Gabriel Mokake / Gay Times

In collaboration with Gaysians, meet ten trailblazing figureheads paving the way for queer Asian representation in the mainstream.

“We have a problem with visibility in our community, which makes it harder for us to accept and celebrate ourselves. What better way to challenge this than by putting ten beautiful, successful, out Asian LGBTQ powerhouses on the cover,” writes Gaysian’s CEO Reeta Loi for the November 2018 issue of Gay Times. 

“This cover marks an important moment in the life of each individual and their lifelong dedication to their work whilst being visible, queer and Asian having been recognised – thank you Gay Times. But also, it’s a historic moment for us as a community. A community that is still so young in its forming that perhaps this is what brought out the playfulness that spread across the room at the shoot itself. Looking at each person and seeing a reflection of yourself, of your inner journey and a connection that transcends lifetimes.”

Gaysians cover features Lord Waheed Alli, Rena Brannan, Gok Wan, Luke Pagarani, Dr Ranj Singh, Asifa Lahore, Jonathan Phang, Suki Sandhu, Krishna Omkar and Reeta Loi.

Here, we speak to CEO Gaysians, writer, musician & DJ (aka LOIAL) Reeta Loi.

What was the journey to finding your identity like?
I always knew I was attracted to girls but only started exploring this at University. I dated guys and I dated girls and worked it out. However I desperately did not want to be gay. I knew what the repercussions with my family would be, so it was a difficult personal journey. I grew up with a lot of emotional blackmail and threats from my parents that my sisters would be married off and sent to India if I didn’t tow the line – so I lived a double life while at Uni. I remember the first time someone asked me if I was a lesbian and I felt entirely disconnected from that word, I couldn’t own it and in fact I probably rejected it. I guess I started to embrace that part of myself when I met a woman that I fell in love with and entered into a long term relationship. That’s when I decided it was time to come out to my parents. I knew I was a lesbian, I was happy and I’d found love with an amazing woman. It took me ten years from first dating women to getting to a point where I told my parents when I was 28. That may not have worked out, but I’m grateful for having experienced the love of the relationship I was in.

How did your local community and family react during your coming out?
Well that’s a Bollywood storyline in itself but in summary; I was disowned by my family. Aside from some contact with my brother, I’ve had little to no contact with my family for over 12 years. Like most South Asian families, there are lots of us and we spend all our time together and at each others houses. It’s a huge loss when that is gone because it’s not just your family and friends you lose, it’s also your language, customs, festivals, food, music, films, fashion and so much more that forms your identity. I always knew that was the likely outcome if I came out to them, they’re fairly conservative. Everyone in my family had an arranged marriage and I was next. I managed to fight to go to University, despite being a girl and the first person in my family to go into further education. As a Dalit (Untouchable caste) family, it was extremely rare for someone in my circumstances to have had that opportunity, especially at that time, and it’s something I’ve never taken for granted. It’s also why I’m a firm believer in education for girls.

What do you think could be done to help promote the acceptance of LGBTQ people in the Asian community?
We need allies. We need more people to be talking about the subject of homosexuality to South Asians. Whether it’s your friends or your family members, we should all be talking about positive legislative change like the repeal of Section 377 in India in September. This is a huge landmark ruling that is an opportunity to shift the perspective of South Asians that are homophobic and don’t know why. If it goes unchallenged, it can’t change.

Related: Read Gaysians CEO’s letter for Gay Times: “It’s a historic moment for us as a community”

Photography Gabriel Mokake
Words William J Connolly
Fashion Paul Scott Coombs
Grooming Shamirah Sairally
Hair Tyron Sweeney
Production Assistant Solomon Warner
Location Rosewood Hotel London

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