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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 April, 2004, 12:32 GMT 13:32 UK
South Asian gays find US voice
By Chhavi Dublish in New Jersey

Gay festival for South Asians
The Between the Lines attracted 400 people to the MIT
As gay people fight for legal same-sex unions in the United States, South Asian gays there are slowly stepping out of the shadows to form a small but formidable force.

In the face of both ethnic and sexual bias, some South Asian gays have come to terms with their sexuality and have been bold enough to acknowledge their orientation to family and friends.

Dr AdityaMoy Kar, 38, an associate professor at the University of Georgia, went through an internal struggle during his teenage years in Calcutta.

"I knew I was different from other boys but there was no one I could talk to," he says.

"In India we never discussed sexuality let alone sexual orientation. It was finally when I came to the United States, I understood what it meant to be gay.

Parmesh Shahani
My parents were behind me and wanted me to be happy. I was lucky to have a supportive family
Parmesh Shahani

"Though even here when I came in 1989 it was a very conservative society and I was a minority within a minority."

Dr Kar finally got support from a gay South Asian organisation, Trikone, based in San Francisco and Atlanta.

Changing times and increasing awareness has made it easier for some South Asians to come to terms with homosexuality and also to accept it in their children.

Parmesh Shahani, a 27-year-old student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), found his family very supportive when he told them he was gay.

"My parents were behind me and wanted me to be happy. I was lucky to have a supportive family. In India it is a lot harder for people to be different."

Next level

Whereas some Western-based South Asian gays have well-formed groups and are making their concerns heard, the majority back in the subcontinent is still battling anti-sodomy laws and the right to recognition.

There is little frank discussion of sexuality in schools that might serve to educate about sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/Aids.

Gays in Calcutta
A rare gay march in Calcutta

The law threatens anybody involved in the gay movement.

Four Aids outreach workers were arrested in 2001 in Lucknow in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and charged with conspiring to commit "unnatural sexual acts".

Parmesh says the underground nature of the gay community in the subcontinent makes Aids a "major area of concern".

Once he came to the US he became less inhibited and organised the Between the Lines gay and lesbian South Asian film festival with the support of his university and professors.

The festival celebrated the coming of age of the South Asian gay movement and tried to educate both the American and South Asian communities about their differences and similarities.

The festival attracted more than 400 people, including South Asians from all parts of the US.

The South Asian gays are keen to take their issues to the next level, mainly recognition as a minority in the mainstream gay community.

Sandip Roy, editor of Trikone magazine, says South Asian gays also want to take part in the gay marriage debate.

Gay immigrants want to be able to bring their partners from home once they enter into a legal, civil union.

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