By Kiyanna Noel
Globally, members of the LGBTQIA+ community have been outcast and criminalized for centuries. From being forbidden to wear certain clothing or falling in love with a non-traditional partner, many people have faced different levels of trauma and ostracism.
The Desi Club at SUNY Plattsburgh hosted “Desi Edu-Gay-Tion” as a way to inform students and faculty of how members of the LGBTQIA+ community are treated and the strides they are making to change life’s unfair circumstances.
Desi Club President Saanvi Moryani began the presentation by thanking the few people who showed up and stayed despite being unable to access the projector in two rooms in the Angell College Center.
Moryani then stressed the importance of representation and open expression in films, whether it be in South Asia or other regions.
“Recognizing this diversity is crucial because it acknowledges that South Asia, like any other part of the world, encompasses a wide spectrum of identities beyond the commonly known ones,” Moryani said. “This recognition promotes inclusivity, fights stereotypes and fosters empathy, contributing to a more accepting and equal society in South Asia. Embracing this diversity is fundamental to advancing LGBTQIA+ rights and well-being in the region.”
After Moryani’s introduction on the different aspects of each part of the slideshow and acknowledging the gravity of inclusion, Shahad Monir, one of the two event coordinators for Desi Club, spoke about the different kinds of gender.
Monir defined cisgender as a person whose identity is the same as the gender they were assigned at birth, gender neutral as someone who doesn’t stick to one particular gender, gender expression as expressing one’s gender with specific clothing or mannerisms and gender dysphoria is a feeling of distress when one’s gender at birth does not align with their gender identity.
Arshita Pandey, vice president of Desi Club, then highlighted the diverse LGBTQIA+ community located in South Asia.
“In South Asia, the LGBTQIA+ community is a significant and diverse part of the population. While specific statistics can vary, studies and surveys consistently indicate a substantial presence of LGBTQIA+ individuals across the region. These statistics underscore the importance of recognizing the rich tapestry of identities and experiences within South Asia,” Pandey said. “The LGBTQIA+ community in this region includes not only lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals but also individuals who identify as queer, questioning, intersex, asexual and many more. Each of these identities contributes to the vibrant mosaic of South Asian LGBTQIA+ experiences, making it crucial to understand and embrace the full spectrum of human diversity in this context.”
Jennifer Patron-burgos, secretary for Desi Club, then led a discussion on the history of LGBTQIA+ in South Asian countries.
“South Asian cultures have a rich history of acknowledging non-binary genders and same-sex relationships. Many ancient texts and traditions in the region have recognized the existence of Hijras in India, Aravanis in South India and other gender-diverse identities. These cultures often assigned spiritual or societal roles to individuals who did not conform to binary gender norms. These roles could include blessings at births and weddings or singing and dancing at important life events,” Patron-burgos said. “Similarly, same-sex relationships, while not always explicitly mentioned, have been a part of South Asian literature, art and folklore for centuries, with examples found in texts like the Kama Sutra and stories of same-sex love in classical poetry.”
Heather Yang, one of the two interns of Desi Club, then discussed the effects of colonialism and the criminalization of people in the LGBTQIA+ community throughout different time periods.
“Colonialism significantly impacted LGBTQIA+ issues in South Asia. European colonial powers, including the British Empire, introduced conservative Victorian-era laws and norms that criminalized homosexuality and imposed Western gender binary concepts on indigenous cultures. British-era legislation such as Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalized same-sex relationships and had far-reaching consequences throughout the region. These colonial laws and attitudes led to the stigmatization and marginalization of LGBTQIA+ individuals and practices, erasing the historical acceptance of gender diversity and same-sex love. The legacy of colonialism continues to affect LGBTQIA+ rights and acceptance in South Asia today, as post-independence governments and societies grapple with decriminalization and efforts to reclaim their inclusive heritage.”
Moryani then described the adversities South Asians feel when it comes to coming out or experiencing any kind of emotional feeling outside of traditional norms.
“LGBTQ+ individuals already struggle with numerous challenges due to their identity. Being South Asian and queer can present other unique challenges as well. Lack of family support is the biggest issue South Asians face is a lack of recognition and consequently, support from family. Many Desi families, including immigrants, prefer to conform to traditional ideas of gender and sexuality. Societal rejection is what encourages familial disappointment. South Asian families find themselves rigidly tied to the expectations and norms of their surrounding society. Denial of basic rights is one of the worst aspects of dealing with a regressive reaction to one’s core identity is the denial of basic rights such as education, health services and opportunities to grow professionally.”
Prasamsha Singh Thakuri, another intern for Desi Club, added how allies can support family members and friends who are in the LGBTQ+ community.
Some ways Singh Thakuri recommended were to “Use comforting sentences such as, ‘I’m so proud of you’, ‘I’m here for you’ and ‘Thank you for sharing,’ ask them if there is something you can do to help them, make sure to use their right pronouns, create a safe space for them and educate yourself on the LGBTQ+ community.”
Ankita Mane, treasurer for Desi Club, used examples of different famous figures and organizations from South Asia that are in the LGBTQIA+ community or are supporters of this community such as Harish Iyer an LGBTQIA+ activist known for advocating for LGBTQIA+ rights in India and Queer Hindu Alliance which is an organization provides support and resources for LGBTQIA+ Hindus in the South Asian region while educating people on the LGBTQIA+ and Hinduism.
Pandey then spoke on the different resources LGBTQIA+ students have on campus such as LGBTQ+ resource committee, which meets biweekly on Thursdays of every month at 11 a.m. in ACC Meeting Room 3, LGBTQ+ Peer Support which meets every Wednesday from 3 to 4 p.m. and LGBTQ+ 101 Workshop; Clubs & Organizations can host workshops and trainings.
Patron-burgos concluded the powerpoint by honing in on the development and growth in Desi culture.
“We have explored challenges that LGBTQ individuals face within our community and the broader society. Thankfully for our organizations and community, we have strengthened. It is a good education for newer generations to understand that there’s more love than one gender. Let’s move forward in our community by standing for LGBTQIA+ rights.”
After the presentation ended, Moryani opened an additional slide with seven questions to engage the audience in an active conversation on the LGBTQ+ community in South Asia, media, different regions and what institutions can do to improve and create a safe environment for not just members of the LGBTQ+ community, but everyone.
For more information on which support to join contact firstname.lastname@example.org if interested in Resource Committee or LGBTQ+ 101 Workshop, contact Kristina Moquin at email@example.com if interested in LGBTQ+ Peer Support.