We live in times of extremes.
Deliriously happy images of LGBT couples marrying exist on the same plane as images of gay men being thrown to their deaths and the all too real stories of lesbians raped to death for loving women.
Since coming out thirty years ago, my litany of happiness runs parallel to my litany of survival. Coming out to myself was my biggest challenge, but once I did I didn't think twice about sharing who I was, even when the consequence was isolation and approbation from family, community and the limitations to my professional career ambitions.
I was one of a small handful of Asian women visibly out in the late 1980's, but that changed and it changed because some of us came together, sat across and next to each other, to speak openly and vulnerably about our experiences of being shunned - not just by our families, but very often by the overwhelmingly white LGBT movement.
It was in this speaking that we experienced the joy of finding ourselves. It was a joy that coalesced across continents as we began making connections with other South Asian LGBT communities and individuals in India, U.S. and Canada. This was one of many monumental moments I lived through, capturing that moment of euphoria in my film Khush.
In 1991 when I went to India to shoot interviews for Khush, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, brought into existence by Queen Victoria, which made sex with persons of the same gender punishable by law, was still being used to harass and make arrests. The men and women who spoke to me risked their lives - their courage fuelled by a desire to be seen and no longer be invisible.
This was an act of tremendous courage, which coexisted in a culture and society where not only was homosexuality illegal, but also a taboo subject.
When something is taboo and hidden it inevitably leads to invisibility and being invisible is sometimes worse then death because there is no one out there who is affirming you or telling you that what you are feeling and who you are is not wrong, or sinful or abnormal. That is why it was extremely important for me to make a film that celebrated being Asian and being gay and lesbian. Even though I made Khush in 1991, to this day I receive letters from people around the world telling me how the film changed their lives, because it gave them the courage to be true to themselves when they saw other people talking about their lives so openly. It made them feel that they were not the only ones.
Fast forward a few years later, and I was asked, and of course I accepted, to be the Grand Marshal of one of the biggest LGBT pride parades in San Francisco. Sitting atop a car waving like a homecoming queen to the thousands of people marching through downtown San Francisco was a blast. Talk about visibility!
The movement for South Asian LGBT visibility has come a long way from that moment 30 years ago when a few of us came together and decided to form Shakti, a group for South Asian LGBT people in the U.K. We helped birth a movement that gave isolated individuals a safe place to meet and dance with wild abandon to Bhangra music and, just as crucially, create chosen family.
Fast forward yet again to a day I never imagined I would live to see. A full-blown Indian wedding with two brides resplendent in their saris, their families out in full force supporting them wholeheartedly in the celebration of their love. I have witnessed attitudes change and seemingly rock solid traditions shift, but only because of our refusal to be marginalised or made mute.
There have been great strides made for LGBT equality in the last few decades in some parts of the world. Ireland has a gay Prime Minister and Serbia elected a lesbian Prime Minister. Yet we cannot sit back and say the fight for equality has been won, far from it. A shared sexuality does not automatically mean a shared community. Much work still needs to happen within white run LGBT organisations for inclusion of diverse communities, to reflect the world and not just your own neighbourhood or club.
My lifelong passion for social justice came well before my involvement in the LGBT communities. Given that my mother fought for Indian independence through female led direct action against the British in India, my DNA is imbued with an instinct for justice. Making films is my passion and it is through my films I seek to change the world, one image at a time, one story at a time.
A rare chance to see Pratibha while she makes a quick stop in London, is at the British Film Institute on 25th June at 7pm, celebrating 30 years of Shakti. The London Indian Film Festival (LIFF) runs from 22nd June to 29th June across 11 venues in London, and a selection of these films, will screen at the Birmingham Indian Film Festival (BIFF) runs from 23rd June to 2nd July, in Birmingham, across 3 venues.Suggest a correction