Desi Pride

SALGA Roopa Singh 2.jpg

This Sunday marks the 41st Anniversary of the Gay Pride March in NYC. With rainbow flags waving, the streets of NYC will be covered with people taking it to the streets. And unlike the 2009 Indian Independence Day parade in NYC where queer desi activist groups like SALGA where denied from partaking, Desis this weekend will be marching.The SALGA float will have Bollywood music, of course.

NYC based pop cultural aficionado Rohin Guha had this to say about the duality of being queer and desi.

I’ve always been fascinated by the strange overlap between Indian and gay cultures. They’re like spurned aunts at a cousin’s wedding, each giving the other the iciest cold-shoulder. But once in a while, they might thaw enough to cast a wary side-eye to one another. And then they’ll return to ignoring each other.[thisisfyf]

Rohin goes on to write about this unlikely “fusion” via this Spice Girls video that he ended up watching with his parents as a kid.

But, when the Spice Girls–dressed in saris and salwars–stormed the stage on auto-rickshaws: Epiphany! It wasn’t an explicit epiphany, though. This performance of the Spice Girls lip-synching “Wannabe” simply made clear that my coming of age wasn’t going to be as neat as a joint effort co-written by Jhumpa Lahiri and David Sedaris might be.

[T]his is one of the earliest instances I can recall of my two identities being able to put aside their differences and play nicely. [thisisfyf]100_4083.jpg You can read his full post here, but it is kind of a precious read. His keystone moment of owning “pride” is one that I think almost all Desis raised in the U.S. can relate to. We all have that key self-defining moment where we saw an event melding together different cultural identities that somehow brought us comfort – whether the Spice Girls in saris or Kal Penn smoking a bowl.

I’ve never been to a Pride Parade but I have attended the Coming Out Day parades that South Asian Network & Satrang host here in Los Angeles’ Little India. It surprises me to no end the type of people that come out to support these marches – Aunties and Uncles and people young and old. Every year, the crowd keeps getting larger and every year the message keeps getting louder.

The Desi community is changing to be more accepting of the queer community – both here and abroad. As of 2009, in India under section 377 homosexuality is no longer illegal, Hijras are recognized legally in Pakistan, and Colombo has their own pride event. Here in the US, you have organizations like SALGA, and SATRANG advocating on behalf of the community as well as comedians like D’Lo entertaining the community while bringing light to her own struggles.

Yet… hate crimes against queer Desis continue to happen, such as what happened to Satendar Singh a couple of years ago. Organizations like SALGA are still marginalized in mainstream Indian American spaces, such as being excluded from the parade last year. Whether you are queer or a straight, this a segment of the Desi community that could still use your support. If in NYC, go check out the festivities tomorrow and if you can, be proud and bhangra the day away.

Top photo credit Roopa Shah from Pride 2009.

This entry was posted in Events, Gender, Identity, Politics by Taz. Bookmark the permalink.

About Taz

Taz is an activist, organizer and writer based in California. She is the founder of South Asian American Voting Youth (SAAVY), curates MutinousMindState.tumblr.com and blogs at TazzyStar.blogspot.com. Follow her at twitter.com/tazzystar

26 thoughts on “Desi Pride

  1. re: gay friendliness, it’s simply a matter of cultural assimilation into western norms, right? (yes, i know that gay rights or acceptance is advancing world wide, but there are differences) most american born brownz are on the liberal side culturally, and so naturally one would assume that they’d reflect that in relation to homosexual behavior and gay rights. not so with their parents, or those whose formative experiences were in more conservative societies.

  2. Maybe it’s because I have seen eunachs in India with the same kind of getup. When I see that Indian gay pride picture, it reminds me of not gay guys, but eunachs.

    As far as the Spice Girls analogy,and about awkwardness of cross cultural mixes, meh, that was a boring read. Don’t think it was interesting enough to merit a blog posting. It didn’t add to the Desi Pride news item.

    I personally gotta admit that I personally exhibit conflicted feelings on this. I seem to be very open minded about accepting gays on one hand(don’t mind sharing a room in a college, military rights, civil union rights), but then struggle to be open minded when I find out an Indian is gay. But at the same time, I have quite a few non Indian gay friends and acquaintances of both sexes. I think I am more open to acceptance if I know upfront someone is gay. If I find out years after the fact, I admit I get weirded out a bit, regardless of the race. But the weirded out feeling is a little more severe if the person is Indian.

    Anyway, just laying my thoughts out there.

  3. but then struggle to be open minded when I find out an Indian is gay.

    in bend it like beckham the protagonist responds with “but you’re indian!” when her brown BFF confesses his homosexuality.

    from talking to gay friends who are not “ethnic,” one of the major things that concern me about being gay in many conservative subcultures are the risks and danger which is inherent in being closeted in your sex life. i’m not just talking gay-bashing and obvious things like that, but unsafe sex practices which i’ve heard about due to the furtive and unplanned nature of assignations that these individuals have to engage in. granted, it isn’t as if unsafe sex is limited to particular subcultures, but the high stress nature of their lifestyle makes it harder to “track” and plan for precautions (i think an analogy to the “down low” culture among black americans is appropriate).

    i guess i’m saying that i accept that in many societies gayness is frowned upon severely, and parents don’t want their kids to be gay. but concretely putting your gay kids in situations where they can’t live a normal life may also increase their risk of contracting disease and so reduce their life expectancy.

    note: here are attitudes toward homosexuality by society http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Societal_attitudes_toward_homosexuality#Measuring_attitudes_toward_homosexuality

    also, there is going to be differences between UK and the USA. british muslims, who are substantially brown, and who are much more native born than american brown folk are much more gay-skeptical than the US born readers of SM:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/may/07/muslims-britain-france-germany-homosexuality

    The most dramatic contrast was found in attitudes towards homosexuality. None of the 500 British Muslims interviewed believed that homosexual acts were morally acceptable. 1,001 non-Muslim Britons were interviewed.

    By comparison, 35% of French Muslims found homosexual acts to be acceptable. A question on pornography also elicited different reactions, with French and German Muslims more likely than British Muslims to believe that watching or reading pornography was morally acceptable.

    according to the world values survey in 2002 over 90% of people in pakistan and algeria thought homosexuality was never justifiable. no difference. so the difference between french and british muslims has to do with evolution (or lack of) of attitudes in situ (i suspect britain’s implicit acceptance of multiculturalism and france’s explicit rejection of the concept).

  4. re: gay friendliness, it’s simply a matter of cultural assimilation into western norms, right?… not so with their parents, or those whose formative experiences were in more conservative societies.

    We’re all Unlce Toms now. Say it loud, I’m Tom and I’m proud.

  5. You’re right about the fact that Indian queers have been getting a lot more acceptance lately. The media, for the most part, seems to be pro gay rights. However there’s still a long way to go before we can live openly and safely and out of our closets. Let’s also hope that the Supreme Court does not reverse the Delhi High Court ruling in the case of 377.

  6. Hi! Great article. Thanks for the mention and the post – posts like these are one way of spreading awareness and draw more Aunties & Uncles to the marches. Just a two slight corrections to the post: It’s the 41st Gay Pride MARCH in New York. SF is having its 40th this year and the reason we call it a March rather than Parade is because it came directly out of the Stonewall Riots in 1969 when police raided a gay bar on Christopher Street.

  7. i think being gay is natural, but it is like a congenital disease or maybe it is a mental illness, who knows?

  8. Glad to see things are changing. I was a little confused about how they were excluded from the India Day Parade – I mean “gay rights” never really seemed to me like an “Indian” issue.

    But anyway, this is one of those issues that has to/will change – I think its only a matter of time. A majority of Americans support gay marriage for the first time – naturally, this will get better as time goes on.

    Even in India, I don’t think there’s such a virulent reaction to homosexuality because of the acceptance of eunuchs (which can sometimes include the LGBT community) as opposed to places like Latin America and the Middle East where religion places a big role in forming people’s minds against it.

  9. Even in India, I don’t think there’s such a virulent reaction to homosexuality because of the acceptance of eunuchs (which can sometimes include the LGBT community) as opposed to places like Latin America and the Middle East where religion places a big role in forming people’s minds against it.

    there’s a distinction between homosexuality and gayness which needs to be emphasized. there’s a tacit acceptance that homosexual acts exist in many societies, including islamic societies where there’s a lot of gender segregation and people don’t get married young. in fact i am willing to put down money that more straight men in the middle east have had sex with men than in the west, mostly because it’s a necessary sexual outlet (i think there’s a socioeconomic aspect, as wealthier men can take “vacation” to foreign countries and sow their wild oats). i had a gay friend who once told me that many men in the middle east and southeast asia go through a “gay phase” when they’re really young (something which he took advantage of). later on i realized that this wasn’t really a “gay phase,” and that even in conservative societies which frown upon an active and exclusive gay identity there is often accommodation for non-bourgeois sexual activity (the presence of brothels in conservative societies is another more obvious indicator of this).

    the gay identity and subculture as it is evolving in the west is a new thing. in cultures, such as ancient greece, where homosexual activity was not taboo, there was still plenty of ostracism for exclusive homosexual adult males.

    Even in India, I don’t think there’s such a virulent reaction to homosexuality because of the acceptance of eunuchs (which can sometimes include the LGBT community) as opposed to places like Latin America and the Middle East where religion places a big role in forming people’s minds against it.

    i don’t think latin america is any more religious than india. if it was i would tell people that, because at least south asia wouldn’t seem so primitive :-) anyway, here are selected values from the world values survey as to whether homosexuality is “ever justifiable.” here are the percentage in 2005 who said it was NEVER justifiable:

    italy 50.9 USA 32.5 sweden 4.2 brazil 31.8 india 63.7 china 78.1 russia 66.4 indonesia 89.4 iran 82.3 jordan 99.6

  10. Razib - Thanks for that. Thats a pretty interesting survey. I wonder whether the number for India was based on rural and urban India or just urban India. I always sort of assumed it would not be tolerated in the hinterland but I suppose I was making my comment with the mindset of suburban/urban India.

    Also, I’m a little confused by what they mean by “justified”? Justified as in – a gay gangster has a gun to my balls and says he’ll shoot if I don’t go down on him or what?

  11. Also, I’m a little confused by what they mean by “justified”? Justified as in – a gay gangster has a gun to my balls and says he’ll shoot if I don’t go down on him or what?

    the question: Please tell me for each of the following statements whether you think it can always be justified, never be justified, or something in between, using this card.

    no idea what that means. here the demographics for who the interviewed were in india:

    2,000 and less 32.1 % 2,000-5,000 34.9 % 5,000-10,000 16.6 %
    10,000-20,000 5.7 % 20,000-50,000 2.4 %
    50,000-100,000 0.4 %
    100,000-500,000 4.8 %
    500,000+ 3.1 %

    cross-tabs show no statistically significant difference in terms of homosexuality, though the sample size is smaller for big cities.

    the question is on a 1 to 10 scale. here are the outputs for all countries, with higher values being more gay-friendly lower values being less gay-friendly. as you can see all the latin american countries are more gay-friendly than india (the value of 1 for jordan is rounded, basically 99% of jordanians gave the response “1″, never justifiable).

    Jordan 1 Georgia 1.2 Indonesia 1.3 Iran 1.5 Ethiopia 1.5 Rwanda 1.5 China 1.6 Turkey 1.7 Ghana 1.8 Burkina Faso 1.8 Viet Nam 1.9 Trinidad and Tobago 1.9 Romania 2.1 Moldova 2.3 Ukraine 2.5 Russian Federation 2.5 Zambia 2.6 South Korea 2.8 Mali 2.9 South Africa 3 India 3 Malaysia 3 Poland 3.1 Thailand 3.1 Guatemala 3.1 Italy 3.3 Hong Kong 3.6 Colombia 3.7 Taiwan 3.8 Cyprus 3.9 Bulgaria 4.1 Brazil 4.2 Mexico 4.5 United States 4.6 Serbia 4.7 Japan 4.8 Chile 4.9 Argentina 5.3 New Zealand 5.4 Australia 5.6 Great Britain 5.7 Canada 5.7 Uruguay 5.7 Finland 5.9 France 6.5 Germany 6.5 Spain 6.7 Netherlands 7.2 Switzerland 7.3 Norway 7.7 Andorra 8.2 Sweden 8.4

  12. What is more controversial in Indian culture: gay couples or interracial couples? Or are they equally controversial?

  13. What is more controversial in Indian culture: gay couples or interracial couples? Or are they equally controversial?

    isn’t that conditional on the race? and what is this “indian culture” you speak of? (i broke down by language and religion, and there’s a lot of variance re: homosexuality, though the noise is enough of an issue that i won’t post it)

  14. “re: gay friendliness, it’s simply a matter of cultural assimilation into western norms, right? (yes, i know that gay rights or acceptance is advancing world wide, but there are differences) most american born brownz are on the liberal side culturally, and so naturally one would assume that they’d reflect that in relation to homosexual behavior and gay rights. not so with their parents, or those whose formative experiences were in more conservative societies.”

    Funny you should mention that. I cringe whenever I hear of a ‘gay bashing’ in Vancouver because I know that’s it probably going to be perpetuated by a South Asian..

  15. The numbers for China threw me a little off guard there, being that it’s a secular state.

  16. The numbers for China threw me a little off guard there, being that it’s a secular state.

    Why? Who told you that religion is the only source of socially conservative, traditional values? That would be the only reason I can think of that you’d be “thrown,” and that is of course incorrect. The Chinese are not religious folk, in the main, but they are quite traditional and, like most traditional societies, are based around male-female marriage.

  17. Why? Who told you that religion is the only source of socially conservative, traditional values? That would be the only reason I can think of that you’d be “thrown,” and that is of course incorrect. The Chinese are not religious folk, in the main, but they are quite traditional and, like most traditional societies, are based around male-female marriage.

    this is a fair point. but i have poked through the WVS data, and within societies the secular are never more conservative than the religious, so that’s why people generalize to between societies. westerners, who are preconditioned toward secularism and liberalism going hand in hand over time are ill-conditioned to comprehend that east asian societies which have long had weak institutional religions (this is one reason that enlightenment philosophs idealized imperial china, with its relatively unsuperstitious confucian elite). that being said, in china itself there isn’t that much of a difference between the religious and irreligious, in general both are what we’d consider socially conservative.

  18. Funny you should mention that. I cringe whenever I hear of a ‘gay bashing’ in Vancouver because I know that’s it probably going to be perpetuated by a South Asian..

    I was about to say the same thing. It’s seem that beating up gay people has become the new in thing for young punjabi males here in Vancouver. Just saw a picture of 2 suspects in papers last week in a gay bashing and they turned out to be 2 young punjabi males. A few months ago a another young punjabi male is goint to jail for 17 months for beating up a gay man. And I have heard countless stories from friends in the gay community about being harrassed by south asian males in the downtown Vancouver area on Davie Street.

  19. I think I am more open to acceptance if I know upfront someone is gay. If I find out years after the fact, I admit I get weirded out a bit, regardless of the race. But the weirded out feeling is a little more severe if the person is Indian.

    Interesting. Does that weirding out get any worse if the Indian in question is female? I personally have little patience or tolerance for closeted folk in the US myself. It’s a cop out and a lie, for any ethnicity or gender.

    As to the article- awesome that SALGA gets their place, but Bollywood music? I admit to owning a few tracks myself, but there’s a rather awesome array of desi (not just Hindi) celebratory music out there…kinda lame to narrow it down like that.

  20. *nods. Please tell us more about Punjabis in Canada. Use statistics and internet articles to speak the truth about what we are like. It’s the best!

  21. As to the article- awesome that SALGA gets their place, but Bollywood music?

    Don’t blame the messenger. I pulled that directly off of SALGA’s site. I am also not one to defend Bollywood music. To each their own.

  22. I spoke at a workshop on being gay at a South Asian American cultural event put on by aunties and uncles each year. Almost all the questions came from people in straight relationships who had a lot of very similar issues :D

    Which is to say – thank you for highlighting this for the benefit of all, in all our lovelinesses :)

    Incidentally, SALGA usually is able to march in the India day parade (at least was able to up to a few years ago), but only because it goes to the local community board which then will refuse to grant a permit to FIA (the parade organizers) unless they let SALGA march. It wasn’t really a fight as much of a pro forma arrangement that felt very uncomfortable – i.e. going to the (mostly white, mostly wealthy) community board to force homophobic uncles and aunties to do what is necessary. I suppose it shouldn’t matter, but at the time it just reinforced for me how being a multiple minority can put you in smaller and smaller and more and more uncomfortable boxes until you just get superneurotic.

    There were also varying feelings within SALGA about whether it made sense to march in a nationalist parade (particularly since there was not, the year i was part of it, much effort to get into the pakistan day or other south asian parades). We had a nice conversation about the politics of marching in the India Day parade after Queens pride (which is the REAL queer desi pride). I would guess there are still varying feelings and approaches to the issue within SALGA.

  23. The point being there is a troubling drumbeat presenting satistics and internet articles to suggest the Punjabi community is subsumed in a regressive, at times primitive culture and near complete assimilation is needed. That is not a message it is a thesis

  24. I think South Asian gays and lesbians in North America are definitely realizing they have to be more proactive in order to get the message out about their concerns. In the gay communities across North America gays of colour are still marginalized due to race and class. I think the more queers of colour groups that claim their space and be vocal and proud the better.