NABC 2009 was originally billed as being themed around HIV/AIDS. Based on this, allies within the community contacted conference organizers several times about including Desi HIV/AIDS public health activist speakers in December; there was no response. In January, they contacted the NextGen committee, which solicited a proposal, and OKed the proposed Bengali LGBT outreach forum fairly quickly, as part of a small seminars block. Several local LGBT Bengalis were contacted, and a guest list was put together over the next few months. Sociologist Raka Ray, the chair of UC Berkeley's Center for South Asian Studies, came on to moderate. There was a reasonable amount of content pushback within the main committee, but it was overcome by internal advocates. One of the largest sets of obstacles was limited time and attention given to social issues seminars in general, regardless of content. (In the end, the conference turned out to include nearly zero HIV/AIDS content.)
LGBT Bengalis: From Calcutta to the Castro (60 minutes)
Through poetry and personal narrative, queer Bengali artists Krishnakali Chaudhuri and Misha Chowdhury will share their own stories and open a dialogue about the diversity of experience that is Bengali identity. Moderated by Professor Raka Ray (UC Berkeley). Suitable for all ages, so bring your friends and family to support equality in the Bengali community.
Raka Ray moderated an hour-long session with Krishnakali Chaudhuri (a first generation immigrant from Calcutta, and a former member of Trikone's board) and Misha Chowdhury (second generation, originally from Massachusetts). They used song, poetry, and storytelling to artistically share their stories, deeply rooted in Bengali culture. There were about 80 audience members, about half first and half second generation, in a standing-room-only room; 46 attendees added their names and emails to a list of people who wanted to continue the conversation. Audience reaction was overwhelmingly positive.
Click to Listen to the session online.
Audience members who left their names and emails were asked to offer their feedback. Samples included:
The talk was extensively and very positively covered in the July 9, 2009 issue of India West, both in the coverage of NABC, as well as long interviews with the speakers (as well as Sandip Roy, a speaker at NABC 1999) in an article about the Indian court case striking down Section 377.
"How to tell your parents" seminar
Members of SALGA were involved in the youth "how to tell your parents" seminar, which dealt with issues like dating outside the community, non-traditional college majors and careers, and coming out. A large audience attended. (Need more details!)
The seminar was mentioned in a story in the Calcutta Telegraph.
Youth organizers contacted TrikoneLA (now Satrang), asking them to present a panel on what it meant to be LGBT, a sort of Queer 101, as part of a larger effort to include diversity in their program offerings. (Need more details!) It was the first time the organization had been approached to make a presentation like that in a mainstream cultural space.
Queer 101 (?) (60 minutes)
Satrang members left some brochures near the entrance and outside the large room where the panel was to be held. The previous session had just ended and by the time we were ready approximately 40-50 people were present, quite a lot of them teenagers and young adults. Some folks trickled in during the presentation, probably out of curiosity, but ended up staying, sitting in the back of the room.
The four speakers from Satrang started by talking a bit about the organization, common terminologies, and then about their coming out stories (one of the panelists wasn't out to his family yet). Each had had different experiences coming out and faced different reactions. They also talked about the fact that there was still a lot of stigma, wished for support and acceptance from the community and therefore volunteered at Satrang to educate those in the closet as well as the general South Asian community. Once the presentation was over, there was a question and answer session during where speakers tried their best to provide the audience with as much information as possible. There were no negative comments or reactions. There weren't too many questions, possibly because the younger folks were either intimidated (due to the presence of the older folks) or they were already knowledgable or queer friendly.
The NABC 1999 youth committee focused heavily on a seminars program, which also included sessions on domestic violence in the community, Jagadish Chandra Bose, and the history of the Naxalite period. The campaign to include sessions on LGBT and domestic violence was incredibly difficult. Months of heavy censorship pressure led to youth organizers getting repeatedly screamed at by conference organizers, rumors spread about youth committee members, and pressure put on youth committee members' families.
NABC youth programming was led by Bay Area Prabasi's first second-generation elected board member, which allowed the group more leverage than it may have had otherwise. Some NABC organizers reported and/or threatened that inclusion of LGBT content would keep potential attendees from bringing their children to the conference, and would cause them to avoid sponsorship. As a result, all youth funding was held hostage, unless the LGBT session was removed; the 30+ members of the youth committee near unanimously chose to stand up to censorship attempts, risking loss of funding for popular social and arts events.
Trikone was contacted for referrals to potential speakers, but conference organizers criticized the lineup as running afoul of rules banning "political" programming, or discussion "pushing" the ideas of specific organizations. In response, youth organizers broadened the topic to include straight speakers, and those unaffiliated with Trikone. An external consultant was brought in by NABC organizers to help "mediate"; because the organizer had once assisted Trikone in entering the FIA India Day Parade, he outed every gay candidate on the long-list of potential speakers. In the end, after months of wrangling, youth committee members managed to get approved a general talk on gender issues, with two straight speakers and one gay speaker approved. No public mention of LGBT content was allowed.
Gender, Identity, and the "Good Bengali" (90 minutes)
Bengali perspectives on class, education, career, family, and gender roles are defined by centuries of tradition. But what happens when these rules start changing? Indraneel Sircar talks with writer Sandip Roy, researcher Arijit Sen, and activist Trina Chatterjee, in a lively open forum
Although the youth lectures track was mysteriously omitted from the program schedule, flyering and word of mouth brought in an audience of over 100 people, squeezed into a room big enough for 50, with at least 25-50 more people turned away at the door. The crowd was very diverse, and ranged in age from teens to seventies. Most everyone knew exactly what would happen: they were there for a coming-out story.
Arijit Sen and Trina Chatterjee spoke briefly, leaving the bulk of the time to Trikone magazine editor and community journalist Sandip Roy, who shared a funny and riveting story of growing up a young gay man in Calcutta. There was a long Q&A period afterwards, with heavy audience participation. Reactions were very heavily positive.
The session was briefly reported on in a fall 1999 issue of Trikone magazine.