British Asian Men & Women

Thursday, October 31, 2013 - 09:15

One of our Board, Sal Khalifa, has recently written an article for a newspaper in Scotland on the under-representation of South Asian LGB Men and Women in Britain. We thought it would be wonderful to share this article with you all:

I can’t speak for the entire UK South Asian LGB community but I can speak of my work in the field of LGB health promotion and my personal experience as a British born gay Muslim man of Indian heritage.

Opportunities for representation from South Asian LGB communities do exist. Services - such as the one’s I manage at Trade Sexual Health in Leicester - target the South Asian community and we are regularly looking for new volunteers as well as service users. However, the wider issue is that not many South Asian LGB people “Come out” or if they do, decide not to attract attention due to fear of how the exposure will affect parents and family.      

To begin to answer the question it is important to look at the process of “Coming out” for South Asian LGB people.  Coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual for the South Asian community can be extremely difficult and an emotional process. As with everyone, South Asian LGB people have to deal with their own internal homophobia, denial and fear of rejection. However, faith, family and the wider Asian community can create significant challenges: If I come out will it affect marriage proposals for my siblings? Will I be ostracised and have to leave my faith community?

I come across many people in my field of work. Many people who lead a closeted life and in some cases lead double lives. Some feel the only choice available is to marry into a heterosexual marriage due to religion, culture, family beliefs or family honour. 

Of course, this isn’t every case: for some people “Coming out” is not an issue and has the full support of family and friends. In my case the youngest of six, I told my parents I was gay when I was 21. My decision was mainly due to the traditional family structure and obligation to marry and produce children. My parents were shocked and did not respond well and this led to me leave home. 17 years later I have a close relationship with my parents, although my sexuality remains something they do not like me to ‘advertise’.

My parent’s message is key to why I think South Asian LGB people are underrepresented. Fear of exposure not for themselves but for parents, family, and the extended community. Often working for an LGB organisation you become a role model for the South Asian LGB people which is fantastic, but this can also lead to challenges. For example, being asked to represent South Asian LGB communities in the media can create pressure through increased exposure.

What can be done to tackle this?
There isn’t a clear way to tackle the problem. Some ideas would be to create wider opportunities for Asian LGB people. This could be through research ensuring Asian LGB people are able to discuss needs, share experiences and help develop services. Ensuring South Asian LGB people are represented in promotion material and represented in positive stories on TV and various other media. A much needed piece of work is to engage the non LGB South Asian community to discuss sexual orientation and faith leaders to speak positively about sexual orientation.  To help the wider South Asian community, parents and families need to begin a dialogue or open a discussion about sexuality.

Thankfully with changes in law and the recent equal marriage rights for LGB people, individuals have the law behind them.  However, in the South Asian community these issues have been hidden and when laws change it can create negative reactions and an upsurge in homophobia in communities and families that causes South Asian LGB people more problems. However difficult though, I believe, debate can only help in the long run and we must continue to keep the lines of communication open.

More role models are needed, which is one of the reasons why I have joined the national LGBT Consortium. Not that I see myself as a role model, but if opportunities arise open for South Asian LGB representation, we need to take them.

Are there already measures in places?
In the UK a range of services and social groups are available for LGB people for support in different cities as well as club nights for South Asian LGB&T men and women. Recently, Trade Sexual Health was a partner in a needs assessment called RAP (Rainbow Asian Project) which looked at the needs of South Asian gay and bisexual men. From the recommendations a dedicated service is now available for South Asian LGB men and women. More research is needed like RAP to highlight needs of South Asian LGB men and women.

Other measures are organisations and charities such the LGBT Consortium who continue to raise the voice of communities within communities, including BME LGB&T organisations, and who aim to reflect the real diversity through membership.  

The measures are very much about support which is needed but work needs to happen with the wider South Asian community too.

What’s in store for the future for the British Asian LGB community?
Most recently more South Asian LGB people are coming out and at relatively younger ages and by so doing are challenging the staid South Asian community.

In my field of work I see more openly South Asian LGB men and women and this will increase. My hope would be with a new generation emerging, acceptance from the wider South Asian community and a change in attitudes towards South Asian LGB men and women.



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