Open House

Finding discrimination-free housing for queer and marginalised communities in Delhi

28 February, 2022

In late February, I spoke to Maya, a 24-year-old higher-education professional who identifies as non-binary. They told me they had found a home in a shared flat in south Delhi with the help of a colleague. “I am living with people who not only understand my identity but also support it wholly and fully as much as they can,” they said. The 24-year-old’s homeowners, however, are not aware of their non-binary identity—let alone supportive of it. “Sometimes I have to hide the queer markers that I may have in my room,” Maya said.  “And I also have to present myself in a certain way to them. Things like clothing, the way you do your face or even the posters you have on your wall could be indicative of the kind of ideologies you believe in.” The fear of being asked to vacate was always palpable. “I know that if my landlord were to ever come for an inspection or just to chat—I get the sense that they are a little right-wing, and I would not want to risk it in any way or form.”

A homeowner, too, told me he faced similar fears of prejudice. The 39-year-old, who identifies as a man and wished to remain anonymous, told me he rents out two flats in south Delhi, and one in the city’s north. He regularly advertises for tenants, and gives his properties out to anyone as long as they pay rent and their documentation is in order. But there are only a few takers. “Outside of the LGBTQ community, they say, ‘He’s a tomboy, maybe he won’t be that professional with us.,’” the homeowner said. “They take you lightly.” His experience with queer tenants has been far smoother. He said a trans couple who stayed at one of his properties had grown to be friendly with him. The openness and acceptance worked both ways. “I always told them, ‘Any problem you face regarding the neighbours, just let them call me, I’ll have a word with them.’”

Ashish Chopra, a 27-year-old gay man, explained that he had previously rented homes in Pune and Bengaluru. “There were times when I would be scared to put a pride flag in front of my door,” he said. “I used to host a lot of drag nights in my house. Some of the neighbours called the cops, they were like, ‘God knows what’s happening in that house.’” This was some years ago, when Section 377, the colonial-era law criminalising sexual acts “against the order of nature,” was still in force. “When the cops showed up, we had to pay about six thousand rupees to get rid of them.”

Despite thousands of agents and a proliferation of online portals facilitating home rentals, there is still a vacuum in India when it comes to queer people seeking safe, sympathetic places to live. “If major rental websites could just add one label—that this place is LGBTQ-friendly—that would help so much,” Chopra told me. Two housing initiatives are doing just that, and promising to open doors for LGBTQ denizens of the national capital.