GayBombay is an informal organisation based in Mumbai, India, the stated objective of which is to create safe spaces for the gay community to meet and interact. Started in 1998, GayBombay has been regularly organizing meets, parties, film screenings, treks, picnics and workshops.
The Early Phase (1998-2001)
GayBombay was started at a time when the gay scene in Mumbai had gone underground as a result of a police raid on a beach house party at Madh Island. Though the raid did not result in large scale arrests, it received considerable amount of publicity in the national press. The city’s gay community was unnerved, especially given the fact that homosexuality was then a criminal offense in India.
It was against this backdrop that GayBombay came into being. Started a web-site in 1998, GayBombay moved to organising social meets and movie outings. In 2000, GayBombay organised its first party, signalling the resurgence of Mumbai’s gay social scene, which had been in the doldrums for many years.
The Growth Phase (2001-2009)
GayBombay soon began organising parties in places that were considered the trendiest discos in town. This period coincided with an economic boom that saw the numbers swell. Entry to a GayBombay party entailed a cover-charge averaging at around $10 (500 rupees), which was by no means cheap by Indian standards. But Mumbai, like may other cities in India, was witnessing a information-technology enabled boom.
Young people had money to spend and they were spending it on GayBombay parties. GayBombay uses the surpluses from the parties to fund a range of other events, such as film club screenings, meets and workshops, which are free. GayBombay also organises day treks and picnics to places nearby Mumbai and occasional trips to Water Parks and movies, which attracts a crowd that is usually not seen at parties.
The Maturity Phase (2009 – Present)
In 2009, the Delhi High Court de-criminalised homosexuality in India. GayBombay celebrated the landmark judgment with a cut-rate party at a night club called Karma, one of its most popular venues. Meanwhile, several cities in India, organised annual Gay Pride Parades. Mumbai was one of them with the large participation of gay men, women and other alliance partners and supporters.
GayBombay, with its expertise in parties, would organise the post-pride march party. As society has changed, GayBombay too has been changing. Many of the original founders have moved on and been replaced by a different set of people. And as time has passed, Mumbai has seen the emergence of several other groups which organise events for the gay community.
On 6th September, 2018, the Supreme Court of India stated that consensual sexual acts between adults cannot be a crime, deeming the prior law “irrational, arbitrary and incomprehensible.” This was a huge step forward for the LGBTQ community and the dynamic for the revolution took a vibrant turn. In its wake, GayBombay continued to host its events and has been proud to be such an integral part of the community in the years when Section 377 still held its dark sway.
The first GayBombay meets were in South Mumbai – but they shifted to Bandra more centrally located venue , so people from all over the city could commute easily. The initial venue was Bandra’s McDonald’s outlet, where it was not uncommon to get upto 30 people gathering.
The restaurant’s management finally informed the gathering that so many people could not be allowed to occupy space for long periods of time on a Sunday evening. GayBombay had to move out and one of it’s members offered to take the group to his aunt’s house nearby.
Thus started a tradition of having meets at private homes, where people could talk more comfortably. First timers too felt safer in a space in the informal setting of someone’s home. The meets discussed everything related to the gay subculture.
In 2002, the meets moved to the house of a gay couple in nearby Khar. An added benefit of these home meets were that they gave newcomers a view to gay lifestyles.
The meets moved back to the aunt’s three years later. Some meets metamorphosed into special themed meetings, on relationships, STD, financial planning, where GayBombay’s resident experts chaired.
Two of GayBombay’s most popular themed events are its annual Parents Meet, attended by parents of LGBT children and its Relationship Meet, where the focus is on long-term relationships. Each month there are two meets on regular basis – one in Bandra and the other in the far flung Eastern suburb of Thane.
Since 2016, GayBombay has also given a platform to the siblings of the LGBTQ community, hosting its annual Siblings Meet in the month of September.
GayBombay’s first party took place at a private home, but given the size of Mumbai’s apartments, the number of guests were limited.
GayBombay’s first large scale party was organised in an old studio in Mahalaxmi in 2000. With memories of the Madh Island police raid still fresh, GayBombay went to great lengths to keep the party low key. The venue was a closely guarded secret and attendees were required to meet at the nearest rail station, from where the organisers would bring them to the venue. The first few parties were free, with GayBombay’s founding members paying for the venue, music and food. Guests were asked to bring their own liquor.
The next breakthrough was when the parties moved into night clubs, beginning with a now extinct club called Swig, in Tardeo. Other venues included Mikanos in Parel, Razzberry Rhino in Juhu and Copa Cabana on Marine Drive. There were also a Valentine’s Day party on a boat cruising Mumbai’s harbour, which found its way into The Times of India as “one of the great ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year”.
The GayBombay New Year’s Eve party attracted as many as 800 people, not just from Mumbai, but from all over India and the world. Non-resident Indians, who generally come to India during winter, form a large contingent.
The biggest difference between GayBombay parties and the ones that had gone before was that there were no dark rooms. GayBombay still takes care to see that there is no “hanky panky” at its parties. This is in keeping with its policy of keeping its events non-sexual. Partly as a result, GayBombay has served as an ideal platform for newbies venturing into the gay world for the first time.
Film Club Screening
The very first GB Film Club screening was held in a hall at an establishment called Ayushakti Ayurved Centre in the Western suburbs of Mumbai. Excellent vegetarian lunch was served as well. Over the years more than 500 screenings have been held and nearly 1500 films screened.
After the first few screening at the Ayurved centre, GB moved to more formal theatres in small auditoriums in colleges. Now the film club screenings have become synonymous with the conference room of a college in Bandra along with piping hot samosas and tea during the break. The screenings which are held every couple of months have become immensely popular, each of which are attended by over 150 members.
Treks and Picnics
In the early days, GayBombay organised several small outings, like a trek to Lohagad, where a Tata Sumo was hired to travel and every body who participated chipped in. Daytime outings grew and became very popular, and GayBombay was soon hiring two large buses for a trek-cum picnic to Karnala Bird Sanctuary. There was a walk to Kanheri Caves in the National Park at Borivali, where a visiting gay professor from University of Oxford gave everybody the run down on the history of the place.
The first formal picnic in which all food, transport and activities at the venue were arranged for was in September 2006 to Kihim Beach, across Mumbai harbour. It was an eventful picnic with the sea turning rough and the catamaran transport being suspended for the day. The 80 picnickers were literally marooned and had to squeeze into a 60-seater State Transport bus to return back to Mumbai.
The first formal trek with certified trek guides and full use of trekking equipment was held in July 2007. The trek was initially planned for Fort Sudhagad but a delay caused by a tyre puncture and a traffic jam on the Mumbai Goa Highway necessitated a change of plans. The treks instead went to Fort Sarasgad, a tough trek tough for many first-timers. Both there forts are in the Pali Region of the Sahayadri Ghats. The Fort Sudhagad finally happened in the subsequent year.
Over the years GayBombay has had picnics to the Elephant Caves (Covered by ABC TV for their Documentary), Matheran Kelve Beach, Kashid Beach, Murud Janjira, Durshet, Khodala, Tungareshwar, Nagaon Beach, Alibaug; Kolad, Bhandardara, Silent Hills, Manor; Narpad Beach, Dahanu.
GayBombay’s organises an event centered around flying kites in January every year, on the occasion of the festival of Makar Sankranti, a breezy period when people around the country fly kites. GayBombay’s event is organised on Mumbai’s Juhu Beach and a large number of people turn up, some of whom are good at flying kits, most of whom are there to watch the kite-flying, meet friends and enjoy the sunset.
GayBombay also celebrates the colourful festival of Holi, again at Juhu Beach, in the month of March. Thousands of people make their way to Juhu Beach on Holi, and the sea turns a bright red from the colour they wash off their bodies.
It sporadically enjoys the festival of Raksha Bhandhan as well, when the date of a Sunday Meet falls on or close to the festival.
I attended my first GB meet yesterday, rather my first gay meet ever. I was really excited by the idea of meeting other men from the community outside of the apps or the crazy Saturday parties, where the agenda is mostly unidimensional. And also, a little dubious of the whole idea- what would it be like and what do they do in such meets. I am socially very awkward and weary of any such social outings, but I decided against my better judgement to go for it and I am glad I did.
The take out– The website details out where and when the meet is, however, it would help if it also hinted a little on what these meets constitute and what could be the possible incentive for people to attend them, outside of the samosas and the rum cake- a very potent one at that BTW. The idea of a meet could be a little overwhelming for certain people, unlike a party where one can blend in with the crowd and disappear, here they will be in the spotlight, visible for all to see and judge- so some elaborations on the site or text will help.
So, there I was at the Versova metro station at 6:30, all nervous and anxious. But then I saw a familiar face there and that helped. From there we walked for 10 minutes to arrive at this really quaint housing society and to a house of one of the GB member’s aunt – is that not so cool! She has been an active supporter of the movement and has walked many a prides. Only if we could have more like her.
Departing from the topic- I was also happy to see so many pots and plants, specially a thriving peace lily- I have never had any luck with them.
It was a cosy gathering of some 10-12 members with few walk-ins later, gathered in the living room, with early birds occupying the couches and the late bloomers sitting on the window sill and the eventually on the floor. There were also snacks and tea, very kindly organised by one of the members.
The take out– We should all, those of us who can, volunteer to host these events in our homes or at least bring in some snacks- make a fancy potluck gathering out of the event. I propose some Porto Sangria for the next meet.
There was the usual introductory round and it was wonderful having people of all age groups, varied occupations from doctor to an animator to an Ad to an aspiring filmmaker, different geographical and cultural roots.
Post the introductions, the pertinent questions that was raised was around the relevance of the GB meets- what does it stand for, what is the purpose it solves, and what are the guardrails it needs to set. Post the SC ruling on section 377, there is a sense of purposelessness that has swept in. There were discussions, on whether there is a need to identify the next big thing that GB can pick up or do these meets simply take up the role of being a kind of an orientation programme for newbies, who can listen to the lived experiences of others and share their own. The latter seemed to garner more nods.
There were also discussions on the topical issues like HIV testing, PREPs and PEPs, current environment of frequent scams in the community, abuse of CAPTA (child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act) by the young and few others. There were also discussions around the different activities that GB is organising (other than the usual Saturday parties there is a fancy kite flying event happening on the 13thof this month at the Juhu beach- check out the website for details).
The take out– I left the meet with mixed feelings. I was extremely elated by the concept of such a meet and it was lovely listening to certain stories, both good and bad, scary and humorous. We talked about certain relevant and critical issues, so in that sense it was also informative while still being light and chirpy. But then it also left me a little unsatiated- it did not give me a strong enough reason to return. What would attending the next meet entail- what would we talk then, what would the discussion be. Is there a need to have a more regulated agenda, a theme for every meet? Is there a need to think of ways to make it more engaging and participatory? I do not have the answers- these are also not questions, but more of thought starters. May be the next meet could be around pondering over these.