Resources on Reproductive Injustice as Structural Hate Violence

Collective Statement from South Asian Leaders on Abortion & Reproductive Justice

Wash­ing­ton, D.C. — 24 May 2022

The recently leaked draft majority opinion from SCOTUS threatens an alarming reversal of federal protections for abortion rights. Amidst grief and rage, we know — as South Asian survivors, immigrants, community-based organizations, and movement leaders — that we must act swiftly and unitedly to protest and prevent this from passing.

Build­ing upon decades-long attacks on repro­duc­tive jus­tice, the pend­ing deci­sion to over­turn Roe v Wade could gut abor­tion rights in near­ly half of the Unit­ed States. Unde­ni­ably, this would have a dev­as­tat­ing impact on South Asian fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties — espe­cial­ly on sur­vivors, immi­grants, queer and trans peo­ple, and work­ing class people.

“Abortion restrictions in this country have always targeted, and fall hardest on, people of color and low-income people. They are meant to keep people like us powerless and in our place. Abortion bans are racial violence. They are gender-based violence. Abortion bans are class warfare.” - Shiv­ana Jorawar, Esq., Co-Direc­tor, Jaha­jee Sisters

In the face of these unprece­dent­ed restric­tions, it is imper­a­tive that we push for bold solu­tions that ensure afford­able and acces­si­ble abor­tions for every­one. With­out the right to abor­tion, the health and well-being of preg­nant peo­ple, entire fam­i­lies, com­mu­ni­ties, and future gen­er­a­tions are at risk.

In con­trast to mod­el minor­i­ty stereo­types, South Asians face per­va­sive sys­temic bar­ri­ers includ­ing eco­nom­ic, legal, lan­guage, and cul­tur­al hur­dles to access­ing repro­duc­tive health­care. Though there is a dearth of data on abor­tion rates among South Asians, a recent study found that Indi­an Amer­i­can women in New York City have the high­est rate of abor­tion amongst Asian Americans.

“South Asians are especially vulnerable - without access to resources in the multitudes of languages we speak, and the shame and stigma that comes with accessing reproductive health care, we are marginalized further without policies that support people’s whole lives, including better access to hospitals and clinics, healthcare provided by people our communities trust, insurance that actually covers our real needs, and policies that eliminate barriers to care because of racism and inequities.” - Sharmin Hos­sain, Cam­paign Direc­tor, Lib­er­ate Abortion

In 2012, Savi­ta Halap­panavar, a South Asian den­tist liv­ing in Ire­land, trag­i­cal­ly died after being denied a time­ly abor­tion. In 2014, Purvi Patel, a South Asian woman from Indi­ana, was one of only two women to be pros­e­cut­ed under the statewide feti­cide bill. Her case demon­strates the vio­lent hypocrisy of the U.S. gov­ern­ment, which has a well doc­u­ment­ed his­to­ry of forced ster­il­iza­tions of women of col­or, par­tic­u­lar­ly Black women, while at the same time crim­i­nal­iz­ing abor­tion, as demon­strat­ed through racist sex-selec­tive abor­tion bans. If those in pow­er were to pri­or­i­tize well-being, they would address the short­age of baby for­mu­la, lack of paid fam­i­ly leave, denial of access to health­care, and the short­age of afford­able and free child­care in this country.

“This moment is painstakingly triggering for survivors who are all too familiar with stolen consent and the violation of bodily autonomy. The fight for reproductive justice and survivor justice are intricately interconnected as both are working to advance a world abundant with care, resources, and choices.” - Denise Beek, Chief Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Offi­cer, me too. International

For South Asian sur­vivors who live at the inter­sec­tion of mul­ti­ple oppres­sions, the con­se­quences will be even more grave. Peo­ple in abu­sive rela­tion­ships are far more vul­ner­a­ble to sex­u­al assault, birth con­trol sab­o­tage, repro­duc­tive coer­cion or con­trol, and mis­in­for­ma­tion about their repro­duc­tive rights, and homi­cide, fre­quent­ly by a part­ner, is the lead­ing cause of mater­nal death dur­ing preg­nan­cy and the post­par­tum period.

"As organizations in the southern states, we face some of the toughest abortion restriction policies. This rollback of rights is extremely concerning because it threatens the livelihoods for survivors and people who already have limited access to resources, transportation, and healthcare." - Aparna Bhat­tacharyya, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of Rak­sha and SOAR Board Member

With­in South Asian com­mu­ni­ties, the pre­vail­ing stig­ma, shame, and silence that hin­der dis­cus­sions of sex­u­al and repro­duc­tive health are iso­lat­ing and dan­ger­ous. Unless we nor­mal­ize our choic­es and needs, we are jeop­ar­diz­ing the phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al health and safe­ty of South Asians.

As we mobi­lize in the com­ing weeks and months, we look to the South Asian, Indo-Caribbean, Black, Brown, Lat­inx, Indige­nous, and Asian lead­ers at the fore­front of the repro­duc­tive jus­tice move­ment. Across the South Asian & Indo-Caribbean dias­po­ra, HEART to Grow is sus­tain­ing a repro­duc­tive jus­tice fund for Mus­lims, Jaha­jee Sis­ters is lead­ing actions and host­ing con­ver­sa­tions on abor­tion access, and Sakhi for South Asian Women and oth­er gen­der-based vio­lence orga­ni­za­tions are increas­ing access to con­tra­cep­tion for survivors.

“Make no mistake -- banning abortion does not end the need for abortion care. Abortion is normal, common and one of the safest medical procedures. Banning abortion will not only have devastating effects on women, pregnant people and their whole families but it will have the greatest impact on low-income people of color. As a movement, we are prepared for what's to come and I'm proud to say that we are stronger than ever. We won't give up.” - Dr. Meera Shah, Chief Med­ical Offi­cer of Planned Par­ent­hood Hud­son Pecon­ic, Med­ical Direc­tor of Whole Women’s Health Alliance of South Bend, Indi­ana, and Sakhi Board Member

This is not only a fight to save Roe v. Wade, but also a pivotal moment to reimagine the future of reproductive justice and freedom for all. We must act to ensure that abortion is legal, accessible, affordable, and supported for everyone regardless of income, race, gender, sexuality, caste, religion, and more.

The solidarity and voices of South Asians are needed, now more than ever, to take action, speak out, donate, and to protect choice and freedom for ourselves and the generations to come.

Organizational & Individual Signatories

  • AFSSA (Texas)
  • Ashiyanaa (Mary­land)
  • Daya (Texas)
  • Jahajee Sisters (New York)
  • Raksha Inc. (Geor­gia)
  • Sakhi for South Asian Women (New York)
  • Sanctuary for Families (New York)
  • SEWA-AIFW (Min­neso­ta)
  • South Asian SOAR (Nation­al)
  • Manavi (New Jersey)

The Development of “Who You Are”

As a Master’s in Devel­op­ment Prac­tice can­di­date at Emory Uni­ver­si­ty, I am always inves­ti­gat­ing the ‘devel­op­ment’ of gen­der empow­er­ment, hous­ing, dis­as­ter response, envi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­i­ty, among oth­er top­ics. A com­mon mis­take made in devel­op­ment, specif­i­cal­ly inter­na­tion­al devel­op­ment, is that a good idea or method of imple­men­ta­tion is assumed to work in every con­text and in all com­mu­ni­ties. As a gay South Asian male, I want to under­stand devel­op­ment issues in the con­text of the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty. Is the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty mak­ing the mis­take of using a uni­ver­sal method approach in under­stand­ing who we are?

“Com­ing out” came up in many con­ver­sa­tions dur­ing my expe­ri­ence with SAALT’s 2014–2015 Young Lead­ers Insti­tute (YLI), which focused on LGBTQ issues. Some stu­dents were “out,” some were in the process, some had not even thought about it, and some don’t plan on “com­ing out”. At dif­fer­ent times in their lives, peo­ple explore com­ing out aIMG_0088nd its impacts in dif­fer­ent ways. At eight years old, I came out to my mom after watch­ing a tele­vi­sion episode of Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal when one of the char­ac­ters came out to his mom after acknowl­edg­ing his homo­sex­u­al­i­ty. I told my mom, “Hey Maa, the son is gay just like me!” My mom chuck­led, as she knew I loved relat­ing tele­vi­sion shows to my own real­i­ty. I chuck­led as well, but some­where in me I knew I was gay just like the son in the soap opera. My first kiss was with a boy just like his was. I would get ner­vous around my guy crush just like he did. And I want­ed to tell my mom that I am gay just like he did. At that time, how­ev­er, it seemed like it was not the right time for me to come out to my mom. Maybe because her chuck­le meant that she wasn’t ready. Maybe because she told me that I was too young to know if I was gay. Maybe because I was scared of los­ing my fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty even though I grew up know­ing oth­er LGBTQ South Asians who were always so kind and wel­com­ing. Maybe, just maybe, I was scared think­ing back to a par­ty where I over­heard some Indi­an aun­ties and uncles hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion about the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty say­ing, “They do dis­gust­ing stuff, very dis­gust­ing.” Then, an uncle point­ed his fin­ger at me say­ing, “Stay away from them, Sumon, stay away from them.” How could I stay away from them when I was just like them?

It wasn’t until 14 years lat­er that I felt it was right for me to tell my mom I am gay by sim­ply say­ing, “Maa, I have been attract­ed to Ricky Mar­tin since his debut of Livin’ La Vida Loca.” At that moment, I knew it was right for me to tell my mom about a part of me that I want­ed her to know about and under­stand. Iron­i­cal­ly, this was around the same time Ricky came out pub­licly as a gay. Over­all, I am hap­py with my deci­sion to come out as it allowed me to under­stand a part of my iden­ti­ty and embrace the oth­er iden­ti­ties and real­i­ties of my life.

IMG_0041Through­out YLI, I heard many sto­ries of what it means to be part of the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty. Each young leader that I met fol­lowed their own way of express­ing who they are, even though they all had their doubts and ques­tions when iden­ti­fy­ing them­selves as we all do. They all had a time, or times, in their devel­op­ment where they dis­cov­ered that there is no one true def­i­n­i­tion of what it means to be LGBTQ.

From YLI’s phe­nom­e­nal stu­dents, I learned that I am tru­ly liv­ing who I am when I embrace the mul­ti­ple iden­ti­ties that make me who I am. I live life as a gay male, a South Asian, a grad­u­ate stu­dent, a Hin­du, a son, an nephew, a sib­ling, a friend, a vol­un­teer, and so much more. My roles and who I am devel­op by many fac­tors in life and the respon­si­bil­i­ties I take on. See­ing myself through the lens of only one iden­ti­ty pre­vents me from hon­or­ing my full self and from expe­ri­enc­ing all of my qual­i­ties and strengths. When I see the inter­sec­tions with­in my life, I live my real­i­ty and I allow myself to ful­ly expe­ri­ence life’s jour­ney. I have learned that sex­u­al orientation—and explor­ing the role of “com­ing out” in my life—are impor­tant parts in the devel­op­ment of who I am, but this is not the only determinant.

I thank SAALT, the 2014 YLI stu­dents, Trikone Atlanta, Rak­sha, Inc., my aunt, fam­i­ly, and friends for help­ing me to under­stand that the devel­op­ment of “who you are” is not one path, but many paths that lead to this moment and the many more that lie ahead.

Sumon Ray
Young Lead­ers Insti­tute Fel­low, 2014

On the Limits of American(a)

Peo­ple are sur­prised to find out that I’m not actu­al­ly from here. The stan­dard con­ver­sa­tion after the hol­i­days goes: “You went all the way back to Bangladesh? So, your entire fam­i­ly is there? Oh, you lived there till you were 19?” And then of course: “But you speak Eng­lish so well!” My brown skin and third world cit­i­zen­ship hide the inter­na­tion­al school edu­ca­tion that I was priv­i­leged to receive. A child­hood of Scoo­by Doo and Friends makes my accent famil­iar enough to go unno­ticed. Alas, pass­ing priv­i­lege does not an Amer­i­can make. Right?

I was thrilled to learn that a group called South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er DSC_0035(SAALT) was host­ing a LGBTQ-themed sum­mer lead­er­ship insti­tute. It bog­gled my mind that I might actu­al­ly meet oth­er queer and gen­der vari­ant deshi stu­dents inter­est­ed in cre­at­ing change. But sure­ly I would­n’t be eligible—many semes­ters as a stu­dent work­er in the career ser­vices office had taught me to expect a “U.S. cit­i­zens and per­ma­nent res­i­dents” clause hid­den in the eli­gi­bil­i­ty sec­tion. Imag­ine my sur­prise when the Young Lead­ers Insti­tute (YLI) explic­it­ly wel­comed “diver­si­ty in regard to [among oth­er things] immi­gra­tion sta­tus.” As I hur­ried­ly pulled togeth­er the appli­ca­tion, I asked myself for the first time: Did this put me under the umbrel­la of South Asian Amer­i­can?

Was it enough to self-iden­ti­fy as American?

Legal papers are a poor mea­sure of iden­ti­ty, but I had only ever con­sid­ered this line of rea­son­ing in the con­text of undoc­u­ment­ed Amer­i­cans who have lived here for years. My accep­tance into a col­lege (and the finan­cial aid that came with it) gave me the priv­i­lege of a legal avenue of entry to the Land of Oppor­tu­ni­ty not afford­ed to them. I was not com­pelled by cir­cum­stances at home to risk arrest by ICE, or worse, incur the wrath of my punc­til­ious father. Yet, after five very for­ma­tive years in the Unit­ed States, the process of my inte­gra­tion was well under way. I could no longer dri­ve on the left side of the road, I grew an invis­i­ble lay­er of per­son­al space, and I could even sing most of the words to Jour­ney’s Don’t Stop Believin’. Yet, I knew that I could “hold on to that feel­in’” only for so long.

There will come a time when my Dura­tion of Sta­tus will come to an end, and I will need to go back. When I share my appre­hen­sion about this legal dead­line on my stay with friends who have grown up here, they are right­ly con­fused about the log­ic behind it. As a stu­dent of eco­nom­ics, I know that the poten­tial gain to world GDP is much high­er from elim­i­nat­ing bar­ri­ers to immi­gra­tion than bar­ri­ers to trade, yet it is my body that is stopped at the bor­der for fur­ther screen­ing while iPods and Big Macs hop across with ease. There’s some­thing a lit­tle hyp­o­crit­i­cal about insist­ing on an imper­me­able bor­der while cul­ti­vat­ing a glob­al con­sumer IMG_0059base for all things Amer­i­cana. I know, how­ev­er, that the way to move for­ward is not through a bat­tle of wits but by lis­ten­ing to each other’s stories.

Sto­ries are a pow­er­ful thing. They allow us to see our shared human­i­ty with those dif­fer­ent from us, and to see beau­ty in diver­si­ty. Sto­ries are also a way for those of us liv­ing at the mar­gins to claim space for our­selves. It is no sur­prise to me that many of my fel­low YLI par­tic­i­pants have cho­sen to take on projects that cel­e­brate sto­ries of peo­ple like us.

My YLI project per­for­mance is an effort to share my sto­ry. I draw upon my own lived expe­ri­ences to trace the cracked lines between being a Bangladeshi cit­i­zen, a queer deshi, and an Amer­i­can. I have strug­gled to find a way to tell my sto­ry with any degree of hon­esty, when I know that the lived real­i­ty of LGBQ and T* South Asians are invis­i­ble, or worse, erased. Yet, that is exact­ly why it needs to be told. As I toe the line between that beau­ti­ful spec­ta­cle of exhi­bi­tion­ism that is Amer­i­can per­for­mance art, and my deshi impulse to keep skele­tons hid­den deep inside my clos­et (pun intend­ed), I remind myself of the com­fort I have found in the voic­es of queer and trans peo­ple of colour. In turn, I hope that my sto­ry may offer some solace to my younger broth­ers and sis­ters and sib­lings (and cousin-broth­ers and cousin-sis­ters and cousin-siblings).

Wher­ev­er they are from, I hope that they feel that they belong.

Shabab Mirza
Young Lead­ers Insti­tute Fel­low, 2014

So what did you tell your family?

IMG_0015With­in min­utes of enter­ing the hotel, the ques­tion came up: “So what did you tell your fam­i­ly?” We had only just met, but we didn’t need to know each oth­er to know that fam­i­ly was a ten­der top­ic. We had come togeth­er for SAALT’s Young Lead­ers Insti­tute (YLI), but our con­nec­tions ran deep­er than a pas­sion for engag­ing South Asian com­mu­ni­ties in jus­tice and activism. This was a con­nec­tion that many LGBQ and trans­gen­der South Asians expe­ri­ence when we come together—a shared ache to rec­on­cile what we knew about our­selves and what those around us have been taught. Espe­cial­ly achy is rec­on­cil­ing what our  fam­i­lies have been taught about who they think we are. My room­mate and I, exhaust­ed from our trav­els but exhil­a­rat­ed by this rare oppor­tu­ni­ty to swap sto­ries of fam­i­ly expe­ri­ences with anoth­er queer desi, stayed up late the night before the first day of YLI shar­ing sto­ries about what brought us here.

LGBQ and trans­gen­der South Asians are taught that our fam­i­lies will nev­er accept or acknowl­edge us in our entire­ty. While some of our expe­ri­ences affirm this, these scare tac­tics leave us stuck and unable to hope for or envi­sion a dif­fer­ent fam­i­ly expe­ri­ence. The idea that we have no future as our whole selves is not only harm­ful to us, but also to our fam­i­lies. These fears fuel their anx­i­eties and, in turn, widen the gap we feel between us and our fam­i­lies. How do we move toward a future where fam­i­lies have room to grow, learn, and accept us? How do we move toward a real­i­ty where being an LGBQ and/or trans­gen­der South Asian is not syn­ony­mous with a famil­ial dis­con­nect? How do we move toward a truth where we give our fam­i­lies the care we hope they can give us?

One exer­cise we did dur­ing our YLI train­ing real­ly hit home for me. We were asked to make a “queer fam­i­ly tree” trac­ing the peo­ple in our lives who have made room for us to be who we are more freely. At first, this felt impossible—the stereo­type of South Asians being homo­pho­bic and trans­pho­bic runs deep enough to cloud what I know to be true. I remem­bered con­fid­ing in a cousin of mine about my queer­ness and the light­ness I felt when she respond­ed with such kind words. Were there more expe­ri­ences with fam­i­ly that made me feel free? Maybe if I looked at this anoth­er way, I would find more. I thought about all the peo­ple in my fam­i­ly who might share my feel­ings about family—stress, sad­ness, frus­tra­tion dis­ap­point­ment, shame, a sense of stuck­ness. Though they may not be queer, there were oth­ers in my fam­i­ly who are nego­ti­at­ing the idea of “fam­i­ly,” fam­i­ly IMG_0042expec­ta­tions, and fam­i­ly real­i­ties in a com­plex way. And there were those few who sup­port­ed them. Just by being who they are, these folks are mak­ing space for me to be me. They endure gos­sip, shame, fear, just because they don’t meet an expec­ta­tion. Our seem­ing imper­fec­tions give hope to oth­ers who are also told they are imper­fect. Think­ing about fam­i­ly in this way real­ly affirmed my shift­ing approach to fam­i­ly; it reminds me to be gen­tler and more com­pas­sion­ate. It also remind­ed me that these sto­ries don’t come to mind eas­i­ly, that these folks are often writ­ten out of fam­i­ly his­to­ries. In turn, I won­dered where I stood in the future of my fam­i­ly history.

We are all sto­ry­tellers, from the fic­tions we devise that allow us to access queer and trans­gen­der com­mu­ni­ty, to the way we share the fine bal­ance of our lives—storytelling is inher­ent to how we live and sur­vive. My YLI project, an anthol­o­gy enti­tled “Mov­ing Truth(s): Queer and Trans­gen­der Desi Writ­ings on Fam­i­ly,” cap­tures a snap­shot of how LGBQ and trans­gen­der South Asians relate to fam­i­ly through sto­ry­telling and explores how we get to a point where we can move for­ward. In hon­or of the vision for build­ing ally­ship among each oth­er and our fam­i­lies, my team and I devel­oped a com­mu­ni­ty-based pub­lish­ing plan. Instead of expect­ing our con­trib­u­tors to write in iso­la­tion, we accept­ed appli­ca­tions of inter­est rather than sub­mis­sions. Know­ing how com­plex the top­ic of fam­i­ly would be, we cre­at­ed a guid­ed writ­ing process, a 10-week online writ­ing work­shop that would sup­port writ­ers in focus­ing which sto­ry to write about, to help in pro­vid­ing con­text, to work on edit­ing and gram­mar, and, most impor­tant­ly, to pro­vide emo­tion­al sup­port as we processed our expe­ri­ences with fam­i­ly. Our goal dur­ing the writ­ing and draft­ing process was to cre­ate some­thing that felt true to us and our expe­ri­ences, and to cre­ate some­thing we are proud of. Some of our includ­ed sto­ries deal with con­flicts of belief and action, rec­on­cil­ing iden­ti­ties, and learn­ing more grace­ful, gen­er­ous, and gen­tle ways to relate to our­selves, our fam­i­lies, and our communities.

Our labor of love will be pub­lished Spring 2015. To learn more about and sup­port this project, please:

Sasha Duttchoudhury
Young Lead­ers Insti­tute Fel­low, 2014

LGBT Health Meets Public Health

I decid­ed to explore more of my racial and eth­nic iden­ti­ty in my first year of col­lege when the term “South Asian” was still rel­a­tive­ly new. By read­ing any­thing I could find and observ­ing race and eth­nic­i­ty in my sur­round­ings, I grew more inter­est­ed in the role of race and eth­nic­i­ty in health and health care. I learned of “pub­lic health” and oth­er terms used to describe health con­di­tions I wit­nessed my whole life, such as health dis­par­i­ties and neg­a­tive health out­comes. Based on my per­son­al inter­ests and expe­ri­ences, I decid­ed that I want­ed to focus on repro­duc­tive and sex­u­al health care for South Asians and oth­er peo­ple of col­or. For the past two years, I have approached this work with a repro­duc­tive jus­tice frame­work and have seen how main­stream repro­duc­tive and sex­u­al health orga­ni­za­tions have often neglect­ed mar­gin­al­ized pop­u­la­tions, such as women of col­or, queer com­mu­ni­ties, peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, and all their intersections.

A year ago, I took an LGBT health course, where I learned about LGBTQ health dis­par­i­ties, such as the high rates of breast can­cer among les­bians and increas­ing rates of depres­sion among trans­gen­der peo­ple. This course served as my first aca­d­e­m­ic expo­sure to LGBTQ health from a pub­lic health per­spec­tive. Quick­ly, I real­ized that there is still much research to be done on LGBTQ health, that there is even less research on LGBTQ and peo­ple of col­or health, and that most peo­ple did not even know words like “queer,” “cis­gen­der,” and “trans­misog­y­ny” exist. Know­ing this, I still had repro­duc­tive and sex­u­al health as my pri­ma­ry areas of inter­est, but could not fail to include LGBTQ health in my scope of pub­lic health. As my actions became more LGBTQ inclu­sive, I noticed that oth­er stu­dents and pub­lic health pro­fes­sion­als won­dered why I used gen­der-neu­tral lan­guage, dis­cussed health dis­par­i­ties at any giv­en moment, and “brought up race and sex­u­al­i­ty too much.” Despite the com­ments and stares, I still main­tained my LGBTQ (and oth­er demo­graph­ic fac­tors and iden­ti­ties) inclu­sive stance and con­tin­ued my work.

IMG_0057I heard about SAALT back when I was research­ing South Asian com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment, and I heard about the Young Lead­er­ship Insti­tute from a for­mer par­tic­i­pant. This past sum­mer, I was for­tu­nate enough to attend SAALT’s annu­al Young Lead­ers Insti­tute (YLI), which, in 2014, focused on LGBTQ jus­tice and ally­ship. While attend­ing YLI, I learned about South Asian queer his­to­ry, queer peo­ple of col­or his­to­ries, and the tra­jec­to­ry of South Asian, LGBTQ, and South Asian LGBTQ communities.

Based on my work and the train­ings at YLI, I start­ed to crit­i­cal­ly think about inte­grat­ing dom­i­nant pub­lic health prac­tices and LGBTQ health. Though I am lim­it­ed in my capac­i­ty to enact sig­nif­i­cant changes in pub­lic health prac­tice, I want­ed to start engag­ing more inter­sec­tions of sex­u­al­i­ty and race into pub­lic health dis­cus­sions and in the scope of pub­lic health. My YLI project is to incor­po­rate LGBT health in med­ical and pub­lic health dis­cus­sions. I plan on host­ing a pan­el of health pro­fes­sion­als to dis­cuss the neces­si­ty of LGBTQ com­pe­ten­cy with cur­rent med­ical and pub­lic health stu­dents. An exam­ple of LGBTQ com­pe­ten­cy among health pro­fes­sion­als is not assum­ing some­one’s sex­u­al­i­ty when screen­ing for past sex­u­al history.

In addi­tion, I plan to inte­grate LGBTQ health and use LGBTQ inclu­sive lan­guage in my cur­rent prac­tices in repro­duc­tive and sex­u­al health. For instance, when I con­duct work­shops or com­mu­ni­ty dis­cus­sions on these top­ics, I explain LGBTQ inclu­sive lan­guage to par­tic­i­pants and my ratio­nale for doing so, espe­cial­ly in regards to the spe­cif­ic com­mu­ni­ty to which I am address­ing (such as the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty, grad­u­ate stu­dents, a col­lec­tive com­mu­ni­ty of col­or, etc.). Incor­po­rat­ing LGBTQ inclu­sive lan­guage is need­ed in order to reduce the mar­gin­al­iza­tion of LGBTQ peo­ple and pro­mote acces­si­bil­i­ty of LGBTQ-friend­ly ser­vices. I plan on imple­ment­ing this project this semes­ter and want to con­tin­ue inte­grat­ing LGBTQ health and LGBTQ inclu­sive lan­guage in my work as a pub­lic health practitioner.

Sadia Arshad
Young Lead­ers Insti­tute Fel­low, 2014

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


Perks of Being an Awkward Desi Queer

This sum­mer, I had the plea­sure of par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Young Lead­ers Insti­tute (YLI) host­ed by SAALT in Wash­ing­ton D.C., where the focus of the Insti­tute was to engage around LGBTQ jus­tice and ally­ship. My entry point into this activist-based lead­er­ship train­ing pro­gram was a cul­mi­na­tion of numer­ous fac­tors, but main­ly due to the inter­sec­tion of sev­er­al of my iden­ti­ties: queer, Mus­lim, and Bangladeshi. In addi­tion, I don’t view my gen­der as falling with­in the bina­ry gen­der spec­trum. Grow­ing up in Bangladesh for 19 years in a pre­dom­i­nant­ly con­ser­v­a­tive Islam­ic soci­ety and then attend­ing a fem­i­nist lib­er­al arts women’s col­lege paved the way for my ulti­mate entry into a social jus­tice are­na where I can con­sis­tent­ly immerse myself in gen­der and sex­u­al­i­ty top­ics from an inter­sec­tion­al perspective.

The pre­lim­i­nary idea for my YLI project, Project Band­han, came about through my con­ver­sa­tions that were gen­er­at­ed via a South Asian cau­cus at the 2013 Nation­al Queer Asian Pacif­ic Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) con­fer­ence. Project Band­han is a video cam­paign that will con­sist of a series of 2–5 minute videos or pho­tovoice inter­views show­cas­ing var­i­ous desi queer and gen­der non­con­form­ing folks and their rela­tion­ships with their respec­tive par­ents or parental fig­ures.  I reviewed sev­er­al of the videos that were being gen­er­at­ed through the It Gets Bet­ter Project and I was struck by the dai­ly raw life strug­gles and bar­ri­ers that queer, trans*, and gen­der self-iden­ti­fy­ing peo­ple of col­or con­tin­u­ous­ly face with­in the Unit­ed States—an under­served and often invis­i­ble com­mu­ni­ty with­in the larg­er LGBTQ move­ment whose pri­or­i­ty focus may not be mar­riage equal­i­ty as an end in itself in the larg­er fight for queer lib­er­a­tion. The LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty in Amer­i­ca is diverse in its pop­u­la­tion demo­graph­ics and needs, where the pri­ma­ry episodes of vio­lence orig­i­nate from a lack of access to health care and hous­ing, along­side con­stant inci­dents of police bru­tal­i­ty, prison lock­ups, and home­less­ness. The root issues that the larg­er LGBTQ pop­u­la­tion needs to address imme­di­ate­ly lies with­in an eco­nom­ic, gen­der, and racial jus­tice frame­work, and not with­in the insti­tu­tion of mar­riage, which is in fact, a tool for a social and colo­nial con­trol. Through­out the his­to­ry of the Unit­ed States, the align­ment of priv­i­lege and white het­eropa­tri­archy has always prop­a­gat­ed the strug­gles endured by queer and sim­i­lar­ly mar­gin­al­ized pop­u­la­tions. The lega­cy of these strug­gles tends to get dis­missed in a major­i­ty of main­stream media por­tray­als around sex­u­al­i­ty and gen­der pre­sen­ta­tion. I essen­tial­ly want­ed to cre­ate a video-based plat­form for my peo­ple (queer South Asians) to infor­mal­ly dis­cuss their non-het­ero­nor­ma­tive desires andCapture tribu­la­tions with­in the con­text of their parental upbring­ing. Through this plat­form, inter­vie­wees can engage and con­verse with the cam­era appa­ra­tus with­out the con­stant need to envi­sion a ‘bet­ter’ future or to find an imme­di­ate solu­tion for their hardships.

This brings me to the rea­son of why I chose to under­take this some­what ambi­tious project, a project that wish­es to go against the doc­u­men­ta­tion of the sin­gle-issue LGBTQ lives that tend to per­vade our news and media out­lets. For me, my awk­ward­ness and shy­ness are char­ac­ter­is­tics I’ve strug­gled with for a sig­nif­i­cant peri­od of time.  My sense of pro­pri­etor­ship and human­i­ty orig­i­nates from the ways my desi and Islam­ic upbring­ings have caused me to down­play my intro­vert­ed­ness, espe­cial­ly in a cul­ture where intro­verts are, to a cer­tain degree, seen as dis­pos­able. I felt my anx­i­ety around out­lin­ing the mis­sion state­ment of Project Band­han was a hur­dle in itself, where I would, at times, feel that I don’t pos­sess the con­fi­dence or intel­lec­tu­al acu­men to bring such a unique project to a suc­cess­ful com­ple­tion. How­ev­er, I want­ed to own my awk­ward­ness and oth­er inter­nal­ized self-dep­re­cat­ing feel­ings that I’ve been told to har­bor for a large por­tion of my life.

Through the explo­ration and own­er­ship of my emo­tions, I am able to com­mu­ni­cate my lived real­i­ty in order to seek out com­mon­al­i­ties and sol­i­dar­i­ty with the inter­vie­wees’ lived expe­ri­ences. Our expe­ri­ences as queer South Asians pro­vide us with a unique angle of vision. As mem­bers of an oppressed group, each of us pos­sess­es crit­i­cal insights into the con­di­tions of our spe­cif­ic oppres­sion. Through my 3‑day inter­ac­tion with my fel­low peers at YLI who are all work­ing to chal­lenge oppres­sive struc­tures, I real­ized the immense val­ue of hold­ing our emo­tions as a col­lec­tive, rather than as an indi­vid­ual. Being intro­vert­ed and awk­ward and mak­ing those qual­i­ties work for, rather than against, one’s social jus­tice and future goals are ele­ments that were embraced with­in the YLI space. As a result, the val­ues that were impart­ed to me through the Insti­tute will also be deeply entrenched with­in Project Bandhan’s final prod­uct where queer and gen­der self-iden­ti­fy­ing South Asians will be able to explore the shift­ing ter­rain of par­ent-child inter­ac­tions. YLI was indeed one of the most ful­fill­ing train­ing sem­i­nars that I’ve attend­ed so far, and the friend­ships and edu­ca­tion that I’ve gained through the Insti­tute will stay with me through­out this lifetime.

Farhat Rah­man
Bryn Mawr College

Queer, Asian and Proud

YLI_VictoriaThis sum­mer I attend­ed the 2014 Young Lead­ers Insti­tute (YLI), a lead­er­ship devel­op­ment pro­gram host­ed by South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT). The Young Lead­ers Insti­tute is an oppor­tu­ni­ty for under­grad­u­ate uni­ver­si­ty stu­dents to build lead­er­ship skills, con­nect with fel­low activists and advo­cates, and explore social change strate­gies around issues that affect South Asian and immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties in the US. This year, YLI focused on LGBTQ jus­tice and ally­ship. The theme of this year’s Insti­tute per­fect­ly coin­cid­ed with an inter­sec­tion­al LGBTQ and Asian stu­dent group that I found­ed a few months pri­or, Penn Queer & Asian (Penn Q&A).

The Young Lead­ers Insti­tute taught me about LGBTQ issues in some com­mu­ni­ties that tend to be over­looked and under­served in the broad­er Asian and Pacif­ic Islander Amer­i­can (API) move­ment. For exam­ple, I learned about the roles that dif­fer­ent gen­ders, sex­es, and sex­u­al­i­ties played through­out the course of South Asian his­to­ry. At the end of the lead­er­ship train­ing, YLI stu­dent lead­ers had to cre­ate projects to enact social change in their com­mu­ni­ties. For me, it only seemed nat­ur­al to devel­op and expand the role of Penn Q&A.

Just a mat­ter of weeks ago, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia wel­comed its stu­dents, staff, and fac­ul­ty back to cam­pus for the start of the 2014 fall semes­ter. For Penn Q&A, the start of the school year meant get­ting down to busi­ness and pub­li­ciz­ing our stu­dent group to the greater Penn com­mu­ni­ty. Penn Q&A aims to pro­vide a safe space for the sup­port and empow­er­ment of les­bian, gay, bisex­u­al, trans­gen­der, queer, ques­tion­ing, and allied indi­vid­u­als inter­est­ed in address­ing issues sur­round­ing the queer Asian com­mu­ni­ty. As one of the co-founders of Penn Q&A last spring, I attend­ed mul­ti­ple stu­dent activ­i­ties fairs with my Q&A peers, pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tion­al fly­ers, sign-up sheets, and snacks to Penn under­grad­u­ate, grad­u­ate, and trans­fer stu­dents. We net­worked at ori­en­ta­tion events spon­sored by var­i­ous queer stu­dent groups and Asian stu­dent groups in order to increase the over­all aware­ness of our orga­ni­za­tion. By the end of the first week, Penn Q&A had accom­plished its out­reach goals—I was pleas­ant­ly sur­prised when our list­serv expand­ed to include over fifty queer and Asian-iden­ti­fied mem­bers, con­sid­er­ing Q&A’s rel­a­tive­ly recent estab­lish­ment and rather niche tar­get population!

As the hec­tic ‘“wel­come” and “wel­come back” events began to wind down, I real­ized that Penn Q&A need­ed to jump through a num­ber of bureau­crat­ic hoops before the stu­dent group could prop­er­ly serve its expand­ed con­stituen­cy. As a result, Q&A board mem­bers con­vened ear­ly on a Sat­ur­day morn­ing to ham­mer out, scour, and pol­ish our Con­sti­tu­tion. Once com­plet­ed, we sub­mit­ted our appli­ca­tion for offi­cial Uni­ver­si­ty stu­dent group recog­ni­tion. Just last week, the Office of Stu­dent Affairs grant­ed us an offi­cial sta­tus on the Penn stu­dent group ros­ter! Even the Dai­ly Penn­syl­van­ian, Penn’s stu­dent-run dai­ly news­pa­per, recent­ly fea­tured Q&A as one of the cam­pus’ new inter­sec­tion­al organizations.

Now a Uni­ver­si­ty-cer­ti­fied stu­dent group with a web­site, var­i­ous social media accounts, and a for­mi­da­ble phys­i­cal pres­ence, Penn Q&A looks for­ward to join­ing stu­dent umbrel­la groups on cam­pus. These umbrel­la groups pro­vide fund­ing, out­reach, and polit­i­cal pow­er for many minor­i­ty orga­ni­za­tions on cam­pus. In the near future, we hope to apply for mem­ber­ship to the Asian Pacif­ic Stu­dent Coali­tion, which over­sees Penn’s Asian-inter­est orga­ni­za­tions, and Lamb­da Alliance, which over­sees Penn’s LGBTQ+ orga­ni­za­tions, amongst oth­ers. Penn Q&A can more read­i­ly achieve its mis­sion of sup­port­ing queer Asian stu­dents by join­ing these larg­er stu­dent group alliances.

Penn Q&A also has a few things planned for this aca­d­e­m­ic year. Inter­nal­ly, we look for­ward to hold­ing infor­mal mix­ers for our mem­bers, many of whom wish to main­tain con­fi­den­tial­i­ty out­side of Penn Q&A. In line with what I learned at YLI, Penn Q&A may host work­shops to address the inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty of South Asian and LGBTQ iden­ti­ties. Exter­nal­ly, we would like to invite speak­ers and media icons to cam­pus. Penn Q&A has cur­rent­ly planned a col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Penn Philip­pine Asso­ci­a­tion to bring Jose Anto­nio Var­gas, a gay, undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grant, to speak about his inter­sec­tion­al expe­ri­ence of com­ing to and com­ing out in Amer­i­ca. We also hope to invite Staceyann Chin, a spo­ken word artist and polit­i­cal activist, and AJ O’Day, a pop­u­lar YouTube enter­tain­er, to per­form and speak to the Penn and greater Philadel­phia com­mu­ni­ties some­time in the future. On a more region­al lev­el, I hope to see Penn Q&A hold­ing get-togeth­ers with queer Asian stu­dent groups on oth­er cam­pus­es and com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions in the area.

Fun­da­men­tal­ly, Penn Q&A exists so that queer-iden­ti­fied and Asian-iden­ti­fied indi­vid­u­als know that they are not alone, whether they are in the clos­et, in the process of com­ing out, or have already come out. We want to offer our mem­bers the oppor­tu­ni­ty to chat with oth­ers about how to deal with sticky sit­u­a­tions regard­ing fam­i­ly expec­ta­tions, reli­gious ten­sions, and any oth­er obsta­cles that arise. At the end of the day, I co-found­ed Penn Queer and Asian because a hand­ful of queer Asians at Penn want­ed to cre­ate a safe space for oth­ers to feel com­fort­able in embrac­ing their identities.

Uni­ver­si­ty of Pennsylvania


I can see queerly now, the rain is gone

Dur­ing the Young Lead­ers Insti­tute 2014, my world dras­ti­cal­ly changed. Peo­ple shared sto­ries that cap­ti­vat­ed, touched, and slight­ly even hurt me, because of the grue­some real­i­ty of some of my peers’ expe­ri­ences. Enter­ing the train­ing room that day about five min­utes late, as I usu­al­ly do, I had no idea what to expect. I looked around at my twelve oth­er peers and real­ized that each and every sin­gle one had a sto­ry that I des­per­ate­ly want­ed to learn. Some of them were dressed in a way that I had nev­er seen, while some of them gave off an eclec­tic vibe, and some matched my eager­ness with wide eyes and ten­der smiles. As the days of train­ing went on, I learned more and more about the strug­gles my LGBTQ–identified peers faced on a dai­ly basis.

The part of the train­ing that impact­ed me most, as an ally, was when the group was split up and moved to two sep­a­rate rooms. One group con­sist­ed of those that iden­ti­fy as gen­der IMG_0099non-con­form­ing/­trans*, and the oth­er group con­sist­ed of allies. When the two groups came back togeth­er, we dis­cussed impor­tant infor­ma­tion con­cern­ing sex­u­al­i­ty and gen­der iden­ti­ty that allies should know, as agreed upon by the group of gen­der non­con­form­ing and trans* indi­vid­u­als. We dis­cussed ally­ship and explored ways in which allies can offer sup­port while keep­ing the focus on gen­der non-con­form­ing/­trans* indi­vid­u­als. We learned that the voic­es of allies should not detract from the sto­ries and expe­ri­ences of gen­der non-con­form­ing and trans* communities.

I real­ized that the more I heard them speak, the more they were describ­ing my very own cam­pus project, which is to enable a safe space envi­ron­ment on the cam­pus of Texas Tech Uni­ver­si­ty. The devel­op­ment of a safer cam­pus envi­ron­ment will be achieved by form­ing bonds with fac­ul­ty and LGBTQ-iden­ti­fied stu­dents and pro­mot­ing events and aware­ness talks by the Gay Straight Alliance at Texas Tech. I had no idea that some of the approach­es my project was using were exact­ly what my YLI peers were cau­tion­ing against! Over the next few days I mus­tered up the courage to be hon­est with myself and rec­og­nize that I real­ly did not know any­thing about the way my project should be approached; I had been look­ing through the same nar­row lens that my peers had said felt marginalizing.

Dur­ing the 3‑day Insti­tute, I met with beau­ti­ful indi­vid­u­als, inside and out, who taught me what accept­ing one­self and the strug­gle-filled jour­ney to achieve inner peace real­ly means. I learned that I want to be an ally; my peers’ def­i­n­i­tion of ally, not society’s def­i­n­i­tion. I observed their hum­ble­ness their kind­ness and their strong-willed per­son­al­i­ties; they taught me to embrace art, love, and good vibes. Over­all I have learned that I am just an ally. These are their sto­ries, their strug­gles, and their fights. I am sim­ply here to sup­port them. In a metaphor­i­cal sense, my rain shouldn’t cloud their skies.

YLI 2014 changed my views on so many things. I not only walked out more aware of my sur­round­ings, but more aware of myself, my goals, and my aspi­ra­tions. I gained a stronger under­stand­ing of the mes­sages I want to make clear to those in my cam­pus com­mu­ni­ty about accep­tance and sup­port and know­ing when to take a step back, because the voic­es that need to be heard are not those of the allies; they are those of the LGBTQ community.

Texas Tech University