A new group serves South Asian queers in Chicago.
Wed Jan 20 2010
Photograph: Jed Dulanas
Strolling through Boystown one afternoon with his roommate, Midwestern University med student Neeral Sheth was repeatedly called a slumdog by a passerby. “It definitely made me feel like an outsider, like, ‘You’re a slumdog, what are you doing here?’” says the son of immigrant Indians. Sheth adds that while he rarely experiences such blatant racism in Boystown, queer-identified Chicagoans of South Asian descent (including India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan and the Maldives) can feel out of place both in Boystown and on Desi-centric Devon Avenue.
Sheth, 25, came out to his family when he was just 16. “My dad basically said, ‘You can be alone, but you can’t be with a guy,’” he recalls. The issue lay dormant for a while, but his parents again fumed when he introduced them to his boyfriend a couple of years ago. Sheth says they’ve accepted him over time, in part because his South Asian boyfriend of four years is also studying to become a doctor. “For me to be with a doctor, that’s what any South Asian parent would want their daughter to end up with,” he says.
But Sheth, who says out Indians were virtually nonexistent at Northwestern, where he studied as an undergrad, wanted to be a part of a larger community of LGBT-identified South Asians. “I had wanted to meet other queer South Asians but didn’t know where to start,” he says. “A lot of [South Asians] are hesitant to get into the gay scene. You feel like you have to choose one culture over the other.” So Sheth began co-organizing events for Trikone-Chicago (trikone meaning triangle in Sanskrit), a networking group for LGBT South Asians.
Founded in late 2008, Trikone meets regularly for potlucks, dinner outings and dance parties. Consisting mostly of men in their twenties through their forties, the group attracts a wider audience, including many women, at events like Jai-Ho (Hindi for victory is ours), which launched last July and happens intermittently at Big Chicks. On Saturday 23, Trikone celebrates one year of activism and outreach with KalaKranti, an evening of live performance at @mosphere bar.
Delhi decriminalized homosexuality last year, and the rest of India is expected to follow. Yet for LGBT people of South Asian descent, marriage, often arranged, remains the expectation. Born in northern India, Prachi Murarka, 21, moved with her family to Michigan City, Indiana, when she was a child. “In the Indian community I come from,” the queer-identified Northwestern senior says, “biodatas get created which are basically a résumé and a modeling portfolio put together.” According to Murarka, the biodata contains information like height, weight, educational background and glossy photos. “A lot of it is based on finances and status,” she says. “If that clicks, then it’s like, ‘Okay, let’s get engaged.’” Last summer, when Murarka came out to her parents, they responded with, “It’s just a phase.” For her, Trikone offers an opportunity to interact with other queer women of color. “It makes me happy every time I see a [queer] person of color,” she says. “We can talk about coming out to parents and Indian marriage and what that means.”
Both Sheth and Murarka agree that attitudes among South Asians, both here and back home, are shifting (Nepal, for example, recently approved same-sex marriage) but that Trikone has work to do. “We understand the Indian community,” Sheth says. “We understand why it might be hard for someone to just go to Boystown without thinking about it twice.”
KalaKranti happens Saturday 23.