Gay rights advocates in India and around the world are mourning the death of ‘committed, passionate, inspiring, nurturing, visionary’ activist Shivananda Khan, who passed away on Monday (20 May).
‘[Khan] forged a pioneering path across the decades in helping achieve rights and equality for LGBT individuals and communities in diverse geographies and sociocultural environments from Europe to Asia and the Pacific,’ said a statement from the organization he helped found, Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM).
Khan was found dead at his home in Lucknow, India on Monday morning. The cause of death is unknown but the Times of India quoted a police officer suggesting it appeared that he had ‘consumed poison to end his life’. He was unwell with a heart condition for several months.
Born in 1948, Khan was from an Anglo-Indian background moved from India to England when he was ten. He grew-up in the UK and went to university in Manchester in the 1960s. In 1988 he founded an organization for South Asian gay men and lesbians in the UK called Shakti.
After witnessing the lonely death of a gay Muslim who had been rejected by his family of AIDS in the early 90s, Khan founded the Naz Foundation in his memory which today works in India and the UK as two separate organizations. He was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2005.
Naz Foundation successfully challenged India’s Section 377 (the law that criminalized gay sex) in the high court in 2009.
In acknowledgement of his contribution to the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic, UNAIDS released a statement saying they were ‘saddened’ by Khan’s death, who they described as ‘an AIDS activist who was known and respected for his tireless promotion of the rights of men who have sex with men and transgender people’.
‘The global AIDS movement has lost a leading and passionate advocate on HIV, men who have sex with men and transgender issues,’ said executive director of UNAIDS Michel Sidibé. ‘He will be greatly missed.’
Gay rights activists in Bangladesh also expressed sadness at the news of Khan’s death.
‘We are deeply shocked and saddened by the sudden demise of Shivananda Khan,’ said a statement from Boys of Bangladesh. ‘He was not only the torch bearer of fight against HIV/AIDS in the region but also a great human being to have inspired hundreds of LGBT activists. Respect and gratitude for this brave soul.’
Nepali gay rights activist Sunil Babu Pant said:
‘Shiv generated knowledge, trained and help to build capacity of many MSMs in the region and internationally. My sincere and deep”felt condolences! What a great loss to all of us.’
Khan is survived by his partner Ravindra (Ravi) Yadav.
‘There’s no doubt that in Ravi he’d found his ideal companion,’ said APCOM vice chair Roy Wadia, ‘Shiv adored and respected Ravi who in turn served as an anchor in many ways for Shiv.’
Watch Khan’s poignant and intelligent interview for Project Bolo, about Indian LGBT role models, here: