Monday, July 14, 2014

Remarks by KhushDC Co-Founders at 20th Anniversary Gala

Remarks by KhushDC Co-Founders at 20th Anniversary Gala
Josephine Butler Parks Center
Washington, D.C.
July 12, 2014

Remarks by Atul Garg

Welcome everyone to KhushDC’s 20th anniversary celebration and thank you for both your presence and your donations to help make this evening possible.

Over the last few weeks, as I looked at early KhushDC photos and newsletters and the details for this Gala started to come together, I increasingly felt myself reflecting on the last 20 years.  And, what stuck with me most is just how dramatically a single life decision can change the course of our lives.

Twenty years ago, I made what seemed then to be a not-so-life-changing last-minute decision: to catch the train up to New York to join the South Asian Lesbian & Gay Association (SALGA) as they marched in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.  It wasn’t my first time at a Pride parade, and it wasn’t my first time meeting another gay South Asian person.  But, it was the first time I was experiencing being in such a massive crowd of South Asian LGBTQ people who were so joyfully and publicly celebrating both their South Asian and LGBTQ identities.  By the end of that weekend, I knew that what I experienced in New York, I wanted to experience in DC.

Two gay DC South Asian lives -- and countless others -- changed for the better that day.  Yassir Islam and I returned to DC and -- just a few weeks later in August -- organized our first meeting, which was attended by about 10 people.  Never before had either of us been in the company of such a large gathering of South Asian LGBTQ people in DC.  If you’ve passed by Heritage India Restaurant on P Street, that top floor space once housed Luna Books; that’s where we had our first meeting.  It’s where we chose the name Khush, which literally means “happy” but, in a broader context, means “gay”.  Other South Asian LGBTQ groups also began to crop up across the country.  It was truly an exciting time to be South Asian and gay!

My favorite memory of that first year is of our very first Pakora Party, which was held at a member’s home in Dupont Circle.  It was winter, and there was almost a foot of snow on the ground.  But, still, a contingent of SALGA members braved the weather and drove down from New York in a rented van.  And, after their arrival, a SALGA member and I trekked up in their rented van to visit “Gaithersburg Aunty”, from whom we’d ordered loads of pakoras and samosas for our party.  Everyone cheered when we walked in with the pakoras and samosas, and our first Pakora Party was off to a great start!

Life then -- as well as now -- has always been about joyfully and publicly celebrating our LGBTQ and South Asian identities so that none of us ever has to make a choice between the two.  That resolve has sustained KhushDC over the last 20 years, and I’m so proud to be part of an organization that continues to evolve and support the DC South Asian LGBTQ community and our families, friends, and allies -- gay and straight, South Asian and non-South Asian.

Right now, I’m in Palo Alto, California -- the place I moved to right after college and where I came out.  It’s been a good place to reflect on my own coming out journey.  I hope that -- in addition to having an incredibly fun night tonight -- you’ll also take some time over the next few days to reflect on two things that I’ve also been reflecting on.

First, I hope that you’ll remind yourself of -- and congratulate yourself for -- the incredible amount of courage you showed by coming out, however long ago that was, to yourself and to your families.  I see within myself how that same courage has showed up in so many other parts of my life and, in those times, I feel especially grateful for the experience of coming out and for being gay.

And, second, I hope that you’ll remember all the people who’ve supported you on your coming out journey as a South Asian LGBTQ person.  My family and I didn’t always agree on the timetable of my being out to extended family and friends, but their love for me never wavered.  And, I’m truly grateful that 20 years later, I continue to joyfully and publicly celebrate being South Asian and gay.

I could never have imagined that KhushDC would one day be celebrating its 20th anniversary.  But, I’m so glad that it is.  Happy 20th Anniversary, KhushDC!  I can’t wait to see how the next generation of Khush leaders are going to wow all of us at its next Gala celebration!


Remarks by Yassir Islam

Let me take you back in time to June, 1994 when this story began. If I were being literal about this, the first thing I would ask you to do would be to take out all your smart phones and throw them away.  Because in 1994 there were no smart phones. The Internet was in its infancy. There was no email, no Facebook, no Google. We read print newspapers and magazines. We posted notes on community bulletin boards in gay -friendly venues and we sent faxes.  In 1994, there were no same sex civil unions allowed anywhere in the United States, let alone gay marriage. In fact, only two years after KhushDC was founded, President Clinton would sign the infamous defense of marriage act into law. In 1994, there were hardly any south Asian queer* people to be seen out, even at the bars and clubs of Washington D.C. In 1994, we were invisible, and silenced. 
Against this backdrop, I made my way up to New York in the summer of 1994 for the 25th anniversary celebration of Stonewall. SALGA, New York’s South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association, had organized a contingent to march in an international parade to the UN. I have no recollection of how I found out about this event, how I even got to New York and where I stayed. But, nevertheless, on the morning of June 26 I found myself at the street corner where the south Asian contingent would assemble for the parade. It was at this corner where I first met Atul Garg.
Atul was the first gay south Asian from Washington DC I had encountered and I had lived in Washington for four years. Atul was of Indian heritage, born and raised in the United States. I was then an Indian citizen, born and raised in Africa. We had a lot in common.  At the parade we all carried signs from the different South Asian countries and the crowd cheered us on shouting “welcome to the United States."  "Um, we live here..." was our response. But the crowd cannot be blamed entirely, for this was the price we paid for invisibility. But all that was about to change. In the days that followed SALGA organized the first south Asian queer Utsav, or celebration. 
 As Atul said, it was a life-changing to be part of such a large gathering where you felt that you belonged. I remember, vaguely, sitting together in a classroom and feeling the energy as groups of people one by one, declared that they would go back to their communities and start their own south Asian groups. Atul and I, by then had already decided that we wanted to take a little bit of that euphoria and energy back with us. When our turn came, we raised our hands. Yes, we would start a group in Washington D.C And so in that crucible, the idea for KhushDC was born. No longer, would we be invisible or silent.
Once KhushDC got going word of it spread far and wide. We got letters from many countries sent to our mailbox. The senders, many of them thousands of miles away, were simply relieved and grateful to learn of the group and to know that they were not alone.
Closer to home, Chen Wen, Edwin Lau, and Deny Lau asked to attend a KhushDC meeting.  At dinner that night, they told us that they liked what KhushDC was doing wanted to start an Asian and Pacific Islander queer group. That, my friends, is how the group that you all know as AQUA, API Queers United for Action got started. In fact, Chen, and several of the AQUA board members are here tonight! Deny recalled in a conversation we had last night:
"The key thing that connected KhushDC and AQUA was our desire to build the community and our mutual generosity for each other to succeed. We did not think about turf, or furthering our own individual politics. We were in it for ALL OF US. We had the same motto that we would be stronger by being inclusive of one another.  It was a very special period of my life and for the birth of the modern DC API Queer community."
The connection with AQUA and indeed APQIS, the API Queer Sisters, is part of our collective DNA. I hope we can continue to build on that connection. We are part of the API queer community and it is indeed a beautiful thing.  
Eventually Atul and I, who had shepherded KhushDC thought its early years needed to let it go. Like any other community group, KhushDC had its ups and downs over the years, even under our watch.  At one point, the group pretty much ceased to exist except on paper. But a new young crop of South Asian queer folks came to the rescue and revived it. That is a story for another time, but today, KhushDC is as vibrant as it has ever been.
What has assured the group's longevity? One theme seems to run through it consistently. In the early days we had then pakora parties, then chat n'chai, chutney Saturdays, and now politics n'paan. Do you see a pattern here? Food, it seems, is central to all KhushDC activities!
But on a more serious note, over the past few weeks, I have thought long and hard about what KhushDC has come to mean to me, with the passing of time. I believe that at its essence, KhushDC is about giving us voice and visibility. I'm talking, in particular, about the individual journey.  That journey starts with a small inner voice we've all heard, proclaiming to us that we are different, even deviant. Many of us try to suppress or ignore it but eventually it finds its way to the surface and breaks through. KhushDC provides a space to give that voice a full and rich expression that neither the larger queer community nor our South Asian communities alone can provide.  As Atul said so eloquently in his remarks, KhushDC allows us  to celebrate both our queer and South Asian identities so that none of us,  should ever have to make a choice between the two, ever.  KhushDC take us in its arms and tell us that we are complete, just as we are.  KhushDC empowers us to use our newfound voice and visibility to connect with one another and build communities. KhushDC brings us home. 

Perhaps this is best illustrated by an email that Atul and I received just last week that we would like to share with you:  
"I want to thank you for starting KhushDC, because it changed my life.  Here's how. I came out in 2002 but, quite unexpectedly, I still felt completely lonely and adrift.  My south Asian world had nothing queer in it whatsoever, and my queer friends in the US weren't South Asian.  Then one day, my best friend's mom pointed me to an ad for a South Asian organization she'd found in the Blade.  I was too intimidated to write, but was spurred to act when she told me she would do it if I didn't! So I wrote in. Two KhushDC members emailed me back, invited me to their home and introduced me to many wonderful people.  I will truly never forget what it felt like to walk into their house and see about 15 queer South Asians.  It started giving me the desperately needed self-confidence to seek out other such spaces outside of DC.  I was moving to San Francisco then, and folks from KhushDC connected me with Trikone, the LGBT group in San Francisco.  I eventually joined the Trikone board, and all of that together, has FUNDAMENTALLY changed the trajectory of my life for the better.  I can't tell you how much of a difference it has made. I hope more people have thanked you, and your partners in other cities, because KhushDC and our other organizations are still changing people's lives all the time." 
Atul and I can think of no greater reward than to receive an email like this. On that balmy New York day when we first met, we could never ever have imagined that 20 years later we would find ourselves here tonight--with you--to celebrate this wonderful community.  What we did was to plant a seed. It has taken all of you, and many more who are not here tonight, or have left us, to nurture and grow this amazing community over the past two decades.
KhushDC changes people's lives. It changed ours. We are humbled and we are proud to be part of KhushDC.
* The term ‘queer’ is used here to connote non-heterosexual sexual orientations and gender identities. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Press Release: Indian Supreme Court Ruling on Third Gender Category



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Sapna Pandya
President, KhushDC (Washington, DC)

Today, in an historic ruling, the Indian Supreme Court joined its counterparts in Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan to create a third gender classification for India's communities that identify outside of oppressive "male or female only" gender classification systems.

In response, KhushDC President Sapna Pandya issued the following statement:

“We applaud the Indian Supreme Court's decision creating a third gender category for transgender Indians.  We support the Court's declaration that ‘all people have a right to choose their gender,’ and that the Constitution guarantees ‘equal opportunity to every citizen to grow and attain their potential, irrespective of caste, religion or gender.’”

“While today's decision is critical and just, much work remains.  First and foremost, it is important for jurisprudential experts to derive a precise understanding of the ruling and its impact on both gender and sexual minorities in India, so that activists can keep advocating for the strongest and clearest protections possible for transgender Indians.”

“Secondly, we hope the Indian government will make it a priority to enact accessible laws that will actually empower and protect India's transgender communities not just on paper, but in all spheres of life.”

“Finally, we hope that the Court will use precisely the reasoning it endorsed today to reverse its recent ruling and finally strike down the Indian Penal Code's Section 377, which criminalizes homosexual sex and has been used to persecute transgender Indians and other sexual minorities for over a century.  It is impossible to empower and protect transgender Indians while declaring the sexuality of so many of them to be criminal.”


KhushDC is a social, support and political group that provides a safe and supportive environment, promotes awareness and acceptance, and fosters positive cultural and sexual identity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) and additional gender or sexual minority South Asians in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.


We represent a broad array of nationalities including those of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Press Release: North American South Asian LGBTQ Groups Disappointed in 377 Ruling



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

Contacts

Almas Haider
Chair, Satrang (Los Angeles, California)

Sapna Pandya
President, KhushDC (Washington, DC)

Monica Elise Davis
Advocacy Director, Trikone (San Francisco)


South Asian LGBTQ Groups in North America Disappointed with India's Supreme Court Ruling, Recriminalizing Homosexual Sex
Groups Organizing Coordinated Protests this Friday, December 13, across the U.S.


As South Asian LGBTQ organizations based in North America, we are shocked and disappointed by the Indian Supreme Court’s decision to re-criminalize homosexual sex in India by reactivating Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.

377 is an arcane and draconian ban on homosexual sex that was imposed by the British Raj across South Asia and other colonies in the 19th century. It should have no bearing on the present-day rights of citizens in free countries. We stand with awe-inspiring Indian LGBTQ activists and allies who have fought for decades to repeal the ban and are heartened by the millions of Indians who oppose it. We are more determined than ever help remove the indignity of 377 from the Constitutions of not just India, but all countries where it was forcibly levied.

Make no mistake: the Supreme Court has taken away fundamental rights that their own judicial peers convincingly argue are guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. In 2009, in a historic decision rooted in Indian jurisprudence and culture, the Indian High Court of Delhi declared 377 unconstitutional. For 150 years, 377 was used to brutally persecute sexual minorities across the country, and the Delhi Court correctly argued that the violent and foreign law contradicted the Constitution’s promise of absolute dignity and equality for all Indian citizens. Its decision effectively decriminalized homosexual sex across India for over four years—profound progress that the Supreme Court invalidated yesterday.

Where the Delhi Court’s ruling was bold and powerful, the Supreme Court’s decision is heartbreakingly timid. In overturning the Delhi decision and reinforcing 377, the Court side-stepped many questions on the merits of the case, and provided superficial and incorrect assessments of the rest.  Ignoring history altogether, it claimed that 377 does not discriminate against any group, but “merely identifies certain acts” as illegal.  The bench also implied that protecting the rights of LGBTQ persons was not their job but that of the Indian Parliament. 

The Court is wrong.

The Indian Constitution not only empowers the judiciary but also requires it to protect minority rights. Rather than proving itself equal to the task, India’s highest court has sent the dangerous message that minority rights should be vulnerable to the whims of the majority.  Its decision is nothing short of a dereliction of their duty to uphold the Constitution.

But the fight is not over.  Activists of all stripes are determined to defeat 377.  We stand in solidarity with activists from Naz Foundation, the lead plaintiff calling for a repeal of 377; Humsafar Trust, a leading HIV/AIDS and sexual minority support and advocacy group in India; Voices Against 377, a diverse group of organizations and Indian leaders who oppose the ban; and countless other groups, writers, activists, politicians and community organizers that have worked tirelessly to construct growing spaces where LGBTQ people can live without fear of violence or discrimination in India. We are deeply inspired by their renewed determination to repeal 377.  As immigrant-based groups, we are especially concerned about the impact this setback will have on South Asians who worry that their government does not welcome them. In the days to come, we will create spaces where fair-minded South Asians can protest the Supreme Court’s decision, support each other and assist leaders of the cause.

As a start, this Friday December 13th, South Asian LGBTQ organizations are organizing a series of coordinated candlelight vigils across the United States and Canada to lend some light to the Indian government, because the Supreme Court decision on IPC 377 demonstrates the degree to which India is still in the dark.

We have also created a YouTube channel for members of our communities to voice their anguish, concern, and solidarity via video message.

Please check our Facebook and Twitter feeds, or email organizational leads for details about these and future initiatives.  In your social media comments, please use #377updates and #377insolidarity so we can compile our community’s responses.

In solidarity,

KhushDC

Khush – Tejas

MASALA

SALGA – New York

SALGA – Philadelphia
           
Satrang

Trikone

Trikone – Atlanta      

Trikone – Chicago     

Trikone – North-West

hotpot! Philly

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Protest Against Anti-LGBTQ Ruling in India - Dec. 13

On Wednesday, India's Supreme Court re-criminalized homosexuality in India. This law is known as Section 377 in the Indian Penal Code and it has been used to harass, silence, and imprison the LGBTQ community in the country.

KhushDC applauds the great work of activists and leaders in India who have brought international light to the struggles of LGBTQ people in India and other parts of South Asia today through this drawn-out legal battle, which is a tremendous accomplishment in itself. 

In solidarity with those organizers, LGBTQ South Asian groups from across the United States are holding a coordinated series of candlelight rallies to lend some light to the Indian government, because the Supreme Court decision on 377 demonstrates the degree to which India is still in the dark.

**************


Protest Against Anti-LGBTQ Ruling in India

Date: Friday, December 13

Time: 6pm sharp

Location: Indian Embassy (2107 Massachusetts Ave NW)












**************

After the candlelight rally, join us at our previously scheduled Bollywood LGBTQ dance party Jalwa. Doors open at 9:30pm. More information here: https://www.facebook.com/events/215363741978514/

*Photos and video will be taken, with participants consent, for a national campaign to raise awareness and support for overturning the Supreme Court of India's ruling.

**Please be on time for this important event and bring family and friends in solidarity. Email board@khushdc.org for more information or post below.