Tag Archives: LGBTQ

A Foreigner Unpacking Social Stigma Toward Pune’s Queer Community

(Featured Image: Image taken by Dan Soucy at the Pride March in Delhi)

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to conduct research on the pervasiveness of heteronormative expectations toward gender in Pune, India. I sought to understand how these expectations influence the Queer community’s daily lives and experiences. As a second-tier city near Mumbai with a remarkably young population, I expected Pune to be far more inclusive than some more traditional locations. It has a vibrant night-life scene, many exceptional universities and generally a feeling of youth and progression.

Despite these expectations, conducting my research was jarring. I confronted deeply held beliefs about the importance of heteronormative family structures. While I tried to maintain a neutral approach to my research, merely discussing LGBTQ identity rarely came with ease due to the discomfort and taboos surrounding sex and in particular homosexuality.

Of course, it is also important to note that I am white and in conducting this research, I was also a foreigner. These identities certainly shaped both my own expectations for the importance of LGBTQ rights and inclusivity as well as my respondents’ sense of trust and confidence in my work. Elderly individuals, in particular, challenged my research, saying that it was not right to indoctrinate youth with such “abnormal and dangerous” ideas. In many ways, I was viewed as the epitome of a negative, Western and foreign influence on the city’s sense of tradition, spirituality and stability.

Furthermore, I conducted this research before the Indian supreme court made the decision to decriminalize homosexuality by deeming section 377 of the Indian penal code unconstitutional, thus further exasperating the social stigma surrounding queer identity. With that said, I tried to approach this research in recognition of my privilege as a foreigner and the familial and social implications that LGBTQ rights have on both queer and heterosexual, cisgender individuals in Indian society.

Author, Dan Soucy at a Pride March in Delhi

In spite of the discomfort that came with my research, I was still able to engage in what I saw as valuable conversations regarding sexual taboos in Indian society. I was particularly surprised to learn that such a large number of young people in Pune viewed gay relationships as immoral.

More specifically, 62 percent of the people I interviewed agreed that marriage should only be between one man and one woman while 19 percent were unsure or remained apathetic. Similarly, 45 percent of respondents believed that homosexuality was actually a mental illness that required medical treatment to resolve. These numbers increased to 70 percent and 47 percent respectively when I only considered the respondents 31 years of age or older. 

I was encouraged by the fact that young people seemed to have slightly more progressive views regarding the queer community, I was still disappointed to learn just how stigmatized LGBTQ identity remained. 

Equally as important to me was learning where these social attitudes and lack of acceptance came from. As I asked respondents about their opinions regarding the “cause” of LGBTQ relationships, many individuals pointed to the idea that queer identity results from a subpar or confused upbringing as a child. More specifically, of the respondents who conformed to the notion that a man’s responsibility is to be the ‘bread winner’ of the family while the woman should care for the children, 75 percent also viewed homosexuality as a mental illness while 44 percent believed it reflected the fact that the queer individual’s parents did not raise them “correctly.”

Based on this information, the stigmatization of India’s queer population seems to result from a place of concern. Concern over traditional family values. Concern over what should be ‘normal’ in Indian society. In other words, the LGBTQ community symbolizes a disruption to the norms and expectations inherent in a heteronormative family, neighborhood, city, and society. Broadly speaking, these respondents experienced a sense of discomfort when it comes to talking about sexuality and in a particular a sense of moral discomfort when ideas about LGBTQ identity were raised. 

The pervasiveness of this discomfort became even more clear as I interviewed members of Pune’s queer community. In fact, all of the individuals I interviewed expressed fear about coming out not because they were concerned about their own safety but because they were afraid of the way their families would be perceived and stigmatized as a result of their identities.

In this light, homosexuality was viewed not just as a burden and a point of contention between the queer individual and their community but as stigmatizing to the queer individual’s entire family. Aside from demonstrating just how isolating it is to be queer in Indian society, this also elucidates the deeper reasons for queer exclusion. Namely, people fear and become upset by the broader destruction of heteronormative familial and community values.

Of course, it is not all doom and gloom. Rather, the LGBTQ community has made strides toward acceptance and inclusion. I had the privilege of attending Delhi’s pride parade and conference in 2018 and was overjoyed by the enthusiasm and excitement that came with Delhi’s first pride parade in the wake of the end of Section 377. People were overjoyed by their ability to be out and proud, surrounded by love and marching for freedom from oppression. It was a stunning and remarkable scene to be a part of. One of the main rallying cries of this event was a call for continued conversation. Although there was a recognition that advocacy should not be the exclusive responsibility of queer individuals, ultimately, only through exposure, honesty, and open conversation, is change possible. People will continue to cling to their deeply held beliefs in the sanctity of the heteronormative family and society unless queer individuals step forward to express their dissatisfaction with this norm. This research and the Pride celebration taught me that a better, brighter society is only possible through continued discussion that exposes society to the beauty and normalcy of an openly queer India and its diasporas that exist outside of India.


Dan Soucy currently supports refugee resettlement and advocacy efforts throughout New England as a case manager and employment specialist with the International Institute of New England. He graduated from Saint Joseph’s University where he conducted oral history interviews with South Asian migrants to the United States. Dan has also studied, lived, and worked in various parts of India for 2 years. 

Tirunangai Women ARE Women, J.K. Rowling

(Featured Image: Swetha, a transwoman and Founder of the nonprofit Born 2 Win, with actor Kamal Haasan, a supporter)

Sarah McBride, Democratic candidate from Delaware, will become the first transgender state senator in the U.S. All over the world, including in India, transmen and transwomen are claiming their rightful place in civil society.

So then it becomes hard to imagine that one of the world’s most influential people, who created Hermione and Luna, two female characters fighting oppression, is opposed to trans rights.  

J.K. Rowling’s latest book Troubled Blood, released September, is a tale of caution: A man in a woman’s clothes mustn’t be trusted. The adult thriller comes on the heels of the author’s long-held opinion that biology alone determines sex. Perhaps Rowling means it when she expressed concern for the struggles of transwomen. Clearly, though, she is unable to accept them as they are. Transgender people have been all but screaming from the rooftops: Transwomen are women. Transmen are men. With or without gender change surgery.

Rowling raises concerns about safe spaces for ciswomen. A man pretending to be a woman, she worries like many ciswomen understandably do, could put women and girls at risk in public bathrooms. But there’s little proof of this. According to Lambada Legal, one of many organizations advocating transwomen’s rights, a recent survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force of 6,450 transgender people in the US, found that less than 25% of transwomen and fewer than 5% of transmen underwent genital surgery. Even so, Lambada concludes: “There is no evidence that gender-segregated restrooms are “safer” for cisgender women than unisex restrooms.” 

Gender fluidity might be a familiar concept to the Indian mind through centuries of exposure to temple art and Hindu mythology. The Ardhanarishwar, for instance, blends the male and female as Shiva and Parvati in one body. Mohini – an enchanting feminine form of the Hindu male god Vishnu, tricks a silly but dangerous demon. Shikandini, king Drupada’s daughter in the Mahabharata, transforms into the male warrior Shikandin after penances. 

Is there one among us who has taken public transport in India without encountering hijras wearing the brightest of salwars or saris, and the reddest of lipsticks?              

The fact is, transwomen are at a high risk of abuse. When in her twenties, Shambavi, a transwoman sex worker, was approached by a policeman at a busy Chennai suburb one night. “He asked me to follow him down an alley and perform sexual acts, which I did because I needed him to protect me from (male) rowdies,” Shambavi told me. “Afterwards, he demanded money and I gave him 300 rupees, which was all I had. That was the endpoint. I decided that I wanted a better life.” 

Laxmi Narayan Tripathi Indian transgender rights activist, Meneka Guruswamy and Arundhati KatjuLGBTQ rights lawyers, alongside lesser-known transgender activists like Swetha, Founder of Born 2 Win Social Welfare Trust, are continuing to empower Trans people in their communities in India through adopted kinships, education, advocacy, and jobs.  

Shambavi, now 30, had fled her tiny hometown of Theni in South India after completing grade ten, unable to bear the harassment from boys in her class. In Chennai, she met Swetha, an older transwoman who ‘adopted’ her per the custom of family kinships among the tirunangai (transgender in Tamil) community, shepherding Shambavi through a sex change surgery. Swetha then invested her own savings to set up a Desktop Publishing business for Shambavi, while raising more funds from her friends to help the venture get off the ground. 

Swetha is godmother to countless transwomen and transmen who throng to Chennai from small towns to find a sense of belonging and to earn a living. 

Transwomen at a fully paid tailoring class set up by Born 2 Win.

India, for the first time in its 2011 census, included transgender people in its count – 487,803 individuals identified themselves as transgender, with a literacy rate of just 56 percent. 

Swetha herself would have remained on the wrong side of the statistical divide if not for a serendipitous turn. Born Sudhakar, a cisman, she survived years of abuse at school. “The boys who liked me harassed me teasingly; those who did not were aggressive physically,” she says. 

Determined to escape a life of bullying and poverty, she earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration and a master’s in sociology from Madras University with the help of her mother, who worked as a house cleaner and a tailor. Then, Swetha was fired from her job due to what she says was discrimination. 

“I thought this was how my life was going to be,” she recalls. “I would always be marginalized, always be ridiculed because of who I am.” An “inner fire” prompted her, she says, to launch the nonprofit Born 2 Win Social Welfare Trust

The organization is supported by private donors and puts transgender students through college; secures them jobs; provides drivers’ training to transmen; and vocational training to transwomen in beauty, fashion, and tailoring. 

Andriyasaen, 27, winner of the Miss Tamil Nadu Trans Queen title, earned her diploma in fashion design through Born 2 Win and makes lehengas, pavadai davani, and Western-style clothes inspired by the Hollywood movies she watches. “My community women like dresses with low necks and low backs that are figure-hugging, shiny and colorful,” Andriyasaen explains. 

Before a tirunangai was condemned for her sexuality, Hindu mythology celebrated her. It was not until the British colonized India that homosexuality became a criminal offense in 1864 under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which was eventually quashed in 2018. Now, the 2019 Transgender Rights Law is under criticism for its mandate for proof of sex-change surgery to be evaluated by a government official.    

Meanwhile, many Indians think of transwomen beggars as holy women. “My driver, when I was visiting India, gave 10 rupees to a hijra who was begging at a traffic light, and I asked him why he gave it to her. He said, ‘Oh, so that way her blessings will keep me safe,’” Annapurna Devi Pandey, an anthropologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told me.  

Pandey said the new legal rights for the community, despite their need for further reform, have enabled transgender people to carve out roles as community organizers. “But what’s really needed is the recognition of an economic space for them,” she says. 

And that’s exactly what activists like Swetha have set out to do.

“I want to transform every trans person who comes to me into an entrepreneur,” she declares.  


Sujata Srinivasan is a business and healthcare journalist in Connecticut. Find her on Twitter @SujataSrini.

*Tirunangai typically stop using their birth names and last names after “coming out.”

Sunny Jain’s Quarantet Inspired By Punjabi History

Performing artists have been hard hit during the pandemic. With nowhere to go and no space to perform at, Sunny Jain, Red Baraat‘s founder, drummer, and composer has turned to the social distanced visual medium for expression. He began the Quarantet series engaging with different emotions and movements occurring in our current timeline.

His second video in the series, Heroes, was released on Breonna Taylor’s birthday and addressed the Black Lives Movement. Fusing his music with a moment, singer John Pfumojena bellows in the language, Shona, “There are rebels and mighty people out there.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgqD7DEE6Fs&ab_channel=SUNNYJAIN%2FREDBARAAT

When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of LBGTQ anti-discrimination legislation, Sunny Jain, Brinda Guha, Rajna Swaminathan, Chris Eddleton, and Harris Ansari came together to create the video, Rhythm and Pride – an expression of joy in a dismal time.

August 14th-15th marked the anniversary of the partition and independence of India and Pakistan. The state of Punjab was split up by the British upon exiting the subcontinent. This caused the largest mass migration in world history, something Jain’s parents went through themselves.

Sunny comments, “Punjabi people and really the entire subcontinent have so much shared culture that’s often pushed aside for political and/or religious reasons. It’s a shame, but I’m thankful the many people I know of the South Asian diaspora feel more as one, than not.”

Rhodes to Punjab was released in celebration of the ancestors, people, and culture of Punjab on the 73rd anniversary of India and Pakistan’s independence. Raaginder‘s violin croons as images of Punjab in 1947 splash across the screen and we are transported to another time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0IH3MrdXKY&ab_channel=SUNNYJAIN%2FREDBARAAT

In his most recent video, Family, Jain’s young twin daughters sing Hai Apna Dil To Awara from the 1958 Bollywood film, Solva Saal. He remembers his father jamming out to it when he was a child.

“My twins heard it for the first time last year as I was working on my Wild Wild East album. They fell in love with Ganavya’s voice, who recorded a version of it. Family, chosen and/or blood, is everything, and maybe some of us are lucky enough to have people that are with us through the many phases of life. We hope you all are finding love and support with your family during these times,” Jain notes.

Music has the ability to unify, evoke, support and Sunny Jain capitalized on that. The Quarantet series is innovative and finds ways to connect with diverse voices, giving sounds to emotions felt during the pandemic. Find the entire series here!


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

South Asian Queer Voices Fill The Void

“Not straight, not gay, not girl enough,

miles away from man. Just queer, man,

as in queer.

I dentif i

As queer.

I like the way it sounds like the start

Of ‘weird’. The way I don’t have a plan.

Queer.”

—From the poem ‘Queer As In’ by Delhi-based non-binary, femme disabled poet and journalist Riddhi Dastdar. 

The World That Belong To Us: An Anthology of Queer Poetry from South Asia is a first of its kind anthology that brings together the best of contemporary queer poetry from the subcontinent. The collection, which has been jointly edited by poet, writer and artist Aditi Angiras as well as poet, translator and teacher Akhil Katyal, took more than a year to put together. The themes in the poems range from desire and loneliness, sexual intimacy and struggles, caste and language, activism, the role of families, heartbreaks and heartjoins. 

In the book’s Preface, Angiras and Katyal write that the call for the anthology was widely circulated online, emailed to friends, copied on Facebook groups and WhatsApped to acquaintances. Over a period of time, the text of the call kept evolving from what it was to what readers wanted it to be. In order to increase its reach and spread, it was also translated into several South Asian languages. In no time, submissions began trickling in from cities across the globe—Bengaluru, Vadodara, Benaras, Boston, Chennai, Colombo, Delhi, Dhaka, Dublin, Kathmandu, Lahore, London, Karachi and New York City.

Aditi Angiras (left) and Akhil Katyal (right)

The more than hundred contributors, poets and translators in the book are all varied in terms of their language, region, caste, gender, sexuality, class and publication history. While many are established queer poets from South Asia, many are also first-time poets. Apart from English, the book features poetry translated from a number of languages, including Bengali, Hindi, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Nepali, Punjabi and Urdu.

In his poem ‘What is Queer?’, Chand, a queer, agender trans research scholar, sets about trying to explain to his mother what queer is: “Queer is being the lowest of the low/ The absolute scum of the sexual pyramid/ And somehow still taking pride in it.”

Nepal based Phurbu Tashi elaborates further on the plight of queer people like himself in his poem ‘This World Isn’t For You’: “This isn’t nature’s fault, these are your own desires/ Why would I embrace desires that make life harder for me”.

US based Sehrish Rashid, a bisexual woman from Pakistan, writes in her poem ‘Shame’: “What for you is a thing of shame, only spells my truth, my name.”

Gee Semmalar, a queer trans man from Kerala writes in his poem ‘Resistance Rap’: “New skin stubbornly/ Grows over old and new wounds/ Proud scars/ That tell stories of tender love.”

Coochbehar based Arina Alam, writes in her poem ‘I Know’: “When I revolt against this construction of gender, I will keep my head held high.” 

Lahore based Asad Alvi’s poem ‘La pulsion de mort’ talks among other things about the impossibility of queer love “for whom the only future carved out is death,” which he illustrates by citing examples of famous writers Tennessee Williams and Virginia Woolf, both of whom committed suicide. 

Abhyuday Gupta, who identifies as agender, non-binary, writes about the angst of growing up in his poem ‘Bildungsroman’—one that feels like “the ache of the attic floor which squeaks at the slightest touch and dissolves into a wallflower to apologize for its insolence.”

Shaan Mukherjee Ghosh, who identifies as non-binary and bisexual, writes in his poem ‘Pantomimesis’: “I can’t be gay or trans or depressed./I won’t hurt my body even when it hurts me. I will not abuse others as I have been abused. Everything I thought was wrong. I suppose. I was too young to know.”

Sahar Riaz, a psychiatrist from Pakistan living in Dublin, writes in his poem ‘Do you want to get to know me’: “All day I wait for the night to come/ So I can wipe off this mask, Reveal something real, If only to myself/ I know 3 a.m. like the back of my hand.” 

Though an anthology of separate poems, this unique collection advocates a singular voice—of diversity, compassion and justice for this historically marginalized community—one that thrives within the complex multiplicities of South Asia and its religions, sexuality, cultures, and languages.


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. 

She Amid COVID

Violence against women is not a spatially or temporally bounded. It persists all around the Globe. In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. This Declaration defines, violence against women as ‘any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life’. 

According to the World Health Organization, violence against women is a major public health problem that has seized the woman’s basic human rights internationally. Particularly vulnerable are the women in forced social subordinate status and less education because they are more prone to experience intimate partner violence.

In the year 2017, it was estimated that 137 women across the world were killed by a member of their own family every day. More than a third were killed by their current or former intimate partner.

These ‘Covidnary Times’ are extremely challenging and Neo Normal. The COVID era has made the existing ‘vulnerable’ section more prone to abuse, both physical, sexual, or mental. It remains a poisonous truth of our society, that women, even in the 21st century, still do not get the same status as men. The degraded state of women is visible, not only in our society as a whole but is also prevalent in a more severe form within the households and this makes women highly vulnerable in the Covid-19 Tsunami

Women continue to exist as a neglected bunch and their plight is often swept under the rugs.

Any Pandemic like Covid-19 is bound to have a draconian impact on the lives of women particularly those belonging to marginalized communities.

This is primarily due to two major reason: firstly, the women in India within a given household remain neglected which means even if they become symptomatic of the deadly Coronavirus disease there is a high probability of them being ignored especially in orthodox families that possess pre-existing patriarchy overdose; Secondly, because of the widespread educational deficiency which persists more in women than men, globally. 

Note that only 45.9 percent of women in India use their mobile phones themselves 

If one goes about analyzing the state of women in contemporary India, it becomes clear that women in India have been and still continue to be marginalized. And it is not only the women as a homogeneous group which is being discriminated over centuries but the women in many sub-groups of women which exists as the ‘marginals among the marginalized’ –  Dalits, tribal, HIV infected, sex workers, LGBTQ, and women belonging to a minority group.

Going by the official data, the National Family Health Survey in 2016 revealed some deplorable Statistics which we cannot afford to ignore. It stated that 28.8 percent of women faced violence domestically by their respective spouses, 3.3 percent of women faced violence even during pregnancy. 

The story however is no different for the women in America. In the United States, a man beats a woman every twelve seconds and women with lower income tend to face six times more violence compared to women with higher income. A woman belonging to Indian-American & African-American subgroup is more threatened with domestic violence. A major cause of female injury-related death during pregnancy in the United States is due to intimate partner violence. And a woman with any type of disability is 40 percent more at the risk of severe intimate partner violence.

Again one should keep in mind that these figures could be misrepresentative due under-reporting or no reporting at all. Women in India remain reluctant to report any kind of violence, primarily due to the terror they face within their given households.

Domestic torture of women is also confirmed by the National Commission Of Women, asserting a steep surge in domestic violence complaints during the COVID-19 lockdown phase. Physical abuse and exploitation of women have severe repercussions on mental health. Various studies suggest that the prevalence of depression is more among women than men in India.

In such times, it is highly unlikely that the required attention and care is being provided to women.

The discrimination, exploitation, and the disadvantages faced by a woman starts even before she takes birth and is being exacerbated by COVID. We must start thinking about our women.

If you or someone you know needs help, reach out to: Narika, Maitri, Kiran Inc, Sakhi, Guria India, ActionAid India.


Sujeet Singh is Political Science Assistant Professor, Delhi University (India). 

Priyanka Singh is an Economics Assistant Professor, Delhi University (India).

Are Workplace Rights Equal For All?

The struggle at the core of every movement for equality is a right. The right to vote. The right to marry. The right to not be killed. At the core of each is a struggle for respect, to be treated like a human being and to exist without prejudice or discrimination.

Legalizing gay marriage is considered a huge step in favor of LGBTQ+ rights in American history. But people often dismiss the post-legalization discrimination that occurs by assuming that gay people are “equal” now. However, the decision of nine supreme court justices cannot change a longstanding culture of internalized homophobia and discrimination.

On June 15, the Supreme Court of the US made a milestone decision: firing people on the basis of being LGBTQ+ is unconstitutional. This  case Bostock v Clayton County, clarified  the stipulations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, becoming the first national bill to do so. Though it advocates for gender and sexuality rights and ensuring people get the rights they deserve, the bill  does not cover all people and situations, which could let discrimination continue.

Bostock v Clayton County began because the Trump administration questioned whether or not Title VII extends the protection of people based on sex to protecting people based on gender identity and sexuality. Title VII, passed in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits “employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin”. In other words, people cannot be fired on the basis of things they cannot control.

While the prohibition only mentions “sex”, the interpretation is that it also bans employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, but that was not confirmed until the SCOTUS decision in June.

The Bostock v Clayton County decision is as important as the Obergefell v Hodges decision of 2015 which legalized gay marriage. Before this, the LGBTQ+ community had to rely on a “patchwork of state nondiscrimination laws,” and in 25 of the 50 states, there was no protection at all. 

Another important aspect of the decision is the grouping together of gender identity and sexual identity rights which will allow future decisions applicable to the entire LGBTQ+community. One issue, however, is how Title VII is applied. By definition, LGBTQ+ people in workplaces of less than fifteen can still be discriminated against and can still be fired.

The Religious Freedom Act of 1993 (RFRA)  may call this decision into question. RFRA prohibits the government “substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion”, which means that those who are religious could theoretically say that their religion does not allow them to hire LGBTQ+ people. RFRA actually supersedes Title VII, operating as a “super statute” according to Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. But it is unclear as to how much the RFRA interacts with Title VII because that only applies when governments attack religious freedom, such as banning crosses.

The major conflict between the LGBTQ+ community and the government is how religious freedom interacts with human rights because many religions claim that their religious tenets allow discrimination against LGBTQ+ folk. It will be the focus of Fulton v the city of Philadelphia, a case that will examine whether religious (childrens) organizations can reject those ( LGBTQ+ parents for example), who in their view are not aligned with their doctrine. 

The case is essentially about whether gay couples can adopt children. Religious rights are constitutionally protected  in the Bill of Rights,  so what’s at stake is whether religious institutions can manipulate that right to discriminate against others.

But shouldn’t the basic right  to exist as a human being be upheld above religious rights?

Religion cannot be used as an excuse to discriminate against entire communities, especially those who are so marginalized.  Currently, the Trump administration is trying to roll back medical care for the LGBTQ+ community, which could cost lives, depending on how states respond. Which is why cases like this matter so much. Last year nine Republicans introduced the Fairness for All Act, which prohibits discrimination except when religious groups find it against their doctrine. While it is marketed as a compromise, it could possibly greenlight LGBTQ+ discrimination, making it dangerous.

The government has to explicitly give the community these rights, so people’s livelihoods and lives are not at risk. 

A government that risks its people’s lives is a government that has failed its people. 

Congress will be the next battleground for LGBTQ+ rights. The Equality Act passed in the House last year but has not come closer to becoming law. It bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation/identity in employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service. The bill’s sponsor, Rhode Island Democrat Representative David Cicilline is hopeful, as five years ago, such a bill wouldn’t have been heard on the floor, let alone pass the House. Sadly, the bill never made it to the Senate floor. 

While people in the Bay Area and other progressive parts of the country may assume that LGBTQ+ people have “equal for all” rights, that’s not the case on a federal level.  In the ideal world, LGBTQ+ people would unquestionably have equal rights and never would have needed additional legal protection. We cannot pretend otherwise. 

Kaavya Butaney is a sophomore at Los Altos High School in Los Altos, CA. She writes for her school newspaper, The Talon, and loves speech and debate and choir. Kaavya is an intern at India Currents.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents.


Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Photo by Ian Taylor on Unsplash

 

Pioneering Grant For South Asian Filmmakers

Tasveer Film Fund is the first of its kind grant dedicated to South Asian storytellers in the U.S. creating short films – submissions accepted through July 31, 2020 

Tasveer, the non-profit that operates the Tasveer South Asian Film Festival (TSAFF), the largest South Asian film festival in the United States, is currently accepting submissions from South Asian filmmakers in the US to make their scripts come to life. Submissions are accepted now through July 31, 2020 and the grantee will be announced at the Tasveer Arts Festival in October 2020, which is the new iteration of the festival this year. 

“Tasveer was founded to combine a passion for social justice and awareness, with powerful, inclusive storytelling by and about South Asians,” said Rita Meher, Executive Director of Tasveer. “With this new fund, we can make this possible all around.” 

In its inaugural year, the Tasveer Film Fund (TFF) will award one grant of $5,000 to a South Asian filmmaker residing in the U.S. to make a short film. Filmmakers should submit scripts between five to 20 pages in length and incorporate a social justice issue or theme. Scripts can be submitted through FilmFreeway and the submission deadline is July 31, 2020. The final grantee will be announced during Tasveer Arts Festival in October 2020, and must complete their film in time for a premiere at the festival in fall 2021. 

“Funding is one of the greatest barriers to entry for South Asian filmmakers, and at this critical moment for artists and representation, we’re proud to be able to offer this support towards getting films made and out into the world,” added Pulkit Datta, Artistic Director of the film festival. 

Tasveer Film Fund is funded by Tasveer, Archana Soy Fund, and donations by local community members. Tasveer produces three festivals yearly including Tasveer South Asian Literature Festival (TSAL), Yoni ki Baat (YKB), and its signature Tasveer South Asian Film Festival (TSAFF), now in its 15th year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization will combine its festivals into one, now titled Tasveer Arts Festival (TAF). TAF will feature South Asian films, literature, and performance arts to empower, transform, heal, and entertain audiences. In a healthy and safe way, the diverse programs will encourage people to start and hold space for dialogues focused on South Asian stories that represent equity, climate change, LGBTQ+ issues, women’s rights, and much more. TAF is scheduled for early October. The format of the festival and dates will be announced soon. 

ABOUT TASVEER 

Tasveer is a social justice non-profit arts organization that inspires social change through film, arts, and storytelling. More information can be found on their website tasveer.org

Quarantet Celebrates LGBTQIA Win in Supreme Court

A Supreme Court win marks a historic victory for the LGBTQ community. In a 6-3 decision made by both conservative and left-leaning Justices, federal law now defends all gay, lesbian, and transgender employees from discrimination in the workplace. As stated by Justice Neil Gorsuch, “There is simply no escaping the role intent plays here: Just as sex is necessarily a but-for cause when an employer discriminates against homosexual or transgender employees, an employer who discriminates on these grounds inescapably intends to rely on sex in its decisionmaking.” The decision addresses decades of prejudice against the LGBTQ community within the workplace, and opens the door towards more civil rights for all sexual orientations. 

The fight for equality manifests in every aspect of our daily lives, including music. Composer, drummer, and dhol player Sunny Jain brought together a socially-distanced quartet in honor of Pride Month — a combination he likes to call a ‘Quarantet’. The composition is an intriguing blend of classical Indian and Western music, with instruments such as the mrudangam and dhol offset by Kathak rhythms. In his own words, Jain describes the RHYTHM AND PRIDE quarantet as “honoring Pride Month today & everyday, while also remaining committed to the rhythm of the streets & Black Lives Matter.” While recognizing the legacy of the LGBTQ movement through their spirited video, the group also plans to donate their proceeds towards organizations focused on racial equality, such as the Bail Project. This project represents the intersectionality between race and LGBTQ identities, and how these challenging times also permit us to celebrate both. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwLwOPHYXLQ

Learn more about Jain’s music at his Instagram and Facebook.

Kanchan Naik is a rising senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is also the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar, Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton, and Director of Media Outreach at nonprofit Break the Outbreak

Asian Diaspora Considers Their Identities

Bhutanese, Mongolians, Burmese, Nepalese among fastest-growing but invisible sector.

As the 2020 census begins in earnest, representatives of Nepalese, Burmese, Bhutanese and Mongolian immigrants joined census officials and community organizers at a briefing for Asian American media to discuss the high stakes of getting an accurate count for their communities.

Together with Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, these and other immigrants from Central, South and Southeast Asia represent the fastest growing sector of Asian immigrants to California over the last decade. Yet they are too new to have formed the civic organizations or media platforms to make their presence felt in the broader Asian American landscape.

Speakers agreed that being counted in the 2020 Census would change that.

Some 20% of Californians identified as Asian American-Pacific Islander in the 2010 census, said Hong Mei Pang of Chinese for Affirmative Action, which co hosted the March 5 briefing along with Ethnic Media Services.

“More immigrants come to the United States from Asia than from anywhere else,” Pang said. “But the Asian American community is not monolithic, and without an accurate count, these newer waves of Asian immigrants will be invisible.”

Stephanie Kim of United Way Bay Area echoed Pang’s point on the opening panel: “We have diverse needs requiring data and approaches customized to each community. If one of us is not counted, we all suffer from the undercount. If every one of us is counted, we all benefit.”

Linguistic and cultural isolation are challenges common to every recently arrived group. But speakers pointed to some immigrants’ experiences in their home countries that make them especially fearful of being counted.

Robin Gurung of Asian Refugees United, born and raised in Nepal, recalled how the Nepalese government used a census in the late 1980s to divide the country between native Nepalese and people of Bhutanese origin. He and his family were deported to Bhutan along with thousands of others. “So in the United States, there’s still a lot of worry and questions about the census – like what are the benefits, and what do we need to be careful about?”

“When they hear the word ‘census,’ it’s like a nightmare,” agreed Ganesh Subedi, of the Bhutanese Community Association of California. His community’s fear of government intrusion, he said, caused it to be vastly undercounted in the 2010 census.

Among its population of 45,000, he estimates, only 19,000 completed the census questionnaire.

In 2012, the Nepali Association of Northern California tried to collect census-type data on its own, the association’s former director Prem Pariyar said. But fear got the best of the community and the effort failed. Meanwhile, the community kept growing (http://facts.aapidata.com/nationaldata/) – by some 222% between 2010-2016, according to data compiled by Karthick Ramakrishnan of U.C. Riverside’s Center for Social Innovation.

“This is a great opportunity for us to establish our community,” Pariyar said. “We don’t want to lose our chance at being represented.”

Population growth of their communities was a common theme at the press briefing.

Myat Soe Mon, of One Myanmar community, spoke about ethnic cleansing in her country based on information the government gleaned under the pretext of conducting a census. “But here,” she said, “our population is growing. We have to keep moving forward.”

“The census data says we are just 32,000 Mongolians living in the U.S.,” noted Urtnasan Enkhbat, a student from Mongolia who wrote her senior thesis on Mongolians in the Bay Area. “We are a lot more. We have close to 10,000 just in the Bay Area.

Our numbers are growing rapidly, but it’s difficult to learn about us – we have no community centers or channels for communication.” She recently told a group of fellow Mongol immigrants, “We live in the U.S. But without data, we don’t exist in the U.S.”

Almost every speaker raised the issue of confidentiality as a further barrier in promoting the census.

Sonny Le, a refugee from Vietnam who has worked as a Partner Specialist for the Census Bureau since the 2000 Census, was quick to respond. Personal data collected by the census is forbidden to be disclosed to anyone for 72 years, even other government agencies and law enforcement, Le asserted. Penalties for violations run to a quarter million dollars and five years in prison. Nor has the data been breached.

Yet even among the Hmong, well-established now as the seventh largest population of Asian Americans, with a 13% increase between 2010 and 2016, the census is still an unknown.

“People my age had never heard about the census before,” said Tammy Vang, a Fresno-born daughter of Hmong refugees from Laos who works as a community organizer for Hmong Innovating Politics.

As the youngest speaker at the briefing, she also raised what for her is a deeply personal concern about the census — how to identify oneself in terms of gender.

“There is still a deep stigma attached to LGBTQ issues in the Hmong community,” she said, holding back tears. “The single binary choice on the census only makes it harder.”

Summing up the energy among attendees in the room, Gurung had the last word about the importance of the census: “We have to make ourselves visible. There’s nobody (else) out there who will.”


Originally published here.

Governor Newsom Announces Quarterly “On the Record” Column to Reach Diverse Communities

SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom today announced a historic media collaboration with California Black Media, Ethnic Media Services, ImpreMedia, Univision, and LGBTQ outlets Bay Area Reporter and the Los Angeles Blade to contribute an original quarterly column on timely public policy issues impacting Californians across the state. The quarterly “On the Record with Gavin Newsom” column will be translated into at least six languages and distributed quarterly starting in December. Each column will be posted for public access on the Governor’s website and published online or in print in the over 50 participating media outlets. Any media outlet is welcome to pull the column from the Governor’s website to publish in their outlet.

“California is proud to be the most diverse state in the world’s most diverse democracy,” said Governor Newsom. “All Californians deserve to know that their government is working for them, especially in rural and Inland communities that have long felt that they do not truly have a voice in Sacramento. We look forward to collaborating with our media partners—and inviting others who might be interested in partnering—to bring our California for All message to communities across our state.”

This announcement builds on Governor Newsom’s commitment to working with community, ethnic and diverse media outlets. Throughout his first year in office, the Governor and his senior staff have participated in several telebriefing media calls and meetings on a host of issues ranging from the death penalty to public charge to the 2020 Census.

“The idea for the column grew out of a two year effort by representatives of Black, Latino, Asian and Native media to educate state legislators and decision makers about the sector’s role and to forge a multi-ethnic media advocacy voice,” said Sandy Close who directs Ethnic Media Services, a nonprofit media consulting organization.

Regina Brown Wilson, director of California Black Media, says the column “couldn’t come at a more critical time. In this information era dominated by high tech platforms, Governor Newsom is sending an important signal that government needs high touch communicators embedded in and trusted by their local communities.”

Gabriel Lerner, veteran editor of ImpreMedia’s La Opinion, underscored the need for consistent outreach by the Governor as an antidote to the growing fear and distrust of government among immigrant audiences in the wake of Trump administration anti-immigrant measures. “Every new announcement from the White House creates a relentless campaign of terror. The column is one small but important counter-voice that all immigrants need to hear,” Lerner said.

“Establishing a direct and consistent way of communication with the people of California is essential to have an informed, engaged, and prosperous community,” said Marco Flores, Vice President of News for Univision Los Angeles.

Francis Espiritu, longtime publisher of Philippine News Today, a national Filipino news outlet headquartered in the Bay Area, was one of numerous Asian media leaders who joined the collaborative effort. He says he is eager to run the column to inform audiences about the Governor’s policy objectives and to reassure them that “the state has our back.”

Native media are also a key part of the collaboration. Joe Orozco, who directs the Hoopa reservation based KIDE radio in northern Eureka, says the isolation and diversity of tribal lands makes communications an even greater challenge. He hopes the column represents an effort to make communication two-way. “We want to tell our story as well,” said Orozco.

The partnership includes the LGBTQ publications Bay Area Reporter and Los Angeles Blade.

“The Bay Area Reporter looks forward to the quarterly columns by Governor Gavin Newsom. As one of the oldest LGBT newspapers in the country, we think our readers will enjoy learning about issues the governor writes about. California is in a state of constant change, and we believe our readers will be interested to hear directly from San Francisco’s former mayor through his columns on how he plans to address myriad issues statewide,” said Cynthia Laird, News Editor with the Bay Area Reporter.

 

The Man Behind a Camera

I was born in India, in a colonial house left by the Muslim tenants who would move to Pakistan as a result of the Partition, a subsequent byproduct of Indian Independence from the Britishers. I lived in a house with twenty other family members and I shared a room with my parents till I was 14. My great-grandfather and his brother started a copper manufacturing business and since then every generation has played a part in sustaining it. As the eldest of my generation, I was sent to America to study business with the hope that when I would return, I would join the business and take it to new heights. I was the first one from my family to have been sent to live abroad. When I look back, I feel like that boy who bid farewell to his family at the Calcutta airport died a slow death. Over the years of being in America, exploring perspectives that this sense of space allowed, led to a re-birth in many ways. Photography and film became mediums through which I could come to terms with both the past and the present.

My film “Color of November” is a contemporary portrait of the relationship between two young women in the month of November in Poland. I had never been to Europe before. I knew I had to film something, I didn’t know what. The spaces, the cold of the winter, the smell of the air, all of it invoked a sense of connection to my own fragmented past. Bydgoszcz, the bars don’t close till customers leave. It is 9AM in the morning and I’ve been talking to Zuzanna for over 5 hours. She is drunk and happy and sad. We talk about identity, globalization, her crush on this girl who had been visiting for the film festival. The night has a flow to it. She tells me, “you know how everyone keeps saying that our generation does not know how to live in the present? That we are on our phones all the time documenting everything around us. I think that my situation is the complete opposite. I live too much in the present. I forget to take pictures. Later, when I look back, I am not sure if any of those moments ever happened in the first place.” As soon as she finishes saying that, I ask her whether she would want to be in a film playing herself. She laughs and walks to the bar to get another drink. That same night/morning, I also meet Emilia. She is a theatre actress and our conversation is super short. I tell her that I have a camera and a tripod and I would love to make a film here in Bydgoszcz. I ask her whether she would want to be in it and she says yes. The next morning I call both of them and it turns out that they know each other from childhood. They have been close friends. I spend the next four days with them, exploring the city where they grew up, our collective existential dilemmas and what it meant to be living in this contemporary globalized time which gave us this sense of connection to each other, and yet left us feeling so alone and distant from both our homes and our relationships. The end result was this hybrid narrative-doc short that explores cross border perspectives on the relationship between identity and space in the post globalization era.

The film made its world premiere at the 47th edition of Festival du Nouveau Cinema in Montreal in October 2018 and has played in the 31st edition of Filmfest Dresden in Germany as well as the 2nd edition of the South Asian Short Film Festival in India since then.

Tanmay Chowdhary is a photographer, cinematographer and filmmaker with a Masters degree in Film from the University of Southern California. He has lensed multiple narratives, documentaries and music videos around the world. Born and raised in India, Tanmay moved to the United States to pursue his undergraduate degree in business. He moved back to India and after working at a corporate firm for a year, he called it quits and decided to pursue his passion for film. His photography work has been published by various magazines and publications around the world. The films he has shot have premiered in international film festivals, including Camerimage, Directors Guild of America and Festival du Nouveau Cinema. He received the outstanding achievement in Cinematography award for his thesis film at the First Look Film Festival and the Tide Film Festival in New York. He was the recipient of the Edward Troutner Endowed Fund in 2015-16 for his accomplishments in Cinematography at the University of Southern California. More at www.tanmaychowdhary.com. To see his work, go to  https://vimeo.com/user5703823

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D.

Creating Spaces For LGBTQIA Hindus

Washington, DC (June 21, 2018) — In honor of LGBT Pride Month, the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple, in Lanham, Maryland, hosted a town hall discussion on June 16 about what the temple could do to make queer Hindus feel more included.

The event, “Creating Spaces for LGBTQIA Hindus,” was co-sponsored by the SSVT Center for Dharma Education, HAF, and Indiaspora.

Moderated by Sivagami (Shiva) Subbaraman, the director of the LGBTQ Resource Center at Georgetown University, the panelists talked about their experiences coming out and the struggles they had to overcome reconciling their sexual identities with their religious identity.

SSVT co-founder Dr. Siva Subramanian and BOT member Vasu Murthy opened the discussion by noting that Hinduism’s scriptures do not vilify LGBT identities, but noted that the scriptural openness is not always reflected in the attitude of many Hindus. They noted the SSVT’s statement on creating an inclusive space for LGBTQIA Hindus, which read:

“Hinduism is an all inclusive and open way of life that teaches that all beings are equal. To honor those scriptural ideals, SSVT’s Constitution forbids discrimination against any one on the basis of race, gender, religion etc. The recently formed Center for Dharma Education — whose task has been to engage younger generations of American-born Hindus — has done several events based on the relevant issues in the society such as non-violence, socially conscious parenting etc.

Based on the CDE’s initiative, the SSVT is undertaking a dialog about how those who identify as both LGBTQIA and Hindu have reconciled those identities, and how the temple can help make them feel included and integrated into the larger Hindu community. SSVT is undertaking this discussion to bring the community together for an open dialog, and find a way to make sure all of our community’s voices are heard and respected.”

Subbaraman and panelists Swarna Chowdhuri, Mytili Jagannathan, and Harsh Voruganti said they appreciated the temple’s willingness to host the discussion. Members of the audience, including some who identify as queer, added that they felt more welcomed as a result of the event. The event was standing room only, with some traveling from as far away as Pennsylvania just to attend.

CDE chair Rohit Setty and former HAF education director (and current consultant) Murali Balaji noted that the townhall was just the first step in creating a long-term space for queer Hindus. The SSVT Board also said they would work to do more to provide support for community members and their families.

“We need to do more to uphold our scriptural ideas,” Balaji said. “Hopefully our queer family members will feel that the SSVT is a welcoming and loving space as we build on this.”

The SSVT is working on engaging more Hindus, and others, on important topics through the CDE’s townhall series. Townhalls on domestic violence and mental health, respectively, will take place in the fall.

HAF co-sponsored the event as a continuation of its advocacy on behalf of LGBTQIA issues. To see more on HAF’s advocacy on behalf of LGBTQIA rights click here.