This past Saturday afternoon, proud desis rallied up and down Pioneer Boulevard in Artesia, also known as Southern California’s Little India. Oct 11th marked National Coming Out Day and this was the second annual rally jointly hosted by Satrang and South Asian Network. But unlike last year’s rally, this year it was charged with election energy and urgency. On November 4th people will be voting on Proposition 8, a ballot measure that would take away the right to get married for single sex couples.
Shoppers and shop owners looked on queerly, as the procession flamboyantly marched up and down the crowded sidewalk. Most walked by ignoring, some stopped and asked questions, and there were a couple of ‘toba, toba’ aunties spotted walking by. Around fifty people were in the rally and everyone was chanting “Hum suth ek hay [We are all one],” “No on Prop 8,” and my personal favorite, “We are here. We’re queer. We’re out on Pioneer.”
“We are here to raise awareness and visibility about the South Asian queer community here in Little India,” said Sanjay Chhugani, former president of SATRANG. “We’ve been received very positively. This is the second time we are out here. We were out here last year on National Coming Out Day…I don’t think there was anything negative about it.”
“Folks we are here today to come together to reach out for your support because right now our rights are being violated,” said Hamid Khan, Executive Director of South Asian Network. “We are being stripped of our humanity. We are being stripped of our dignity. Why? Because we are queer. Why? Because we want to celebrate our life the way we want to…
“Proposition 8 will ban marriage from people who love each other. Proposition 8 would ban marriage from people who want to spend their lives togetherâ€¦.we are asking for you to tell your neighbors, to tell your colleagues, to tell your friends to not be hateful. Do not deny people the lives the way they want to spend their lives.”
Though Proposition 8 is clearly not just about the South Asian community, this rally served to give a voice to South Asians in the community who are going to be deeply affected should the proposition get passed.
“I remember my dad saying, â€˜I donâ€™t want you to be outside the community.â€™ I remember saying, â€˜Iâ€™m not putting myself outside of the community. The community is putting me outside the community.â€™ I want to be part of everything. I saw people today from my community on the corner, while I was holding a banner [for the rally.] And guess what? I wasnâ€™t out to them. But today I am. And they are going to talk to people. I hope to god they talk to people. Please tell them. I am out. As out as can be now.
“We are all here now, putting our lives on the line. We are putting ourselves on the line. Itâ€™s not easy…But we know we gotta be here. We just know we gotta be here.”
Sanjay talks about how marriage is not just a right but a part of the South Asian culture.
“Marriage is such an important institution in our community,” he said. “Thereâ€™s so much family life and culture centered around marriage. So marriage is important for us as South Asians.”
“People think that if you are not married you have not fulfilled that part of your life, that stage of your life,” continues Rashmi. “[They think] you are not mature and have not gotten there yet. Well if itâ€™s a right of passage, give us the chance. Thatâ€™s all weâ€™re asking for.”
The polls are showing that Proposition 8 is close. Satrang members are getting organized – they are holding phone banks calling the community, having fundraisers to fund the campaign and speaking at various community organizations and schools.
“Mainly the thing is – to get support, you need to raise awareness,” says Sanjay. “We are here to raise visibility and awareness. You can’t get accepted without awareness.”
And finally, this may be my favorite picture of the day. This is Juhi Kalra, mother of two queer children. Proudly rallying in the community for the rights of her kids.