Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly fights for LGBT rights despite threats to her life and kids (w/ gallery)

Published: May 5, 2014

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Indian Bollywood actress Celina Jaitley poses on the ramp during a fashion show event in Mumbai on July 11, 2010. STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images

EDITH M. LEDERER
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly said Monday she will not stop fighting for equal rights for lesbians, gays, transgender people and bisexuals despite years of character assassination and threats to her life and the lives of her 2-year-old twins.

The 32-year-old former Miss India came to U.N. headquarters to promote the U.N.’s Free and Equal campaign championing equality for LGBT people and an end to homophobic violence and discrimination with a Bollywood-style video called “The Welcome.” It tells the story of a young man who brings his boyfriend home for the first time and wins acceptance from his family.

Jaitly, who was named a U.N. Equality Champion by U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay last year in recognition of her support for LGBT rights, made her musical debut in the 2 1/2-minute video. She said it has been seen by more than 145,000 people around the world, from India to Mexico and Japan, since its launch in Mumbai last Wednesday.

Jaitly told a news conference the video uses the universal language of music to try to reach as many people as possible with the message that fighting discrimination doesn’t just mean changing laws and policies, “you also need to make a change of hearts and minds.”

The Free and Equal campaign is a year-long global campaign which was launched in South Africa last July.

At home in India, Jaitly said she is campaigning and hoping that the Supreme Court will reconsider and reverse its recent decision to reinstate a British colonial-era law banning gay sex.

Jaitly said she became an LGBT activist 10 years ago because “the very people who made me what I am today” came from that community, including a transgender makeup artist who, without her knowledge, filled out the form to enter her in the Miss India contest. “Today, I am here, I think, thanks to him,” she said.

“After he passed away, I just believed that something had to be done, and I just could not keep sitting there in my cocoon of my perfect world,” she said. “I had to do something which would make a difference in people whose lives I was seeing were a constant imprisonment right around me. And that’s why I stood up for this.”

Jaitly said the past decade has been a struggle.

“It’s been a very, very long journey for me, both personally, professionally. Also I suffered a lot sometimes because there were people who would not want to work with me because I was supporting gay rights,” she said.

But Jaitly said she remains undaunted and committed to speaking out for the rights of millions of LGBT people around the world who can’t speak for themselves “despite threats from many opposing parties, threats to my children, threats to myself, character assassination.”

“I do not want … my children to grow up in an environment where people are judged based on their sexual orientation,” she said. “I want my sons to grow up in a world where people are judged on the content of their character.”

17:50ET 05-05-14

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