UK based LGBTQI activist Manjinder Singh Sidhu and his very awesome mum, Mrs. Swaran Kaur on what it feels like to be Queer.
Q. There is a need to address queer existence and discuss identity in the wide spectrum of languages indigenous to the Indian peninsula. What exactly got you thinking that such a video in Punjabi would be helpful for South East Asians to see?
Living in the UK, it is assumed we are more modern and accepting of our
children. This is not necessarily the case. Some of our parents come from
the villages of Punjab, uneducated and conservative. Once they arrived in the UK, they were shocked at western liberalism and thus were more strict when it comes to the upbringing of their kids, say compared to middle class city dwellers in
India. I have lived in India on numerous occasions doing Human Rights
work and feel the middle class educated elite are way ahead of us in
accepting such issues. In the UK there is a void on catering to the Gay
South Asian community. All LGBTQI services are in English, namely accessed
by middle class white people. I did a Punjab Radio show on the topic and a
Sikh Channel documentary series on LGBTQI issues in the community which
can be accessed on my website. Basically in the UK
there is plenty of literature in English on coming out and being gay which
is even talked about in English on young British Asian radio and TV
channels but nothing for the older parental generation.
A lesbian Sikh lady from London requested the video for her parents to be educated. Initially we were going to just call her folks, but then I told my mum
that many people may ask her the same questions so we will make a private
video. Had I known it would be this popular, I would have changed my night time
pyjamas in the video and put on some funky jeans! After filming and
reviewing, we thought it was good and perhaps we could make it public, not
knowing the attention it would get and how it would go viral (I mean I was
only getting 30 or 50 views on my videos a week)! We need more role
models, more out people discussing such things. We need parents who are
not scared of what other people will say – a concept that plagues our
culture. I hope to film many more coming out and parent related videos in
different languages over the course of the year so please subscribe to the
youtube channel! I would love to see more people around the
globe especially in more forward thinking countries like USA and Canada
and from our mother country India to make such videos in their vernacular
to start a movement.
Q. Evidently the person everyone has been cheering on is your amazing mother. What was the experience like, making this video and having her help you?
I know, she is famous now! Bless her. She has always been supportive, ever
since I came out (my father is also equally supportive and will appear in
some videos soon). Generally my mum is a very religious, loving woman but
also fiery and likes to stand up for herself. She is quite shy in
public, but at home very confident. So the video was made on a hot Sunday
evening after work. I wanted to get the filming done and my Dad was
hesitant to do it. But my Mum was all for it! She was like, ’it will benefit
someone and therefore I will do it.’ She had never been filmed with me
before and we did not rehearse it a bit. We were planning to do some yoga
together as she had a bad back and then I pulled the camera out. The take
you saw online was the third one. We had two short clips before that but
due to the memory card filling up we had to discard those as they only
recorded for a minute or so. My mum understands the magnitude of the work
that we need to do. She also dislikes the hypocrisy and dishonesty the
Indian culture has about the truth. I admire that in her. She has always
said that she wants to educate the world and that gay people are natural gifts
from God and should be accepted.
Q. What has the reaction from people who have viewed this been like?
Surprisingly, all positive. I am a one man show, and when your video has
nearly 50,000 views after 4 days, it is overwhelming (the jump from 50
views to 50,000!). So many messages of love, support, honour, and encouragement for my mother. Buzz Feed did an article on it too. I wish I had done the subtitles initially – they are being done now, but I was in a hurry as
usual to get it out there! But I am glad, because I wanted to direct and
honour the Punjabi culture first, which I believe is quite liberal and
accepting on the whole. I mean if you remember the Satyamev Jayate episode
on gay rights, it was the Sikh/Punjabi parents that were most accepting and
ok with it. So yeah, it’s been Sikh/Punjabi young people; first it was gay
people and then a lot of females messaging. People sharing their stories
of coming out, difficulties, triumphs, advice, wanting counselling,
collaboration and now many people helping me in the work- wanting to
volunteer, intern, do stuff for me like the subtitles and such. It’s been
crazy, I tell you. It is across the board, not just gay people, women are
sharing their stories of being disowned for just marrying a guy from
another caste and thus applaud my mum for her acceptance. I have TV
Channels, Radio shows, papers all over the globe quizzing me! It’s exciting
and scary but needs to be done! It’s also funny when people you kind of know,
message you out of the blue congratulating you.
So thank you everyone.
Now moving on to our supermom, Mrs. Swaran Kaur.
Q. When did Manjinder come out to you. What was your journey like
accepting his sexuality?
Manjinder came out at the age of 25. When he told us initially it was very
difficult for us, but after some time with patience on his part we
understood what was happening. I mean I did not even know what gay was- I
had never heard of it and there was no Punjabi literature on it. I only
knew of hijras (transgender) from my youth in Punjab. After his
persistence and education and patience, we began to accept him fully. God
made him like this and we cannot change him. Parents should love their
children unconditionally no matter what, especially when it’s something out
of anyone’s control.
Q. You stated how you know of people who force their queer children to
get married. Did you ever pressure your son initially to go down that
We asked our son once if he wanted to get married to a woman to which he
replied no. We accepted that straight away and never asked him again. We
would never force our child to live a lie and I urge other parents not to
do the same, regardless of your child’s sexual orientation.
Q. After the release of the video, I am sure a good number of people
would have reached out to you. What was the response like?
So many people have viewed it. I am very thankful for your response.
People have been asking me for advice on what to do if their parents have
disowned them. I would like to tell them to try to get their parents to
speak with me and I will personally try to resolve the situation. I would
like your Mums and Dads to also get together and support one
another. There is no shame in this and we should not care what people say –
instead we need to create an open dialogue of acceptance and love. God has
given this gift of life. Love your parents and stay with them after coming
out to help them understand. Don’t run away if you can. Living a life of
lies is not healthy for anyone. Parents who disown their children are wrong
to do so. They should listen to their children and love their children
regardless. I have heard from straight girls who have been disowned,
threatened or kicked out of their homes by their parents for simply loving
someone they did not approve of. Parents who want to kill these children
or kick them out of the house are wrong. If parents can’t accept their kids,
how will the world accept them? People will try to ridicule regardless.
Parents should stand with their children. Please contact my son for
support and if you need mine, I am here too. I hope to film some more
videos with him tackling all the thousands of questions we have been