Lawmakers in India are increasing their efforts to change an airport code, which they claim is “inappropriate” for a holy city.
The code? “GAY,” which is the designation for the Gaya Airport in the northeast Indian state of Bihar.
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A parliamentary committee proposes the airport’s code be changed to “YAG,” calling the GAY designation “offensive or embarrassing” to the locals.
Gaya is the city where the Buddha is believed to have reached enlightenment, and it receives thousands of faithful Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains on pilgrimages each year.
“The parliamentary panel desperately wants to change Gaya Airport’s code…because it feels that GAY is embarrassing, offensive, and inappropriate,” Indrajeet Ghorpade of the LGBTQ organization Yes We Exist India told Vice World News. “This reflects the insecurities of the parliamentarians, who still associate ‘gay’ with something to be ashamed of or disgusted about.”
“It is shameful that instead of celebrating that India has such a unique code for an airport and making it a symbol of inclusivity, the government wants to do what it does best, change names.”
The committee has been trying to get the code changed since last year, but the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which sets global airline standards and is in charge of the designations, already rejected its request. The designations are supposed to be “permanent and cannot be changed without strong justification primarily concerning air safety.”
“The fact that the panel has asked the government to continue to pursue the matter despite IATA rejecting the name-change request shows how deeply rooted the homophobia is,” Ghorpade said. “Honestly, this request itself is an international embarrassment. What are we telling the world? India is about everyone’s support and everyone’s development but ‘GAY Airport – Oh my God, ew?’”
While words that refer to different groups of people often have multiple meanings that people use without noticing the association – e.g., people can mention white roses, white bread, and whiteout without worrying that people will think they’re talking about white people – the same is not true of the word gay.
In 2010, an Australian school went so far as to change the word “gay” in the classic song “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree,” even though the word clearly referred to the bird’s carefree life and not its sexual orientation in the context of the song.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in India 2018 but LGBTQ people in the country still don’t have job discrimination protections or marriage equality.