A Conversation Shifter: SALGA enables families to come out!

Earlier this month SALGA, a volunteer run organization dedicated to supporting the Queer Desi South Asian community in New York City held a unique event that created space for family members to talk about challenges in supporting and unconditionally loving their LGBTQ loved ones. We spoke to organizers Anjali Chaudhury and Sunil Oomen about the goals of this event.

Can you talk about how Desi Family Pride came to be and what SALGA hoped to achieve with it? 

Anjali:  A volunteer brought the event idea to SALGA, and the steering committee thought it was an important idea to execute.  It spoke to a need the community has had for a long time: the need to have an open and authentic dialogue about family WITH our family members.  We realized that many of the challenges that members of our community face are rooted in family issues.  It makes sense that they would.  Our families help rear us and make us who we are today, so their impact is huge.  Also huge is the taboo of being openly LGBTQ in our families, and when we can’t be open with who we are with our families, it permeates other areas of our lives and affects our self-expression, health and happiness.

The goal of Desi Family Pride is to engender full acceptance and understanding and unconditional love among South Asian and Indo-Caribbean LGBTQ members, our families, and the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean community-at-large.  This event connects to SALGA’s larger goals insofar as it took a powerful stand against oppression and discrimination against our community.  This event tackled taboos and other sensitive topics with family members in the room in a way that allowed people to break down stereotypes and move to a new place of understanding.  We hope that LGBTQ members of our community left the event inspired and moved by the family members’ testimonials about their own journeys with LGBTQ family members and that the conversation would either continue or be initiated with family members outside of this event.  Based on initial feedback, we think that this event was a great success.   However, it seems that this is a space where we need to continue to have an active dialogue with our families.  Of course not all South Asian family members are supportive of our communities, and engaging with more of those families might be a next step for a future event.  We hope to have a follow up event in the future that will encompass more of the ethnic, religious, linguistic, and gender diversity of our communities.

What did the event actually look like? What did people talk about?

Sunil: The event was organized in a large support group format.  We had approximately 50 people in attendance, including parents, siblings, in-laws, other family members, and members of the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean LGBTQ community. Similar to SALGA’s regular support group meetings, LGBTQ audience members talked about their coming-out stories and challenges with being out to their family members.  This event, however, opened a brand new conversation and perspective: we had parents talk about their own ‘coming out’ as parents of LGBTQ South Asian/Indo-Caribbean children, and the struggles they have had to face.  They shared their journey and gave powerful advice and encouragement to everyone in the room who was still struggling with being out with their own families.  We also had siblings speak about their support of their LGBTQ family members. At times, these felt like very personally directed demonstrations of support from the siblings to the respective LGBTQ member in attendance.  It was quite powerful for such a dialogue to occur in such a public setting, and based on post-event feedback, many people were moved and touched by hearing the stories of family members who were present at the event.  It was also apparent that there really hasn’t been a space for family members and allies of LGBTQ South Asians and Indo Caribbeans to come together to talk about their struggles.  This event was a step in the right direction in terms of establishing a forum for our families to engage with the broader SALGA community and to attempt to create a space where they are able to meet and support each other.

What were some of the challenges during the event?

Anjali: This was the first time we attempted an event like this – possibly ever – in New York City.  It was a challenge finding family members (especially parents) who were willing to speak publicly – not so much out of taboo, but because it was public speaking!  Now that we did the first event and set a precedent, we hope that it inspires our community members to invite their family members to future events.

What kind of feedback have you received?

Sunil: We have gotten a lot of positive feedback after hosting this event, and definitely, it seems the community would like us to host a follow up conversation.  We’re also looking for family members who would like to share stories for Asian Pride Project, which is a media collaboration between SALGA, Q-WAVE, and GAPIMNY, which are two other Pan-Asian LGBTQ organizations in NYC.   For this project, we are hoping to have family members share stories in different languages about their experiences with their LGBTQ family member.

What’s next on SALGA’s agenda?

Anjali: This is a really exciting time for SALGA.  Right now we’re in the process of planning many events for Pride, including a march in Queens Pride that we would like for allies and supporters to join us in and our annual Color Me Queer fundraiser in partnership with the Audre Lorde Project.  For the Fall, we’re planning to march in India Day Parade for the third year in a row and are also in the process of planning a large scale SALGA 20th Anniversary Fundraiser. We’re always looking for volunteers who would like to be involved in supporting our work.  If you’re interested in getting involved with SALGA you can contact us at hello@salganyc.org. SALGA NYC is a non-profit volunteer-run organization that serves the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Queer (LGBTQ) South Asian community in New York City.  SALGA has been around for 20 years now.  The core of SALGA’s programming, is our monthly support group meeting, which is a safe space for Queer Desis to come together to talk on the second Saturday of every month.  SALGA is run by a steering committee which currently consists of nine volunteers.  In addition to SALGA’s support group, we host a variety of political, community education, and social events for the community.  More information about SALGA is available on www.salganyc.org.