Exploring the South Asian LGBTQ community

In Professor Glenna Gordon’s International Photojournalism course, students learn to engage with the language of visuals and to think critically about photographs and representations. After looking at both traditional photojournalism methods and new forms of image making, students can choose to create a hands-on photo project in a diaspora community in New York. Shagana Ehamparam chose to focus her project on the South Asian LGBTQ+ community.

“I’ve learned that when you grow up, especially here in North America, you see gays being represented in a certain way and so you have an idea of what it will be like when you finally come out of the closet. You think, ‘okay, I’m going to live this great gay life like I saw all the white gay guys doing on TV or in the movies’. But then you realize you don’t live that life because of the fact you’re a different skin tone makes a big difference.”

Through this essay, photographer Shagana Ehamparam highlights some of the untold stories of the South Asian LGBTIQ community, a group that is often invisible or underrepresented in the mainstream LGBTIQ movement. Although her initial intention was to captures safe spaces created for the community and by the community, her work adapted to reflect the influence of culture and religion in everyday experiences.

These photos were taken between September and December 2017 in New York City and Toronto.

A LGBTQ flag hangs from the fire escape of a Manhattan apartment building.

 

A man’s shadow is seen in a graffiti alley.

 

The same man now shows half his face. The other half remains in the dark.

 

In his own time, he is ready to show his face in the light. He is a Bangladeshi gay man who has only come out in the last few years.

 

This is a statue of a God/Goddess in the Shaanti Bhavan Mandir, a temple in Jamaica, Queens. The Shaanti Bhavan Mandir is considered progressive. It opens its door for the LGBTQ community and advocates for their equal rights.

 

A drag queen at Desilicious, a well-known dance party for the South Asian LGBTQ community in New York City. This particular party takes place in the Lower East Side in Manhattan at a bar called the DL. They play mixed Bollywood music, with an occasional fusion of mainstream American music. It is open to everyone, including South Asian and non-South Asian allies of the community.

 

This in the bedroom of a young Indian-American man who attended the Desilicious party. Beside his bed is a picture of Saraswati, who is the Goddess of Learning.

 

By his window, other religious and spiritual symbolism can be found. Along with an incense in a candle and a Buddha statue, there is a statue of Goddess Parvati. Goddess Parvati is represented as half male and half female. Ironically, religious representations reinforce gender fluidity.

 

Traditional incense is not for every South Asian. A young man takes out a cigarette. Born in Sri Lanka, raised in Europe and living in New York, he navigates his identity through various lens and influences.

 

He is still figuring it out.

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