I lost more than my family, I lost my mother tongue, sacred customs, beautiful celebrations, my mum’s saag, my music, my films, our humour and my entire culture. I lost my support system. I’ve experienced homelessness multiple times, was severely depressed for many years, on medication and battled with suicidal thoughts. But I somehow managed to navigate myself through it, against the odds. That decade could have been much easier, happy even, if I’d known where to go for support.
In 2016 I met some people like me when I shared my story with a theatre company that wanted to tour a production made of ten stories of LGBT+ South Asians around the country, focusing on Asian areas. An amazing project, but they lost their Arts Council funding and the show was never completed. This, however, was the start of me not feeling so alone. Then I found an article online written by a lesbian in Mumbai. I wasn’t alone! Her story was the first I’d heard that was anything like mine. This spurred me on into obsessive research through which I found out about an event at the House of Lords putting a spotlight on LGBT+ South Asians. I went along and met organisations and individuals that belonged to my community. When I asked why I couldn’t find them online, they said they lacked funding.
I went home and built a website called gaysians.org and started bit by bit adding organisations and groups that I was now finding to it, so they’d be easier to find online. I started talking about it and writing about it everywhere I could, from LGBT+ media to the BBC. I spoke on every platform I could. I had been anonymous in the media for many years but at the start of 2017 decided to use my name and face publicly when I joined DIVA as a columnist. After 20 years of being out, I still couldn’t see people like me and realised I had to be that person. Even if there was a backlash from my family or personal consequences for me.
We now have an incredible 24 organisations in our network across the UK offering a range of services including a helpline number, mental health support, sexual health services, trans and non-binary support and we work with a variety of faith groups and organisations that represent the spectrum of what it is to be LGBT+ and South Asian.
In 2018 we put on the UK celebration of the scrapping of criminal legislation in India and it was the closest to our own Pride event we’ve ever had, also raising £5k for LGBT+ charities in India. The previous year, 100 of us Gaysians of different faiths, genders, castes and sexualities marched at Pride in London, which has never happened before. I’ve been part of the incredible UK Black Pride team. We produce a Gaysians radio show, we write articles, promote our network organisations on social media and to press, we create content and put on events to provide positive visibility and support. We’ve been invisible for too long. We speak at events around the world and provide our voice to challenge stereotypes. All our partners have a greater presence with the people they are trying to reach than ever before. Which means there are fewer people feeling isolated, alone and at risk. The emails and messages we receive daily reassure us that our work is making a difference in the world. But, there is so much more to do. All of this work has been unpaid.
Gaysians has been entirely self-funded by me for four years. I have a team of incredibly inspiring and dedicated volunteers that work tirelessly to help our community of individuals to not fall through the net. As vulnerable people ourselves, we need help to continue this work and not fall through the net ourselves. The work will always continue, but the pace of it is what I want to step up, because what we’re talking about is people’s lives. Nobody should have to lose a decade to depression or their lives entirely, all because they don’t know where to go for help, especially when it was there all along. Under this pandemic, we know the most vulnerable are at the greatest risk.
Our new website is now ready after a year of diligent work and includes new partnerships and alliances with AKT, Gendered Intelligence, ParaPride and LGBT Switchboard amongst others.
We are now ready to enter the next phase in our journey. And we need your help.
The South Asian LGBT+ community are globally and locally some of the most vulnerable and overlooked groups in the world.
A BBC report in 2018 highlighted that British South Asians are twice as likely as the rest of the UK population to disagree with same sex relationships and most worryingly, this percentage is consistent amongst age brackets and generations. This is unlike any other group in the country and is highly alarming.
South Asians also don’t tend to access the benefits and services available to us. There are cultural and language barriers that prevent us from seeking support outside our families. Hence we're not equipped to navigate the support that is available. We’re caught in a catch 22. Because unless we can show data to prove we have support needs, we can’t get funding. So we need to do it ourselves. We need to reach out to more of our community and we need to service and care for their needs ourselves, as best as we can, for as long as we can. We need our own survey and data.
According to the 2011 UK Census, LGBT+ South Asians amount to 491,564 people. The overwhelming majority of whom we know are not accessing support. Based on latest ONS data, we are in 2020 now 600,000 people.
Your backing will help us to deliver the following, with each campaign offering workshops and talks for people to attend (online for now), producing audio and video content, written interviews and social media content that will play a part in saving lives and improving the quality of these lives. Everyone deserves to live and to live with pride.
Homelessness Prevention & Support campaign with AKT
- South Asians massively under-index when accessing support services which is highlighted in the latest ethnic break-down from AKT, which shows we are 4 times less likely to use these services than other at risk ethnic groups.
- We’ll interview two amazing young LGBT+ South Asians that have used the services of AKT to put a spotlight on culturally specific issues around home and homelessness.
- Our team will work with AKT and create resource packs tailored to our community to help with awareness, prevention and support packs. These will be shared on social media from October.
Mental Health & Wellbeing campaign with Karma Nirvana & Aashna
- Following up from the podcast we created on mental health this Summer, we will extend the conversation into how we access more of the Eastern practices that we may feel disconnected from, for which we’ll be sourcing additional partners.
Sexual Wellbeing campaign (physical and emotional for all genders)
- South Asian culture is massively sexually repressed, especially for women. We’ll explore women’s sexual wellbeing as well as topics that affect all bodies including consent and sexual trauma.
In the New Year we will launch a survey to better understand the support needs of South Asian LGBT+ people. This will help us finetune our focus and also to apply for funding.
We need your help to do this work in one year—not five, or even ten years. The urgency is increasing.
£10 will pay for one person to attend an online talk on homelessness, mental health or sexual health.
£40 will pay for one young person (aged 16-25) to attend a workshop on homelessness prevention and gain access to tools and services.
£40 will pay for one person to attend a workshop on mental health and wellbeing and gain access to resources.
£40 will pay for a person who has experienced sexual trauma to attend a workshop.
£100 will help keep our website running. Gaysians.org is the UK’s central resource for South Asian LGBT+ people.
£200 will pay for us to interview trans and gender expansive people in our community and write an article that will reach thousands of people. That article could save someone’s life for just a penny. According to Stonewall, 12% of trans people made an attempt to take their own life in the last year. We think that percentage may be even higher for South Asian trans people.
£200 will pay for us to interview LGBT+ South Asians that have used the services of AKT to put a spotlight on culturally specific issues around home and homelessness.
£300 will pay for resource packs to help with awareness, prevention and support for our community. Another £300 will allow us to have these translated into South Asian languages.
£500 will pay for us to create video content featuring parents of LGBT+ people to help shift hearts and minds in our communities. My parents still believe they’re the only parents of a gay brown kid. Whilst we’ve started a movement to find each other as LGBT+ South Asians, our parents are without this and we need to help them.
£1,000 will pay for us to get set up as a CIC so as much of these donations as possible go to serve our community. This status of ‘Community Interest Company’ will also open up access to funds and grants.
£3,600 will allow us to hire a specialist who can help us access funding routes so we can continue to grow.
Reaching our goal of £54,600 will pay for us to achieve this work in one year with a focus on homelessness, gender identity, mental health and sexual health. It will allow us to produce and conduct our survey and publish the results so we can fine-tune our focus based on the needs of our community and also guide other organisations too. We will update you with the progress of the work we do across our website and social media channels throughout so you can see exactly the impact your donation is having. We’ll also produce case studies and gather experiences and stories from the people whose lives you’ve helped transform.
Find out more here: gaysians.org
- Dian Buckley-Westinghouse
- Parminder Sekhon
- Guy Gunaratne
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