An elderly woman who looked to be of Indian origin in her salwar kameez, suddenly rushed out of the hundreds crowding the sidewalk on 5th Ave for the Manhattan Pride March, and hugged a dancer possibly also of Indian origin as he romped down the road June 28 in what is billed as the largest LGBTQ march in the country.
At another point down 5th Ave, a gay Indian-American man watched the event unfolding for the first time, and saw families with little children and couples walking down the road, a picture different from what he read about in news accounts he told Desi Talk.
“It warmed my heart to see this older aunty, on the side of the road, who ran forward and hugged one of our dancers,” Apphia K., board member of the South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association told Desi Talk.
According to SALGA NYC, the biggest chapter of the national organization, there were at least 80 of its own members at the March, as well as scores of South Asians who were part of other groups also marching down 5th Ave, as well as among the spectators cheering them on. The number of South Asians in this year’s March was higher than previous times.
Among those from SALGA were those of Indian, Pakistani and a new Sri Lankan participation.
“It’s my first time attending the Manhattan parade and its different from how the media portrays it,” said one Indian-American spectator who did not wish to be named. “The media always shows the naked guys dancing on floats, drag queens parade everywhere but they don’t show the quiet portion. Lots of families were there with children. Many couples. I was surprised to see a different picture”
Robin Mathew, the main organizer of SALGA NYC’s Pride March participation, told Desi Talk, the mission of the organization was to promote the visibility of the often-unseen and unheard of South Asian LGBTQ experiences within the U.S. and the world and empower them to express their different identities. “This year the members who marched with us at the parade came from many different gender and sexual identities, and with diverse immigrant histories from all over South Asia and the Caribbean,” Mathew told Desi Talk. “We absolutely feel a sense of progress because by marching together on the streets of the biggest city in America we’re able to challenge the mainstream American narrative of what it means to be LGBTQ,” by adding a ‘Desi flair’ to the LGBTQ members.
Feedback from many people after the NYC Pride March showed the SALGA group attracted a lot of attention with the colorful clothes, placards that challenged people to think differently, South Asian music, and energetic dancers. “We also saw many desi people and families watching the parade with smiles on their face and cheering us on,” Mathew said, and they ranged from very young to grandmothers, a hopeful sign that progress was being made within the South Asian community as well. However, SALGA NYC has sent an application to organizers of the India Day Parade in August but have yet to hear back from them as to whether they would be allowed to participate.
The March coming on the heels of the June 26 U.S. Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states, enthused many, but it did bring to mind their counterparts in India who did not have similar rights as yet, Apphia said. Besides, in the U.S., “The right to get married does not address or erase the constant fear and violence experienced by the South Asian LGBTQ community,” she said.
Apart from the Pride March, SALGA NYC and other South Asians of the same persuasion, attended several other events around the city including the Trans Day of Action on Friday June 26, held at Pier 45, and the Dyke March on 5th Ave between 42nd and Washington Square Park on June 27.