Tag Archives: South Asian

Gaysians walk in S_O_L_I_D_A_R_I_T_Y!

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On SAT 8 JUL, the largest group of GAYSIANS (gay + Asian (though welcome to all LGBTQ+ family and allies), will march together at London Pride in solidarity to create a visible, audible, passionate value-driven presence.

It is led by the mighty spirited LAKS MANN & REETA. Together they have mobilised gaysian communities from across the UK to participate together on this day.

To reserve your place contact lion-i@virginmedia.com 

The Gaysians are here. Here’s to the better future. x

Bobby Tiwana

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Tricky Women

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Little Elephant to be screened at Tricky Women, an international festival for female directors working in animation, held annually in Vienna, Austria. Our film will be shown in the Beside Oneself category on 3 and 5 March. Kate Jessop, the film’s director will be there to talk about elephants, love and animation.Arts Council England

 

Here’s the trailer for the festival.

Just let go and dance…

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Hello there! Rob here again! It’s been a few months since I posted about our highly successful panel discussion at the Southbank Centre and I’ve had some time to do some thinking about an issue quite close to my heart – alternative clubbing in London.

Something has been bothering me the last few times I have ventured out into the London gay clubs. Recently, when I have been out on the town, I have often been left feeling a little saddened at what the gay scene in this city is becoming. It seems to me that many of the so-called ‘mainstream’ gay clubs have become hunting grounds for heterosexual men who come looking for ‘fag-hags’ and ‘gal-Rob (2)pals’ (two truly awful phrases in my opinion).

The result is that the clubs that were once ‘safe spaces’ for the queer community have been overtaken by heterosexual couples who, far from respecting the space as somewhere for the LGBT community to be themselves, seem to go out of their way to make queers feel uncomfortable. They do this either by acting threateningly towards anybody of the same sex who enters a metre radius of them or, more commonly in my experience, treating them as exhibits or animals in a zoo to be leered and pointed at.

I have been in a gay club before where  a stranger has come up and subjected me to personal asinine questions about my sexuality only for her to laugh about it with her equally vacuous friends. It was not how I wanted to feel in a space that “claims” to allow queers the freedom to be comfortable.

What’s worse is the clubs seem to be pandering to it. My last two nights out in London have seen me leave early with a bitter taste in my mouth. Straight male strippers gyrating on the bar, trashy drag queens whose bitching is as unfunny as it is incessant, and tragic “competitions” (I use that word very loosely) where the token gay in the audience is made to give an on-stage lap-dance to one of the straight male strippers while the (predominantly hetero) members of the audience hoot, cheer and bray like donkeys. It felt more like a gay-themed evening where every stereotype that has ever been thought of had been trooped out for the enjoyment of the crowd. To put it bluntly, I felt like a clown!

Please pardon the rant – I assure you it is going somewhere and leads me onto the main reason for my post. While I do feel like there is a major structural problem with the gay-scene in London at the moment, I don’t think the answer is to bar heterosexual people. I Heaven (2)have a lot of straight friends who often come out with me to gay clubs and they love them! I mean, why wouldn’t they?! Gay clubs rock…or at least they do when done right.

Rather than discriminating against a person based on their sexuality (something the LGBT community should know better than to do) we should aim for a space where everyone is allowed to do what they like without fear of feeling persecuted and this goes for straights and gays alike.

While I think the ideal, all-sexuality-encompassing club is a way off yet, I did frequent a place not so long ago which, I felt, was striking a better balance than some of the places I’ve described to you above. The place was Club Kali. For those of you who don’t know it then allow me to fill you in.

Kali is a South-Asian queer night that takes place once a month at The Dome in Tufnell Park. I was not expecting to find such a level of acceptance for all types that I did at Kali. Literally the whole spectrum of LGBT people were there and everyone was having a great time. It was colourful, loud, with great music and everybody was just letting go and dancing. I spied a few straight people there too. There weren’t loads but enough to have a presence and they were extremely respectful of those around them regardless of sexual orientation. I guess that would be the word I used to describe the attitude in that club – respectful – and it was so refreshing to see.

Yet at no point did I doubt that Kali was a queer night. There was a drag queen, the stunning Asifa Lahore who performed a couple of numbers; some fabulous gay anthems played that night; and even a couple of sneaky make-out sessions in the loos (not that I’d know anything about Kali Flippedthat!). So while I lament the growing trend within the London gay scene to market queerness as a brand that can be packaged and sold, Kali continues to do what it has always done – to provide a space for people to be themselves and to do whatever feels natural to them. Ok so it isn’t perfect. It’s been running for nearly 20 years and is a little tired around the edges. Plus, even in the most accepting of places, it seems there is always room for a bit of a drunken brawl and I did have to pull apart a couple who had clearly had a bit too much to drink.

Yet overall I was incredibly impressed with the work that Club Kali is doing, not just for the South Asian LGBT community, although that alone is highly commendable, but for the queer community in general who, I feel, have lost their identity a bit recently. I think as a community we need to be reminded that acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean integration. If straight people want to come and party with us then that’s great because, let’s face it we’re awesome, but we should remain true to ourselves at the same time. Let’s not sell our integrity to entertain the masses – in the clubs or anywhere for that matter.

Robert Beck is a returning guest-blogger for Safar. When he’s not writing, he’s busy chasing his dream of becoming a theatre director on the West End. However, this seems to involve drinking a lot of wine and not doing much work… He also writes for the urbanLIFECLASS blog and is training to be a re-birthing trainer. Follow him on Twitter @robertjamesbeck where he occasionally makes profound-ish comments. 

Rob’s take on The Love That Knows… panel discussion

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So here we are again. It certainly feels like a while since I last wrote something for this blog and it’s a pleasure to be back. Many of you may remember me as the friendly face of Beneath the Surface which toured last September and is now in the process of being developed into a fully-fledged theatrical piece – but more about that in the coming months I’m sure…

What I’m actually here to write about is a discussion that I was lucky enough to observe at Southbank Centre as part of Alchemy festival which showcases and celebrates art and culture from South Asia. The event was called The Love That Knows Much Shame and was a panel discussion which fundamentally focused on the question “Can you be LGBTQ and South Asian or are the two mutually exclusive?” It was a chance to share experiences as well as a chance to discuss ways of creating a more progressive future.

Now I could go on for reams and reams about the panel and their various areas of expertise. Needless to say, the organiser of this event had managed to select an eclectic mix of people to talk about the issues and how they, both personally and within their organisations, are helping to forge new inroads into creating a world that is prejudice-free for members of the South Asian LGBTQ community and for the queer community generally. For the sake of being brief I will simply list them here with links to their websites. I implore you to check out the good work they are all doing and to see what you can do to help aid our fight to eradicate intolerance. The event was chaired by Razia Aziz. Panel members included Aashi Gahlot, Fiyaz Mughal, Harjit Sarang and, of course, Bobby Tiwana who organised the event and whose blog I am once again hi-jacking!

So what were the main points to come out of the discussion? For any of you who were following the event on Twitter then you may have seen some of the quotes I put up:

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GAnd a hugely popular Tweet which caused a bit of a stir:

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These Tweets might help you to get a flavour of what the event was like. Fundamentally, we were gathered there to make a statement that whether you’re Gay, Straight, White, Asian or any combination in between then you can help stamp out prejudice. I likened the event to the ACT UP meetings in New York in the ‘80s which, in their hay-day, were a hotbed of ideas for tackling the AIDS epidemic. Here we are, 30 years on, across the pond, gathering again to take action against another enemy; an older one and one that’s harder to beat – homophobia. While this event was part of Alchemy, thus technically a South Asian event, I looked around the room and saw such a mix of people that I knew this topic had struck a chord with many people from outside the South Asian community as well.

We all know what it’s like to suffer prejudice at the hands of someone who is supposed to love us; we all know what rejection and intolerance feels like. Yet for many of us in the UK, we have the freedom to live our lives how we want. Especially in the cosmopolitan city centres, identifying as LGBTQ is not something we are scared to do anymore. However, for many others, coming out as LGBTQ is still a battle where the people they are fighting are their own families and friends. There were some truly touching stories shared at this event and some truly horrifying ones too – families disowning children for years and years for the meagre “crime” of loving someone of the same sex. What I found truly heartening was the number of people, from all nationalities, who turned out to support those who still find it hard to be accepted for the people they are.

Looking at the issue from a South Asian perspective though, for many people it does seem that you can identify as LGBTQ and South Asian. There are spaces between the two terms and navigating them can be hard. We touched upon the fact that “coming out” is quite a Western concept and one that does not gel well with the many highly private families in South Asian cultures – “OK so you’re gay but keep quiet about it and don’t let the neighbours know.” Similarly, it can sometimes be quite hard to know which is the best way to go about seeking acceptance – does one do it quietly by just living their life and hoping their visibility will eventually breed acceptance, or do we stand up and politicize ourselves and fight tooth and nail for our rights? We heard from people who argued for both cases and, while no agreement was made, it opened up a debate that needs to be had. How, as a collective, are we going to fight intolerance?

Of course, the issue with these sorts of discussions is that we are only ever able to scratch the surface of the problem, let alone find solutions. Maybe if there were another event like this we could pick up from where we left off and get in deeper? I know I will certainly be on the lookout for similar talks to this one. Ultimately though, the main benefit of an event such as this is that it brings people together. After an event like The Love That Knows Much Shame people don’t feel so alone – “there are others out there who want the same things as I do.” You get a chance to network, take phone numbers, organise meetings. This event was merely the starting point for people to break into smaller groups and carry on the fight in their individual communities. “Activism starts at home” as one of our panel said – let’s hope that this wonderful event has inspired people to go and make that statement true!

Also do check out Harjit Sarang’s pioneering Equal Marriage campaign.

Robert Beck got involved with Bobby’s work after one of his very dear friends was interviewed as part of the research for ‘Beneath the Surface’. Since then he has worked as a Researcher for Bobby, Social Media Adviser, Production Assistant and Guest Blogger. The work means a lot to him and he hopes to stay involved for as long as possible. He doesn’t have a website (although he probably should). Follow him on Twitter @robertjamesbeck 

Panel members announced

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Well, I’m delighted to say that I managed to secure a high calibre panel of people working in and around the topic of being LGBT and South Asian for The Love That Knows Much Shame, on Friday 23 May, 6pm at Southbank Centre, London. Full press release here.

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Sorrel from Friends & Families of Lesbians and Gays, and Aashi.

I was researching South Asian parents and LGBT and came across this lovely image of these two women. That is when I learnt about Aashi Gahlot (on the right) who is truly inspirational. She is Founder and Editor-in-Chief at SHOR, a creative online portal reflecting South Asian LGBTQ lives worldwide; a creative writer, activist, journalist and freelance translator for film and TV.

I learnt about Harjit Sarang, in February last year. She started following me on Twitter after I tweeted a radio excerpt during LGBT History Month. We’ve been trying to meet for some time but it’s not yet happened. She’s a Lawyer specialising in parenting for infertile, gay, and lesbian couples; an LGBT activist and equality campaigner. Her Equal Marriage campaign on Twitter was innovative. It sought equal marriage endorsements from celebrities who have a  larger number of followers, therefore getting a positive message out to a larger pool of people.

A few weeks ago, when Same Sex Marriage became legal, I participated in a telephone radio interview. Fiyaz Mughal OBE FCMI, was on the same programme after me. I was quite impressed with his articulation and understanding of community development and evolution. He is Director of Faith Matters, working to reduce extremism, interfaith and intra-faith tensions. He has a background in community and voluntary sector social policy, lobbying and conflict resolution. He’s also a former Councillor for Haringey and Oxford.

And then there’s humble ol’ me, who got involved in all this through developing a new LGB theatre narrative, born out of research with South Asian communities across England. We’re still chugging and now have a finished script.

And finally, most recently I’ve secured Razia Aziz to facilitate the event, who’s Co-Founder of The Equality Academy. She’s a diversity and equality trainer, coach and consultant; as well as an interfaith minister offering a service to people of all faiths or none.

So at this point, if I might say, I think we have all the ingredients for a potentially high quality event.

The Love That Knows Much Shame

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I was in discussion with the Southbank Centre about the prospect of a gay and lesbian panel discussion as part of this year’s Alchemy festival. It was during the last weekend of March, after Saturday 29, upon the arrival of same sex marriage (in England and Wales) that its relevance seemed more pronounced i.e. whilst we now have same sex marriage, the irony is, most British (South) Asians still find themselves unable to come out to their parents and families.

How many of us ‘successfully’ navigate with our ethnic, racial, cultural identity and our sexual identity? What sacrifices are made to fit into either camp, be it South Asian or LGBT spaces? Can you be yourself (out) and still have a good relationship with your parents and family?

Once we’ve acknowledged the current context I’m most interested in how we get to a more progressive tomorrow… More South Asian LGBT role models, who are out in public life and the media? What are South Asian LGBT role models? What role can culture (TV, film, theatre and the media) play in supporting this? How do we create more awareness and understanding through grassroots engagement – with our families, friends, communities? How can wider society support us to that better future…?

The Love That Knows Much Shame takes place on Friday 23 May, 6pm at Southbank Centre, London and is now open for booking.

Panel members include

Rob blogs Birmingham

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Hello again, dear readers. I am writing to you, not from Glasgow as suggested in my last post, but from the safety of my own home. It appears that, as is often the case with me, I was stressing rather too much and it turns out my journey to Midland’s Arts Centre (Mac), MacEntrancein Birmingham, though now re-branded as mac birmingham, was easier than I had anticipated.

For future reference, it is a very simple bus ride from the centre of Birmingham – although I’m sure you’ll have a much better sense of navigation than I do! The building itself is gorgeous and I was surprised at how picturesque it was!

Another guilty confession, readers, but despite professing to be a theatre-maker who has spent eighteen years in the West Midlands, I had never visited Mac before but boy do I wish I had. Clearly I have spent far too much time in the likes of Manchester and London and have neglected the amazing venues us Midlanders have on our doorsteps.

Well anyway, to the matter at hand, by which I mean Beneath the Surface event number 3!! I don’t know what it was about this performance but I really thought it was the best one yet. The performed extracts were very well done (apart from a slight mix-up on the sound levels…anybody sitting on the right-hand side of the room might be ever so slightly deaf in one ear now) and once again there were plenty of surprises in how the audience reacted to parts of the script.

MacRiverThere seemed to be a more relaxed and vocal atmosphere in the room with audience members laughing harder at the jokes in the script and exchanging glances with one another throughout. This may have been to do with the number that we had in – our largest audience yet – and once again an eclectic mix of men, women, white, Asian, straight and gay. There were also a significant number of older people which I found very interesting and made a point of talking to after the show – but more on that in a bit.

One thing I really noticed at this performance was how the audience in Birmingham was very keen to dive straight in to talking about the issues raised by the piece and to discuss these with much greater ferocity than I have thus far witnessed. Indeed, there was very little talk about the theatricality of the piece but a much greater emphasis on the themes raised in the work.

The discussion at one point intensified with one man saying how he would have preferred some lighter stories which celebrated tolerant parents as well as the stories that condemn the prejudices of others. While one woman countered this by saying the whole point of this piece was to raise awareness of those who find being gay and South Asian extremely torturous and that by including too many “happy” stories risked diluting the poignancy of the piece. Personally, I think that both are right. This work is not simply about telling horror stories of people who can’t/won’t be true to themselves and are tortured by it but should very definitely celebrate those who are open and proud and have found a way of gaining acceptance. Yet the piece should be about balance with both the lighter and darker stories being given equal airing. At the end of the day, the purpose of the piece is to tell stories about contemporary British Asian gay lives and to do that the whole spectrum of experiences must be examined

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I mentioned earlier in this post how there was a significantly larger proportion of older audience members at Mac than there had been at either London or Smethwick. I think this is a very interesting point to make and may have led to one of the most fascinating discussion points of the evening. The piece itself is made up of both younger and older voices. Indeed, the voices of the two Indian parents (if this isn’t making much sense to you then it is possibly because you haven’t seen the show and I would therefore direct you to the bookings page where there are still tickets left for two of our three remaining dates) represent the older generation who still have trouble accepting and might even find the idea of homosexuality abhorrent. Yet it is simplistic to state that the older generation is prejudiced and the younger generation tolerant. One older Asian lady that I talked to described the piece as “completely new” to her – she had seen the event listed and thought she would give it a go. Yet as our conversation continued I saw how adamantly she believed that supporting those you love and care about, no matter what, was what made you a family and I found myself thinking that her presence here was no mistake. She wanted to learn more so she could continue to be supportive to those that she loved. This was put into stark contrast when I heard about the abuse a young Asian teen had received from his peers when he came out at school. It struck me that in many cases the older generation can be instrumental in teaching the younger generation to be tolerant too. Cast your minds back to my London blog, the story of the young boy teaching his grandmother about tolerance through his unbiased innocence and you’ll find, as I have done, that every generation needs to be taught tolerance and that it is down to families and communities to do this teaching and that if we all practice and teach acceptance then suddenly the world might begin to change.

As well as these incredibly deep revelations, we also found the time to have some fun with the discussions. For the first time in the workshops so far we had people sharing the ten words they would like to impart to a character in the script. While they were all very insightful, I do remember one lady using her ten words to ask one of the characters out for a coffee! I’m smiling to myself as I write this as I can just imagine that character going on a date with one of the audience – it just seems like something they’d do! I also remember the words “love risk” being mentioned as part of someone’s ten words and I thought that was such a great phrase…I think I might have it embroidered onto a cushion!

So a slightly longer blog this time but one that I think deserved a few more words. I left Birmingham buzzing, both because of the performances which I think are getting better and better with each venue and also because of the discussion and the topics we touched upon. I hope our next event in Sheffield will be just as good! So until the next time – stay fabulous!

 Rob Beck (is guest blogger for Beneath the Surface) 

Here’s another from guest blogger Rob…

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Welcome back readers! Here is the second instalment of my take on Beneath the Surface – where I shall be telling you about what’s been going on, the headway we’ve made with the project, our discoveries, and the general antics of the group as we march on towards our first show THIS SATURDAY at Southbank Centre in London.

Yesterday was the first time the whole team came together. I arrived at Newhampton Arts Centre in Wolverhampton with time to spare (despite my threats last time to complain about traffic, I have to concede that it was a fine drive in the morning). The fact it was raining did nothing to dampen my excitement about meeting the actors, the directors and the rest of the team – some of whom I had met already and some of whom were new to me. From just eight hours of working with them, I can already tell that this is a great group! There is great chemistry between our two actors, Dharmesh Patel and Rochi Rampal, and under the direction of Steve and Kate, our directors, we have made real progress already. IMG_5892

We began at the beginning with a read-through. I always feel this gives everyone a chance to hear the lines of the script out loud and to comprehend what they’re saying in a way that’s somehow so much clearer than just reading it in one’s head. Suddenly the characters in the piece are injected with a spark of life, a spark that it’s now up to the team to nurture and help grow until a set of fully formed characters stand before them. It also gives the actors, directors, and fascinated bloggers (such as the one writing now) a chance to raise questions and to discuss ideas in the piece and what they mean in a wider theatrical context. I must admit to you now that if there’s one thing this group seems very good at, it’s discussions! I do believe that reading through just under thirty pages of script took near enough two and a half hours. However, the insights that we were able to draw from these discussions were pure theatrical gold (pardon the cliché). I do not want to spoil the show for you (for of course, I expect you all to be rushing to see it at a venue near you soon) but I will tell you that a big focus of our discussions rests on how two different sets of characters identity as both LGB and South Asian – are the two concepts mutually exclusive or is there a way of navigating the line between being LGB and South Asian? For two of the younger characters it seems they are more confined by their identities, while for two of the more mature characters it seems they have found a way of establishing themselves in such a way that means being LGB isn’t outside their culture nor are they pandering to a view that they are marginal within the queer community. It was an amazing discussion and it got me thinking about how an LGB identity can sometimes absorb you to the point there is nothing else about you and where does this leave you in terms of forming an identity that is true to all parts of yourself if you come from a strong and proud cultural background – maybe you have your own views?

So after a long and in-depth read-through, we were off – beginning the process of rehearsing each section, in particular the parts of the script that make use of multi-media which are to be created tomorrow (full coverage will follow in later blogs). The energy of both performers and production team – even at  the end of the day – was impressive and reflected in the fact we were able to finish these sections with time at the end of the day for a de-brief and to plan out the rest of the week’s rehearsals. I did my bit by chipping in with my own ideas and experiences when appropriate and kept everyone’s spirits up by plying them with tea and coffee whenever there appeared to be a dip (and people say that working in theatre is glamorous!). I do not want to foreshadow future blogs too much but will implore you to stay tuned because (and here comes another cliché) … the best is yet to come! Until the next time – stay fabulous!

Robert Beck is a guest blogger for Bobby Tiwana’s project ‘Beneath the Surface’. As well as blogging he is an emerging theatre maker and director with a special interest in LGBT projects and queer narratives. Follow him on Twitter @Rhubarb1992 or read his own (brand new) blog.