In the late Nineties, what began as a group of South Asian LGBT people meeting over potlucks and in people’s living rooms to find community and support in the Bay Area, has evolved into the only desi LGBTQ collective in Southern California. Founded in 1997, Satrang serves the South Asian LGBTQ community by promoting awareness, acceptance, and empowerment through social, educational, and advocacy-related events.
“You can imagine, back then, what it would be like to be an LGBT South Asian person living in Los Angeles, and not feeling like you can be out, like you have a space,” said Alicia Virani, the current President of Satrang.
Originally known as Trikone LA, as more and more voices joined together over the years, Satrang took on a formal structure, developing a volunteer board and a dedicated membership.
In the 2000s it became an official not-for-profit organization. Currently, with a seven-person volunteer board, Satrang is the only organization that serves LGBTQ people in Southern California.
“It really wasn’t okay to be gay then,” said Virani. The stigma around homosexuality was prevalent across the country, and not just within the South Asian community. But being South Asian came with its own set of challenges and rewards.
“If you’re an LGBTQ South Asian person, not only are you dealing with the country being homophobic and transphobic, you may also be dealing with such phobia within your own family and community, along with immigration issues, employment issues and issues within your religious community,” Virani said.
The immigrant experience can be isolating, so people tend to “double down on their culture and hold tightly to it as a familiar and safe space. That can also mean sometimes holding on to some not so healthy ideas about sexual and gender orientation” said Virani. At the same time, Satrang has encountered many people in the South Asian community who have been both, accepting and proud of their children’s LGBTQ identities.
Yet, there were unique ways in which South Asian LGBTQ identities intersected with other social challenges. “Folks in the Nineties were craving to find other queer members from the South Asian community because how affirming is it to find that you’re not the only one,” added Virani.
The visibility of LGBTQ people within the community is much greater now. And with India lifting the ban on homosexuality last year, diaspora activism has strengthened as well. According to Virani, even within the contemporary climate of LGBTQ rights, they often still hear stories about people feeling isolated, feeling like they were the only one. “When they come to Satrang they find that isn’t true,” Virani said.
Virani joined Satrang in 2007, having come out to her parents as queer, but not having found enough Indians to identify with. “To see the older generation of South Asian LGBTQ members, thrive and live these full lives was very reaffirming and empowering for me,” she says, describing her motivation behind joining Satrang.
As President, she is working towards building up the organization along with other Board members. “It is important to continue to create allies in the South Asian community as well as the larger LGBTQ community,” she said. Particularly, Satrang focuses its work on trying to ensure that the community understands the terminology of being LGBTQ without feeling either stigma or shame. They also train parents to support children who identify as LGBTQ.
“For me, this comes from a very personal space because I had to face opposition at home,” says Virani. “It took around seven years for my family members to fully embrace me.”
Satrang’s ultimate philosophy is to change people’s hearts with unconditional love. “Even if some families were not accepting, they would still fill their family members with unconditional love and be patient, until they came around,” Virani says. “The power of such transformation is phenomenal.”