Personal Testimony

Being Gay and Sikh in the UK – Testimony of HS (male, 32, Birmingham)

My family come from a traditional Punjabi Sikh background, with my parents coming to the UK in the 1960s. My parents were not baptised Sikhs but they did go to the gurdwara regularly, and as children, my sisters and I would also attend on a regular basis.

I first became aware of the fact that I was homosexual when I started going to Secondary School. There was no particular experience that set that off, just the fact that I found men more attractive than women at my school. It was only at the age of 13 or 14 that I came across the word ‘gay’, and that was how I considered myself to be. I was at ease with my sexuality from an early age, as it didn’t trouble me too much. At the same time, I also knew that I couldn’t come out to my friends at school or to my family because of the homophobia and prejudice I was likley to encounter.

I first went out on the gay scene in the mid-1990s, when I was 18 years old. There were very few Asian people out on the scene at that time. Overall, my experiences on the scene in those early years were positive. I’ve never felt any racism or prejudice because of my ethnicity or for being Sikh. I did, however, feel self-conscious at times when I was the only Asian guy in whichever gay venue I was at.

In or around 2001, I helped set up a support group in the Midlands called Saathi. The main aim was to reach out to gay Asian men who were not accessing other resources at the time, to men who probably felt quite isolated and uncomfortable with going out on the gay scene, having issues with their sexuality, their culture, their family, their community. We just felt the need to provide a safe space for people to meet and talk about the issues affecting them. Certain aspects within the Asian community, be it religious beliefs or cultural traditions, make it more difficult for some Asian gay men to get the support that they need. There was also the issue of men who felt as though they were being forced into marriage and for whom there may be a lack of understanding from more mainstream resources.

Sadly, the support group service offered by Saathi was not as successful as it could have been, and there may have been a number of reasons for that, with the main reason being that it is a massive step for Asian gay men to go to a group and be surrounded by other gay men from the same or similar cultural backgrounds. The guys who did access the group were, on the whole, men who were on the scene and accessing other services. The target group was men who were from the older generations and who were living in the predominantly Asian areas of Birmingham, and sadly these hard-to-reach people who desperately needed the support were unwilling to make the massive step of attending the group. During the course of the project, it became clear that the people attending the group wanted a social night specifically aimed at them. Saathi as a social night was launched in 2001. It was a success from the start and it continues to run today.

Coming out to my family has been a gradual process since the age of 18. Initially, I kinda kept things secret, and I think it was in my mid-twenties when my family began to ask me about getting married. I was not being pressurised into marriage as such, however, there were hints that I should be settling down and having kids. It was at that time that I came out to a few of my sisters. I have seven sisters altogether and I am the only son of the family. My father passed away some time ago. Although the few sisters that I initially came out to were not shocked, my sexuality was something that was not spoken about.

I’m sure that the fact that I am the only son had certain ramifications, as they would have felt that I needed to continue the family line. However, it has taken my sisters a number of years to get to the point they are at now, with being comfortable with the fact that I am gay. I’ve never officially come out to my mother. I think over the years she has realised that I will not be getting married and having kids with a woman. There was a lot of pressure upon her from the extended family and the community to get me married as I am the only child, but I told here recently that I would never get married to a woman and she appears to have accepted it. In her own way, I think she has accepted my sexuality and I think she just wants me to be happy, settle down with a life partner, even if it’s a man.

I have not been able to introduce any of my boyfriends to my family as anything other than as friends. I think it is quite unfortunate as there have been times when I have been in a long-term relationship with a stable partner when I wanted my family to know about him. I still live at home with my mother, and some of my former partners have stayed over with me. I do hope that the time comes when I can properly introduce my partner to my mother, but I haven’t had the guts to do it so far to be honest.

I describe myself as a non-practicing Sikh. I have a strong belief in God. I go to the gurdwara when my heart tells me to, and I do listen to shabads, kirtans. I do pray occasionally. I don’t have any overt symbols of Sikhism. I’m a British modern Sikh man.

I’ve never felt that my religious identity has been at odds with my sexual identity. My strong faith in God has helped my through some difficult times dealing with my sexuality whilst I was growing up. I’ve always felt my religion to be a great help. My own personal understanding on Sikhism is that it is based on equality and that the scriptures contain no reference to homosexuality being a sin or unnatural. I’ve seen that as a sign that the way I am is the way that God intended me to be, and so I should accept myself and be at ease with myself.

In terms of religion, my beliefs are very personal to me, so I would not expect my partner to follow those beliefs if he came from a non-Sikh background, as long as he respected my beliefs and my cultural background. For the future, I hope that it will be acceptable for all of us as gay Asians and gay men in general to have equality in society, be able to get married, adopt kids. I hope that there are lots of changes in Asian culture and in the Sikh community generally regarding attitudes towards sexuality. There needs to be greater education at large and people need to be more open minded.

I feel that, as a gay man, I should not be denied the right to an Anand Karaj, that I should have the choice. I have been to many Sikh weddings, and I consider it to be a beautiful wedding ceremony. If my partner were non-Sikh, I would hope that he would agree to an Anand Karaj or a compromise. It’s not the ‘be all and end all’, it’s merely a hope. I would definitely want children, either my own or adopted, but I would leave it to them as to whether they wish to follow the Sikh beliefs. I would show them the principles of Sikhism and spirituality. My Sikh idenity is very important to me on a personal level. I follow the beliefs, the spirituality and the philosophy of the religion. My identity is a fusion of being Sikh, British, Asian, and being gay, and I feel like I have the benefit of the best bits of all of them.

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