealed from most of the world around me. I could not show love or flaunt it, the way heterosexuals could. Bars and discos, said to be signs of development and liberalism, more than once shut their door on my partners and dates. Holding hands with your loved one was frowned upon. If my hands moved a lot or dropped a bit, it was laughed at. If I dished out desserts, it was seen as odd. I had to laugh at jokes about the LGBT community to be accepted. I was literally kicking my own butt.

If I was invited out, I was asked to bring my girl. If I didn’t have a lady to go with, some would try and pair me with one or ask, with a harsh smirk, if I were gay. If I attended a family wedding, I was asked when I would marry and whether I had a girl or if should they find one for me. I lacked the nerve to say, “I will, very soon, if you accept the person I love. If you accept same-sex marriage.”

Ten years on, India as a nation is probably more aware of LGBTs and their battle for rights. More gays can be seen in most cities and many of them are in powerful positions across a diverse range of industries. Yet, the law has turned back the clock (after the landmark 2009 Delhi High Court order), and those who are in a position to speak up still fear telling the world they are gay and that they’ll continue to be a part of the LGBT struggle.

Feeling of equality

Ireland, in contrast, has made history. While we make grand claims of being a country with great history, wisdom and spirituality, it is the small nation of Ireland which has adopted all that we as a people should be standing up for. In a referendum, over 60% of the Irish population – including politicians – voted in favour of same-sex marriage. They didn’t have to wait for their courts to tell them what equal rights are or how important coexistence and love is. They put aside religion and, cutting across age groups, social class and gender, embraced love.

Ireland clearly believes that society must amend with time, that it should not restrict love into capsules of dated family structures. It tells us that to be accepted and to have the right to marry was at no point connected with being a good son or daughter or a success in a professional world or to pray regularly before whichever god you believe in. Love, it says, has no boundaries.

Today, I want to walk through Ireland and live there to experience what it is to be just one among other humans.

So far, I don’t know what it is to be just another person, to not be seen as a homosexual who doesn’t fit into the general idea of normal. I have no clue what it is to feel that sense of equality and to see a path that is secure for the choices I wish to make. I am not familiar with the possibility of being out anywhere with my partner and feeling that he and I are as much a couple as anyone else. There is so much I have not experienced which most of society takes as a birth right.

Suspicion and hate

As a gay man, I have been fortunate. Yes, I probably worked a lot harder to prove myself at work and in society. I had already spent years as a journalist before I came out. By then, I had already written several hundred news reports, made some friends and attained that springboard to leap forward from. Those who truly loved me before I revealed my true identity did accept me and have been supportive since. But many of them, including family members, may have found me acceptable (even if they don’t admit so) only because I fitted into their image of a so-called normal professional, a son, brother, nephew and so on.

A number of my friends have been thrown out of their homes, many wait for the day they are economically independent so that they don’t need the support of their families. Often gay men leave their homes or their support structures before they are sufficiently qualified to seek a legitimate job. Imagine that struggle which denies one the economics of survival, the education for work and the blessings of love. I wonder why parents wish this on their children when all that the children seek is their blessing and some support before they embark on their life journey.

It is strange that a minority so small can be perceived as a threat to an historic family structure. According to government data, as of 2012, India had a mere 25 lakh homosexuals. If one assumes that many may not have been counted because they feared outing themselves in a society that revels in suspicion and hate, one could even double or triple that number. But even if there were 100 million homosexuals, how does that pose a threat to 1.1 billion who are not?

In a society that still lives with such fears, it is apparent that a referendum would be a disaster. A wave of hands or a vote cannot decide the fate of a minority. We do need the Supreme Court, at first, to uphold our constitutional rights and read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. This would at least remove the criminal tag we bear for our existence. Yet, we must not fool ourselves in believing that our society will accept us more with a change in the law. The change may free many of us, but that freedom will likely disturb the norms of society, which could result in greater hatred and gay-bashing. Our society will probably take a century or more to become like Ireland, where humanity is put ahead of religions and any isms that only divide people.