independence day/ except for if you’re gay/
and i love my country/ and i love this day/
but hey/ you didn’t want me to march today.
August 15, 2009 marks the 63 anniversary of India’s freedom from British rule. Delhi is emblazoned with flags, politico big wigs ready to speechify. New York City will celebrate with its annual India Day Parade down Madison Avenue, where cultural pride overflows like overpoured chai into floats, sound systems, and luminaries. Though just weeks ago, the South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association (SALGA) essentially led the New York City Pride march, with thousands of onlookers reveling in our style, our culture, our music, all of our pride, SALGA was denied permission to march in the India Day Parade.
The parade website, created by the Federation of Indian Associations (FIA), pops with racy hued pics of Desi stars and poses the question, “What’s common between Shilpa Shetty and Jay Sean? Both of them have made India proud. And both of them are going to walk for their motherland. The question is: Are You?”
If you happen to identify as gay, lesbian, queer, transgender, or two-spirit, the answer is: No. No, you can’t march in the India Day Parade.
Author Minal Hajratwala says, “the India Day Parade happening this Sunday in Manhattan has excluded the South Asian Gay Lesbian Association (again).”
I mean, we’re still going to march. SALGA will be joining the leadership organization, Sakhi in the parade. So no, we will not be denied the opportunity to “make India proud.” And no, we will not be excluded from the chance to “walk for the motherland.” Really, who knows how to walk better than we do?
My homegirl Barnali Ghosh called up Dipak Patel, president of the tri-state FIA, the organizers of the New York FIA Day Parade. “He said ‘anyone is welcome to march,’ but quickly clarified that there was a process for organizations wanting to march, likening it to that of a college where some ‘some people get in, some people don’t.'”
Sigh. They just don’t get it. We shoot ourselves in the foot when we limit what it means to be Desi. Parade organizers have no idea what their missing out on when they exclude the LGBT community.
Excluding gays from the India Day Parade is bad for PR, bad for cultural goodwilll, and bad business.
Desi visibility is on the rise, but it comes at a price, so we must chose to set expansive terms for this visibility. Otherwise we give up core aspects of our culture in exchange for a little bit of shine. And then, truly, whats the point? Our ancient culture dictates inclusion as the rightful norm. Spiritual texts, classic sculptures, they all point to LGBT integration and leadership. We should grab hold of what we knew, be courageous enough to still know it now, and open our diasporic arms to fulfill the economic, political AND cultural promise of globalization.
Integration of LGBT Indians in the India Day Parade will build more goodwill towards our diaspora, and isn’t that a primary goal? I say, yes.
Stay tuned for pics from the parade tomorrow.