Controversy erupts over exclusion of LGBT group from NYC’s India Day Parade

by Scott Stiffler

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday August 19, 2009

Was the decision to exclude the South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association of New York City from the India Day Parade on Aug. 16 the result of an administrative oversight on the part of defile organizers or a deliberate snub?

"According to the FIA [Federation of Indian Associations], we couldn't march because we didn't' send in the application," SALGA-NYC spokesperson Priyanka Mitra told EDGE. "It's not a philosophical or political opposition to us marching."

An Aug. 13 press release, however, made it seem as if SALGA was accusatory and ready for a protest.

"As the FIA prepares for their India Day Parade in New York City on August 16, 2009, SALGA is facing discrimination at their hands... the Federation of Indian Associations has decided not to respond to our petition to march at the annual India Day Parade," the organization said.

The release further interpreted the FIA's actions as willfully choosing "to ignore a large part of the community."

"The FIA has no inherent right to choose who is representative of India," it read. "We ask LGBT South Asians and other progressives to stand with us and raise their voice against discrimination."

FIA spokesperson Nimesh Beve said SALGA was not permitted to march in the parade because his organization "never received any such request." That official statement runs counter to an email exchange SALGA forwarded to EDGE that indicated an application to march was sent on July 21 at 8:24 a.m. FIA's Himanshu Patel replied at 8:57 a.m. to confirm the message was received.

Mitra noted she called a few days later and asked Patel about the status of their application.

"He said he forwarded it to the board, and they'd get back when they made a decision," she said.

"The FIA has no inherent right to choose who is representative of India."

Mitra said subsequent phone calls to the FIA through July 25 went unanswered.

Ultimately, several SALGA members marched, without incident, alongside the contingent from Sakhi, a domestic violence prevention organization. SALGA members protested at two locations along the parade route. The New York Police Department cordoned one of these areas off for them.

A clearly embarrassed FIA executive vice president Nirav Mehta told EDGE the organization likely did not get back to SALGA because of a clerical oversight, and that the application process to march was handled by one of their many volunteers.

"This is a non-profit organization," he said. "Everybody is given a task, and one does not go into another's area."

SALGA's actions at the parade gained the attention of FIA.

"We as a country welcome each individual and person; this parade is to celebrate India's Independence Day and not for demonstrations," Mehta said.

Mehta continued.

"We aplogize," he said. "There was some confusion and mistakes, and we will be more than happy to welcome them next year. They can be part of our parade, and we will have no problem."

This apology comes as cold comfort to those from SALGA who were shut out of the parade this year - a year in which, Mitra says, it was "particularly important year for us to march" because of the Delhi High Court's decision last month that called for the repeal of the country's colonial-era anti-sodomy law.

"It's been an important year for Indian queers," Mitra said. "Given this progressive step in Delhi, this regressive step in New York is all the more tragic and ironic."

Scott Stiffler is a New York City based writer and comedian who has performed stand-up, improv, and sketch comedy. His show, "Sammy's at The Palace. . .at Don't Tell Mama"---a spoof of Liza Minnelli's 2008 NYC performance at The Palace Theatre, recently had a NYC run. He must eat twice his weight in fish every day, or he becomes radioactive.