Organizers say the event was a first for the institute, but hope it will promote more inclusivity while celebrating Desi queer stories and creativity.
The crowd waited patiently on the second floor of the South Asia Institute on a Friday evening in June. Everyone quickly claimed a seat as the lights began to dim. Ankit Khadgi went on stage to share his own story of queer awakening, guilt, and acceptance in a piece titled “The Shameless Queer Guy.”
His performance was part of the South Asia Institute’s Satrangi: A Desi Queer Open Mic. Desi is a term used to refer to South Asian Americans. About 80 guests attended the institute’s first queer storytelling event organized by Khadgi, held June 16.
Khadgi, an intern at SAI this summer, said that the goal of this event was to make Chicago more inclusive.
“As an immigrant and a queer person, I have understood the importance of public spheres,” Khadgi said in his introduction. “I want to prioritize helping marginalized voices get a platform, where they can speak and express themselves.”
Seven performers in all, Nepali and Indian American, sang traditional Indian love songs or performed in drag.
One performer, Ajit Sharma, goes by Gulabi Rani, which means Rose Queen in Nepali, on stage. Sharma has performed in drag many times in his home country of Nepal. But this was his first time since coming to the United States.
“It was actually Ankit that encouraged me to perform again,” Sharma said. “We’ve been friends since we lived in Nepal.”
Many of the stories told were similar in theme, sharing that acceptance from others has never been guaranteed for queer people. Khadgi said he believes events like this one are essential for the South Asian queer community in Chicago to proudly and safely display their queer identity with many supporters ready to cheer them on.
“Queerness has always existed in our cultures,” said Khadgi. “We hope this is the first of many queer-centered events at SAI.”