When the Indian Supreme Court reinstated a colonial-era law that made homosexuality illegal on December 11, local Metro Vancouver resident Alex Sangha decided to do something about it.
"I spoke with my friends at Sher Vancouver and said, 'What can we do to show the world that we care?' " he said by phone. "That we want to have positive public awareness about the courage it takes for South Asians to come out of the closet and be proud of who they are?…I want to send a message to the mainstream public about the value and contributions that gay and lesbian South Asians make to the world."
The project consists of a website that will showcase the diverse stories of queer South Asians from around the world who have come out of the closet. Each interviewee responds to five questions about their coming-out process, achievements, inspirations, and more. Two interviews are already up on the website and Sangha said he has seven more ready to be rolled out over the next few weeks. He said they are always looking for new interviewees, and he hopes to show the diversity of South Asian communities around the world and all walks of life, including Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, and more.
He noted that he hasn't seen a lot of positive media stories about queer South Asians. In fact, he credits the Georgia Straight's Charlie Smith with providing the first coverage of his group in 2008 when he came out as a gay Sikh. At the time, he said he felt like he was the only gay Sikh in the world.
When he was growing up in the closet, he said he felt isolated, alienated, and even suicidal. He had no role models, thought he was abnormal, was ashamed of being attracted to men, and wanted to be straight.
He wants to give others what he didn't have growing up.
"I want people to feel good about who they are and not have to go through that," he said. "I want them to feel good, feel proud, and have the courage to come out if they want, and to get on with their lives. And I feel once this burden is lifted from people, they can accomplish anything and they will have the support of the global South Asian queer community behind them."
Sangha, who helped organize a protest against the court ruling at the Consulate General of India in Vancouver on December 13, wants to provide hope for those who have to live under the antigay legislation.
"I want to show the South Asians in India who are oppressed and discriminated [against] that you do have a voice and that we do support you and we will try our best to creative positive awareness and to help educate people."
Citing the homophobic laws passed in Russia and Uganda as well, Sangha emphasized that LGBT activists need to remain globally aware.
"We cannot take gay rights for granted," he said. "They can be removed from us at any time and I think we have to constantly be vigilant, and we have to constantly fight for our rights, and we have to constantly be on the radar of all these decision-makers….We are vulnerable as minorities and they are always trying to put minority rights and gay rights to a majority vote and the majority is always trying to impose their beliefs and values on us."