India’s only gay magazine makes a comeback

In India, where it's illegal to be homosexual, a newly relaunched gay magazine is becoming a strong voice for the growing sexual minority. But is India ready to see it on the shelves along with popular periodicals?

‘Bombay Dost’ (or Bombay Friends) is India's first and only gay publication. It has just been relaunched, seven years after closing when it ran out of funds. The magazine is now supported by the UN Development Program.

The editorial team believes this is the perfect platform for the gay and lesbian community in India.

“It’s just going out and telling the world it’s ok to be gay,” said Vivek Raj Anand, an advisory board member at Bombay Dost. “It’s a very easy way of connecting, and that’s the unique thing about Bombay Dost.

“That’s what Bombay Dost did in 1990, and that’s what Bombay Dost is doing in 2009.”

The magazine features articles dedicated to gay issues along with lifestyle and men’s health issues.

Bhushan Sharma is a contributor and he believes mainstream readers can identify with his articles.

“I talk about places in Mumbai, restaurants in Mumbai that people actually go to,” Sharma said. “And that is why it’s been appreciated by people, because it’s something which doesn’t talk about rights – it just talks about being gay, being proud of it, and the way we are.”

But being a gay rights activist in India is still a problem, especially when you happen to be a celebrity. Bollywood star Celina Jaitley has thrown her support behind the magazine's re-launch.

The actress says she “received so much opposition: threats from cultural groups, and threats from youth groups.”

“People have called me homosexual. People have called my family members homosexual. I have lost a lot of fans and I’ve made a lot of fans for supporting this cause,” she said.

The original Bombay Dost was sold through roadside vendors only, wrapped in brown paper. This time around, the magazine has decided to go public and is retailing through up-market bookstores.

The challenge is to make this magazine available in places that a potential reader can glance at it and buy it without feeling awkward.

What Bombay Dost has done is to place it in a premium bookstore in Mumbai, alongside mainstream magazines, such as fashion magazines and an Indian version of Playboy.

The first edition has already sold two-thirds of its 1,500 copies. With interest growing, this is one magazine that’s clearly making a space for itself.