The Open Minds (ਖੁੱਲ੍ਹੇ ਮਨ) support group started as a collaboration between Sarbat and Taraki to provide a safe space for Punjabi LGBT+ individuals to share stories and provide support to each other. Following a very successful pilot workshop last month, we held our first group session on 29th May 2019. Thank you to all the people who joined us for our first session of Open Minds (ਖੁੱਲ੍ਹੇ ਮਨ) and also thanks to the St Luke’s Community Centre in South Islington, London for their offering their lovely space for our use.
We began the group by establishing five virtues borrowed from the Sikh faith – truth, compassion, contentment, humility, and love. These are values that we hope would ground discussions in the group in this and future meetings.
The theme for this session was family pressure and we started the session by discussing what it means to us and our lives. For some people, there was immense pressure by our families to conform. This pressure came from a variety of sources, from expectations of parents to wider families to the larger communities. For other participants in the group, this was less of an issue and they talked about pressure from a different perspective. To them, a sense of pressure originated in their own aspirations to achieve certain milestones by a particular stage in their life.
The group felt that, ideally, families should represent unconditional love, provide emotional and physical support, and a sense of identity and grounding, a place to belong for an individual. But in reality this was not the case for a majority of the participants. They felt that family love came with its conditions and support could only be guaranteed if they didn’t stray too far from the expected path. Sometimes this expectation was communicated in words, and sometimes it was implicit in the way parents rewarded other siblings or relatives who were able to get married to the ‘correct’ partners, have children and live ‘normal’ lives. People also talked about the guilt they feel when they talk about their LGBT+ identity and/or partners as they are exposing their parents to judgement from their community.
We considered how sometimes, to protect themselves or their families, LGBT+ indivduals enter ‘marriages of convenience’, contractual arrangements to maintain a facade of heterosexual couple while both partners engage in separate same-sex relationships outside of the marriage. Such sham marriages might offer an escape from extremely challenging family circumstances but they often present uncomfortable, undesirable, untruthful ways to live. The group unanimously hoped that one day such marriages would not be necessary and relationships would simply be accepted for what they are. Group members also acknowledged that worrying about what others’ reactions can cause a disparity between the private and public faces even in heteronormative marriages and such secrets could have a toxic effect on punjabi families in general.
We closed that session by discussing how some of the group have managed to find a way through this to live a ‘post fear’ life where they could feel strong enough to be themselves all the time, and how others aspired to such a life. We agreed to talk more about people’s Coming Out stories at the next meeting as a way of learning about each other’s strength and resilience. And if you’re Sikh LGBTQ+ and finding things difficult – please do come along to our next meeting on Wednesday, the 26th of June at 6pm at L&Q, 29-35 West Ham Lane, Stratford, London E15 4PH. Sign up here. Female, trans, bisexual and non-binary persons are particularly encouraged to attend.
Kuljit Bhogal and S Kaur
On behalf of Sarbat and Taraki