Revelers march during the Desi Pride Parade hosted by SEWA - Asian Indian Family Wellness on June 26, 2021. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

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After a tumultuous year, the nonprofit SEWA–Asian Indian Family Wellness jumped at the chance to hold its very first Desi Pride Parade celebrating South Asian queer identites. 

SEWA–AIFW, a nonprofit providing services to South Asian elders and survivors of gender-based violence, hosted an outdoor gathering on Saturday with music and speeches from local activist leaders at its office parking lot on Lake Street. 

Mubina Qureshi*, SEWA’s program manager, said the goal of the event was to feature the experiences of South Asian queer people, and remind allies that Pride is not just “putting a logo of a rainbow on their profile picture on Facebook.” 

“Being Desi, being brown, there are a lot of intersectional identities,” they said. “Coming from a lower caste, coming from a lower socioeconomic background, coming from a minority religion, those things are so complicated that it’s very difficult for people to understand and navigate when they even talk to someone.”

All these issues can take a toll on a queer Desi person’s mental health,  which is why Qureshi offers a support group called the South Asian Queer League (pronouced SHAQL in Hindi) exclusively for queer South Asians.

“It’s not a queer person’s responsibility to explain all of this,” Qureshi said. The Desi Pride Parade aimed to relieve some of that burden with speakers who talked about what it’s like to be queer and a person of color.

Minneapolis City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins poses with Mubina Qureshi, SEWA’s program manager. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

At the event, Minneapolis City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins advocated for the passage of the Equality Act, which would provide specific anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

“We know that trans and queer and LGBT people exist in every culture, all around the world,” she said. “That’s the importance of showing up to things like this. Not only to celebrate, but to continue to plan, to continue to strategize, to continue to push for equity, for equality for all people.”

Undeterred by the potential rain, celebrants then marched down the sidewalk waving rainbow flags and holding signs like “No Samosas for Homophobes” and “Decolonize Love and Gender.” They were met with a chorus of honks from cars driving past.

“For me, Pride has always been about resilience,” said activist Ameera Sultana Khan in her speech, citing not only the ongoing struggles of queer people, but the toll of the pandemic in India. She said growing up, her parents and Muslim and Desi community members did not accept her transgender and queer identity.

But she sees that mindset changing. 

“It brings tears to my eyes when I see South Asian people here at a pride celebration,” she said. 

“I can see the progress is palpable. There are children who can grow up and be themselves and not have to balance  their queer identity and their Muslim identity. They can be both queer and holy, and they know that.” 

Khan said there are prominent LGBT characters in Islam and Hinduism, and colonial interpretations of the religion has led to intolerance in the community. “Our faith has been often used as a weapon against us, instead of to liberate us.”

During the Pride march down Lake Street, Bhupinder Juneja held their -2-year-old child’s hand while balancing a sign proclaiming “Love is Love” in Punjabi. Juneja said they interchange “she” and “they” pronouns for their child depending on the day. 

When asked what it was like to be part of a Pride parade specifically for South Asians, Juneja said “It’s a feeling of like, we feel included. We are part of it. And not just included among ourselves, included in the bigger community.” 

Peter Dinh attended the parade with his partner to show support for the queer South Asian community.

“Being East Asian myself, you know, South Asian people are Asian. I think sometimes people forget that,” Dinh said. “At the end, we’re really all connected people, and so I just want to make sure that I’m supporting that connection in any way I can.”

*Correction: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Mubina Qureshi’s name.

Tiffany is currently a senior at the University of Minnesota. Her work has appeared in the Pioneer Press, MPR, MinnPost, the Minnesota Daily, Insight News, and Sahan Journal. Follow her on Twitter @tiffanybu1.