Social Justice

'I was spat on in a gay bar': How the South Asian diaspora is fighting racism in queer spaces

Experiences of racism in queer spaces have inspired South Asian members of the LGBTQ+ community to expose the problem

Manchester's Gay Village. Image: Shikhar Talwar

Manchester's Gay Village. Image: Shikhar Talwar

Many South Asian people across the UK face racism in queer spaces. There are racial slurs, individuals being told that “brown people can’t be gay” and reports of some South Asian people being spat on. 

As a result, the community is mobilising. From drag queen collectives to Bollywood-themed queer club nights, South Asian people are pushing back – and celebrating their own joy while they do it.  

A lot of this can be seen in Manchester’s Gay Village. Vaibhav, a student at the University of Manchester, says: “I used to visit the Gay Village often. But, in 2021 during Pride, I came across a group of men, all of whom were a part of the parade. 

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

“They started talking to me. Questioning why I am here. They would say: ‘What’s a P**i like you doing here?’ And as I started to ignore them and walk away one of them grabbed me by my collar and spat on me.” 

Vaibhav said this wasn’t an isolated experience, but something he has seen constantly in Gay Village. In his experience, bouncers would never step into help, and someone else would often join in on the abuse. 

He says: “Gay Village was meant to be a safe space for me to express myself. But now it’s filled with terrible memories that I can’t imagine having to relive.” 

Vaibhav is not alone in this experience and one of the UK’s most queer-friendly cities had a huge issue of racism at its heart. 

Outside of Manchester, such abuse is still prevalent.  

In a London club, Sakshi was on a night out with her friends. On a visit to the toilet she became the target of repeated slurs.  

She says: “I just went to the loo and saw a few drag queens there. They were all confused and looked at me as if I wasn’t supposed to be there.”  

Sakshi was asked by the visitors: “Are you really a lesbian?” She ignored them but was tormented while in the stalls, with people banging on the doors and asking her to come out.  

She stayed in the toilet for the next 30 minutes, when a friend came to help. She called the experience “traumatising”. 

Seeing such experiences in queer spaces, Ryan Lanji, a producer of cultural events based in London, decided to create his own Bollywood-themed nightclub – Hungama, opened in 2017 – for “South Asian queers to express themselves”. 

While the nightclub is based in London, Lanji recognised the importance of spreading this throughout the country. That’s why in 2023, he took a club night – Club Zindagi – on a tour of the UK. 

Club Zindagi made one of its first visits to Manchester Gay Village’s Churchills. This was a direct attempt by Lanji to provide a solution to racism allegations in the city. 

Jasmine, who attended the event, says: “That night was something that we had never seen before. It was confronting, a space for us to be ourselves.” 

She called it one of the most emotional nights she had ever experienced. She could be queer, while also celebrating being Indian. 

The night started with Bollywood music, served themed cocktails and brought out movies from her childhood that had queer messaging. 

Jasmine recalls: “I made friends with people who had the same experience as me growing up. And the reason I could talk to them was because we felt like we could be free to be ourselves without any judgement.” 

Since then, Club Zindagi has become a mainstay at Gay Village, showcasing a variety of Bollywood music while making it safe for South Asian queer people to enjoy a night out.  

Others in Manchester are coming up with creative ways to be their authentic selves in safety. 

That includes the House of Spice. A collective created by Lucky Roy Singh, a Mancunian drag queen, to form a space for South Asian and Middle Eastern drag queens.  

Queen Sheeba, a member of the collective, says: “We didn’t purposely create this collective just to tackle racism in queer spaces. We made it so that we can more confidently express ourselves.” 

She adds that now they use this platform to talk about racism in the industry and shed light on it. “It is important to show people that racism is still prevalent for two reasons. First to make white people believe that this does happen. But more importantly, to tell South Asians that it is ok to share their experience and not feel burdened by it. People will believe you.” 

This is a common theme amongst many South Asians. In conversations for this article, many South Asian people questioned whether they should speak about their experiences. On one hand, there’s a fear that they’ll be accused of damaging the LGBTQ+ movement. On the other, many think there is still homophobia in South Asian communities. As a result, they feel uncomfortable talking about their experiences with family and friends.  

Sejal is a queer activist, based in Brighton, who talks about the intersectionality of race and sexuality. She believes that queer spaces are becoming “more tolerant”. 

She says: “Change is coming. Slowly, but surely, at least I hope, our world is developing.” 

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy!

If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today. Or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play

Support your local Big Issue vendor

If you can’t get to your local vendor every week, subscribing directly to them online is the best way to support your vendor. Your chosen vendor will receive 50% of the profit from each copy and the rest is invested back into our work to create opportunities for people affected by poverty.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
This pioneering and 'beautiful' idea can help keep young care leavers from falling into homelessness
Care leaver Bayley Tubman with her 'aunties'
Care leavers

This pioneering and 'beautiful' idea can help keep young care leavers from falling into homelessness

Inside the primary school 'food shop' ensuring children don't go hungry over summer break
Food poverty

Inside the primary school 'food shop' ensuring children don't go hungry over summer break

More than two thirds of teachers worry children will go hungry this summer: 'Beyond heart-breaking'
child pulling hair of another child who is eating
Child poverty

More than two thirds of teachers worry children will go hungry this summer: 'Beyond heart-breaking'

1.6 million children at risk of 'losing their life chances' because of 'cruel' two-child benefit cap
three children
Child poverty

1.6 million children at risk of 'losing their life chances' because of 'cruel' two-child benefit cap

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know

The Big Issue

Sign up to get your FREE Doctor Who Archive Special

Celebrate the 14th series with your FREE edition of the Dr Who Special Archives