By Annie Banerji
NEW DELHI, Sept 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - India's LGBT+ community on Friday celebrated the first anniversary of a historic judgment that decriminalised gay sex, but campaigners warned major hurdles lay ahead with same-sex marriage still "many years" away.
India's Supreme Court last year struck down Section 377, a colonial-era law that outlawed same-sex relations, sparking hopes of equality for the country's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population.
Hundreds of students with rainbows painted on their faces descended on a New Delhi college on Friday and others held parties in major Indian cities to commemorate the overturning of the ban on gay sex.
But even those beating drums and dancing warned that the fight for equal rights, including same-sex marriage and serving in the military, had not been won.
"We still cannot marry, we still cannot adopt. We have many, many years before any of this (happens)," said Reyansh Naarang, an activist at LGBT+ rights group Nazariya in New Delhi.
There is no official data on the LGBT+ population in India, the world's largest democracy, but the government estimates there are 2.5 million gay people.
LGBT+ rights activists say the true figure could be far higher and want authorities to spread awareness about gay rights to prevent last year's verdict from fading into irrelevance.
The ruling elevated the concerns of LGBT+ people but has not brought about acceptance, said Simran, a trans-woman who heads the LGBT+ rights group Impulse New Delhi and only uses one name.
Instead, discrimination against gay and trans people remains prevalent in the socially conservative country, she said.
"We have to remove this stigma. In the current scenario, can you imagine same-sex marriage? Us in office jobs? Not a chance," Simran said.
Others are calling for anti-discriminatory laws to help LGBT people gain access to jobs, healthcare, education and housing.
An online petition calling for gender-neutral legislation, including a rape law that would also protect men, transgender and intersex people has gained more than 9,000 signatures.
India has been pushing for more rights for transgender people but the government has remained largely silent on gay rights.
The opposition Congress party on Friday posted a short video on Twitter that showed a compilation of pro-LGBT+ comments made by its leaders in the past.
The Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry and the National Human Rights Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Pavi Julka, a 20-year-old student at the rally in Delhi, said the scrapping of Section 377 emboldened her to come out. She said the removal of the law could bring change for her community.
"In the future, I wish that no person feels guilty for who they are," she said, standing in front a giant rainbow-coloured banner.
"(They should) get to marry who they want, have a baby if they want... live the life they want, no questions asked."
(Reporting by Annie Banerji @anniebanerji, Editing by Hugo Greenhalgh and Tom Finn; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)
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