Bridging Divides Through Education

As some­one who holds queer, gen­der devi­at­ing, Mus­lim, and first gen­er­a­tion Bangladeshi-Amer­i­can iden­ti­ties (among oth­ers), being con­sid­ered unusu­al is com­mon. Hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions that include the state­ments, “Yes, a per­son can be Mus­lim and queer at the same time,” or “Of course, South Asian trans­gen­der peo­ple exist,” are a reg­u­lar part of my life. Though these exchanges can be try­ing at times, I have come to real­ize that they are a huge neces­si­ty. Only by con­nect­ing with one anoth­er through under­stand­ing of each other’s truths can sol­i­dar­i­ty between indi­vid­u­als be forged. Only by edu­cat­ing one anoth­er can com­mu­ni­ty be built.

Thus, edu­ca­tion is often on my mind, though not in the most obvi­ous sense. I think not of the insti­tu­tions typ­i­cal­ly asso­ci­at­ed with edu­ca­tion, not the schools or uni­ver­si­ties, but the idea of spread­ing knowl­edge and under­stand­ing through pop­u­la­tions in less struc­tured envi­ron­ments. I won­der how sto­ries can be shared and com­mu­ni­ty built with­out the sup­port of larg­er sys­tems to cre­ate chan­nels of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. As ref­er­enced above, indi­vid­ual con­ver­sa­tions can be pow­er­ful tools for com­mu­ni­ty build­ing, but as some­one who is a both part of and works with­in South Asian LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ties, I am often search­ing for ways of reach­ing more peo­ple, more effi­cient­ly.

Enter the Young Leader’s Insti­tute (YLI), host­ed by South Asians Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT), which I attend­ed in 2014. The oppor­tu­ni­ty is one that that I don’t often come across; I was able not only to gain prac­ti­cal knowl­edge on doing advo­ca­cy work in mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties, but was also con­nect­ed with pro­fes­sion­als involved in jus­tice work and giv­en space to share expe­ri­ences with peers. It was deeDSC_0035ply ful­fill­ing to be in an inten­tion­al space with a clear focus on LGBTQ jus­tice and ally­ship. After var­i­ous train­ings on issues rang­ing from the effect of colo­nial­ism on gen­der norms in South Asia to meth­ods for com­plet­ing projects, the impor­tance of par­tic­u­lar issues became clear to me.

Shar­ing truths, cre­at­ing under­stand­ing, and reach­ing across dif­fer­ence were themes that came up again and again over the three days of the Insti­tute. Here, it seemed, was the issue with which I had been grap­pling: how to spread aware­ness and bet­ter serve com­mu­ni­ties by under­stand­ing their spe­cif­ic needs. With the guid­ance of SAALT staff and in part­ner­ship with Satrang, a South Asian non­prof­it that serves LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ties based in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, I decid­ed to focus my efforts on build­ing ally­ship train­ings focused on the needs of South Asian LGBTQ-iden­ti­fied peo­ple.

The ally­ship train­ings are a series of six to eight work­shops that will be held over a six month peri­od, and will tar­get pro­fes­sion­als and oth­er groups that work with South Asian LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ties, such as immi­gra­tion lawyers, social work­ers, jour­nal­ists, med­ical pro­fes­sion­als, and pos­si­bly stu­dent groups. The train­ings con­sist of an overview of South Asian LGBTQ his­to­ry and rel­e­vant cur­rent issues with­in these com­mu­ni­ties and a more gen­er­al sec­tion on LGBTQ-relat­ed ter­mi­nol­o­gy and con­cepts. The idea is to give peo­ple work­ing with Desi LGBTQ-iden­ti­fied peo­ple the tools to bet­ter under­stand their needs and ulti­mate­ly bet­ter serve these com­mu­ni­ties. In con­junc­tion with the train­ings, I am work­ing to devel­op a resource toolk­it. Resources, such as lit­er­a­ture on gen­der iden­ti­ty and needs assess­ment research on South Asian LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ties, will be both hand­ed out at train­ings and avail­able on Satrang’s web­site so they are acces­si­ble to those who are unable to attend train­ings.

Thus far, the project has proven both chal­leng­ing and reward­ing as I focus on devel­op­ing the train­ing cur­ricu­lum. Reach­ing out to indi­vid­u­als and orga­ni­za­tions involved in LGBTQ jus­tice work has proven very help­ful, not just in com­plet­ing the project but in help­ing to devel­op my own approach to ally­ship. Often, when one thinks of ally­ship, the gist is to sup­port indi­vid­u­als with dif­fer­ent iden­ti­ties than your own. How­ev­er, I have come to real­ize that it is impor­tant to be an ally to one’s own com­mu­ni­ty. For me, that means edu­cat­ing myself on the needs of folks in my per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al life and using what­ev­er skills I pos­sess to improve con­di­tions for oth­ers. Though I can’t work in immi­gra­tion and the media and the med­ical field, I can give the peo­ple who do work in those fields and those who reg­u­lar­ly work with South Asian LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ties a bet­ter under­stand­ing of how to do so. And that, I believe, can ulti­mate­ly make a real impact.


Pia Ahmed
Young Lead­ers Insti­tute Fel­low, 2014