LGBT South Asian conference to take place in New York

by Scott Stiffler
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Jun 16, 2009

As people around the world continue to celebrate Pride month, a group of activists, cultural icons, policy makers and pundits will gather next week in New York to create a collective strategy designed to further the rights of LGBT South Asians.

Engendered, a transnational arts and human rights organization that focuses on gender, sexuality, ritual and religion in South Asia, has organized the South Asian Queer Leaders Summit. It is scheduled to take place on Thursday, June 25, and Friday, June 26, at various locations throughout the city. Sunil Pant, Nepal's first openly gay parliamentarian who was instrumental in securing rights for LGBT Nepalese, Mala Nagarajan, co-director of the National Queer Asian and Pacific Islander American Alliance and a fellow at the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, "A Jihad for Love" director Parvez Sharma and Urooj Arshad of the Muslim Youth Project are among those slated to participate.

"We are at an interesting precipice as the South Asian queer community living in the United States and South Asia," Engendered executive director Myna Mukherjee said. "On the one hand, we have countries like Nepal, which in 2008 commemorated the passage of landmark, constitutional rights, such as same-sex marriage, for her LGBT people."

Those gains are contrasted, says Mukherjee, by the situation in neighboring India. Activists and others continue to challenge Section 377 of the country's penal code that criminalizes sodomy. Mukherjee also added she feels Proposition 8's passage negates the socially progressive reputation the United States likes to project to the world. And she concluded there remains a clear need "for greater dialogue between our Eastern and Western counterparts to strategize around 'best practices' that will benefit our community, as a whole."

To address that need for dialogue, Engendered, in partnership with the Asia Society and the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan, has organized the summit not only as a way to evaluate the state of LGBT South Asians, but to hopefully spark a common global agenda. Immigration reform, marriage for gays and lesbians and other basic human rights as they relate to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression top the agenda.

"Over the years, distinct (South Asian) movements have always been on the fringes of the western LGBT movement. There’s been little connectivity between the movements happening in South Asia [and the United States.]"

"Over the years, distinct (South Asian) movements have always been on the fringes of the western LGBT movement," Mukherjee said. "There's been little connectivity between the movements happening in South Asia [and the United States.]"

Change has begun to emerge in these countries. Mukherjee pointed to legislative gains in Nepal as an example of the work she feels can be done in this country.

"The South Asian movements that are specific to the countries themselves have become strong indigenous movements." Mukherjee said.

Another major goal of the conference is to, through panel and policy discussions "create instruments of change from inside out" as opposed to using one country's activism to inspire or impose change on another. Rather than just academic discourse, Engendered has structured the event to look at movements and the culture of the region.

As for the United States, Mukherjee cites immigration as a top concern.

"There's still a ban on green card holders who are HIV positive," she lamented. "Any HIV positive immigrant will not be able get permanent status in this country."

Scott Stiffler is a New York City based writer and comedian who has performed stand-up, improv, and sketch comedy. His show, "Sammy’s at The Palace. . .at Don’t Tell Mama"---a spoof of Liza Minnelli’s 2008 NYC performance at The Palace Theatre, recently had a NYC run. He must eat twice his weight in fish every day, or he becomes radioactive.


  • Sarav, 2009-06-17 16:29:17

    Cant wait to atttend this conference.

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