Eleven LGBTQIA+ personalities share their stories of pride

by Drishti Mistry

Image courtesy: Eshan Hilal

What makes Pride Month so special is not only the celebration of equality and inclusivity but also that of individual expression. So, this June, we reached out to some of our fellow LGBTQIA+ personalities and got them to share chronicles from their lives that were both beautiful and becoming. Chronicles that they’d like to call, their pride stories. Scroll down to find out what they are…

In 2017, we met at orientation on the first day of grad school at NYU. We happened to be assigned to the same table, and felt an instant connection that was undeniable. We studied together, cried over our A minuses together, we rejoiced at graduation together, we traveled together, and then we built a home together. Rainbows and butterflies it was, however, we dealt with hardships that come along with being a queer, interracial couple from different cultural backgrounds. Through it all, we always put our love first. We fought fiercely for acceptance and validation and cemented our union by getting married in 2019. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
We’ll have many more years of lows from battles fought, and highs from mountains climbed- but what will always get us through is the certainty that- love wins every time,”- Prerna Menon on how she found love with her partner, Samantha Urell who both work as Mental Health Therapists in New York, USA. 

When I came out to my parents, they had some serious concerns like, what if I have to spend the rest of my life alone? What if people mistreat me or pose a threat to my life because of my sexual preference? They were cautious and worried about my safety within and outside of my inner circle. With a little reservation and a lot of conviction in my heart, I spent a considerable amount of time on dating apps meeting people from the community. I mostly relied on the internet to get to know more about it. Slowly I picked up the courage and started attending events like pride walks, talks, movie screenings and discussions to make myself more aware. With time, I built a close-knit circle of ‘my’ people who loved me for who I am.


I still vividly remember the day I came up with the idea of the project for my final year’s graduation in my Master’s degree program. It revolved around me and my life as a gay man. It took me a while to decide what I wanted to do, what kind of visuals I wanted to make and how do I wanted to present this body of work. I was a bit hesitant at first, but thanks to my guide and friends from my college who encouraged me to move forward, I put out a photo exhibition on my campus which was open for viewing for four days. My final display not only garnered a surprising amount of admiration and recognition but helped me gain a new-found level of confidence in myself, my work and my identity as a gay man. If I could sum up my whole experience in one sentence, it would be ‘this world is not your hiding place, this is your finding place’” – Amlanjyoti Bora, fashion photographer.

The idea of drag is not exactly to become a woman but to create a character that can kick ass. For me drag is an expression, drag is my voice, almost like a medium through which I can make my point. In today’s world ravaged by the epidemic of toxic masculinity, unfair power structure and patriarchy, drag is my weapon as well as my antidote to any elements trying to poison people’s lives in general.


Whenever I am in drag, I feel like I can conquer the world. I feel like a boss lady and this unfolds in stages – while putting on the make-up, the gorgeous costume, the wig. Each stage has its own significance. When all of it comes together, it’s a force that you can’t reckon with,” – Surooj a.k.a Glorious Luna, drag queen, model and actor.

From a very young age, I knew I wasn’t like most from the male community. I wanted to wear a variety of ornaments, I wanted to wear a skirt and I wanted to dance with grace and poise. I knew I was effeminate and I was okay with it. But, it would have helped having someone to look up to with similar beliefs. My friends would tease me behind my back, and my family would verbally abuse me. All I wanted was acceptance and basic understanding from those around me. At that point, dance and fashion just became my escape. Today, it empowers me and has become my strongest weapon.


Once, after a stage performance, a lady came up to me and told me that after watching me, she was now able to understand her son better. Yet another boy told me that he had shown my video to his mother to help her understand him. I want to continue to touch the lives of people in a way that the gender biases of our societies are removed in totality. If I could change the attitude of even a few people towards effeminate males like me I would feel I’ve achieved my life’s mission.” – Eshan Hilal, belly dance artist, model and TedX speaker.

I was 19 when I realized I was gay. I thought it would be better to hide it in the initial years as I wasn’t sure of being able to survive as a lesbian and also because I belonged to a traditional Maharashtrian family. I left home to stay alone very early on. I was brave enough to come out of the closet, and used my lens to frame the beauty of relationships, using my skills and passion to work on several projects that shed light on the challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community in India.


But that did not mean that I didn’t have challenges of my own. My coming out article did not go down well with my father. Clients gave excuses and threats of replacing me with a ‘straight’ photographer. Wedding teams would tell me to make a different profile just for such occasions. Families would say they weren’t comfortable with me around. I lost a lot of work. But that didn’t stop me from being who I am. I realized that if you’re financially dependent then you will hear stuff but that will only make you stronger.


If I could go back in time and give myself a piece of advice – it would be to love myself. I never loved myself and was my own enemy. I would tell myself to be grateful for what I have and who I am, even though it might not seem enough at that time because in the end, that will make all the difference.” – Monisha Ajagaonkar, LGBTQIA+ activist, photographer, founder and director of The Photo Diary. 

All my life I kept thinking about why god made me the way I am, why my choices were so different and I kept hating myself about it. But it was the day I realized that the beauty and magic of my true self lay in me being different was when things truly took a turn for good. I started my pride journey by talking about it to my family members and friends. The acceptance certainly didn’t come overnight and it was quite the process but in retrospect, if done well and backed by a lot of education, it’s worth it. My personal preferences affected my work along with my relationships with those around me.


My choices did raise a lot of obstacles for me in the past but it was in times like those that I truly came into my own. Art came to my rescue – as an expression of my thoughts. I decided to start illustrating the everyday experiences of a queer Sikh boy, who dressed the way he wished, who loved who his heart desired and did whatever he fancied! Of course I faced a lot of backlash for that from my community, but with time I have become stronger and more resilient about not letting what others think come in the way of my dreams. With time, slowly but surely, I have become that proudly queer Sikh boy from my illustrations.” – Param Sahib, illustrator and designer.

To me, pride goes beyond a tumultuous celebration of who I am, who we all in the LGBTQ community are, but also looking back and reflecting on how we got here, and how proud we are to have been on this seemingly interminable journey—one that has not been easy on any of us. Although in my early teens, I experienced my fair share of sexual abuse, and emotional abuse on account of my sexuality, today, as I look around, I consider myself incredibly privileged to be surrounded by an army of allies in the form of my family and friends. That’s where I derive my strength from, and that’s the support system we all need when facing a similar predicament or confusion over our sexuality—someone telling us that it gets better. Because it does.


What we can do, what we must do, especially in the Indian context, is to demystify what pride means, what being LGBTQ means, and how we are no different from anybody else. The lack of knowledge and understanding is at the nucleus of all the homophobia, hate, bullying, and abuse. This gap needs to be bridged through a complete overhaul of existing knowledge structures—through edification of adults and kids, via schools, textbooks, popular culture, and psychological awareness. A sustained effort on everybody’s part to inform, educate, support, and celebrate will demystify us and lay the foundation of the acceptance of our truly colourful community. This is the journey that I am proud to be part of with my LGBTQ+ community and allies. Let us all be proud and celebrate pride together.” – Sarab, head of digital and marketing technology, Ethos Watches.

I came out very late to my parents, but when I did, I knew it was the right time to do so – I had finally found love and it had given me courage! A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders when I shared my feelings with my mum and dad because they were the two most important people in my life and they meant the world to me. I didn’t want to hide myself; I didn’t want to lie to them anymore. And that moment when my parents reciprocated with their unconditional love and support, I felt like I could now achieve anything in the world. Ever since then, this journey has been nothing but beautiful.


Pride to me is being true to myself – in the way I express, accept and acknowledge my love, the choices I make and the strength with which I stand up for them. Now more than ever, I am willing to express and live for myself without ever thinking about the way I could be perceived by the world. So, whether it’s my parents’ love for me or my boyfriend’s, love truly is love and nothing else matters.” – Karan Berry, designer and co-founder, Karleo, an evening and bridal wear label.

Jess (Jesmin) and I have been in a long distance relationship from the word go. It all started when I was playing at a show to collect funds to help people affected by Assam floods ( surprisingly enough, Jess is from Assam too). Her best friend was attending my gig and she took a couple of pictures and videos of me to send it to her. It was love at first sight for Jess, she fell for me right in that moment. She wanted to know more about me so she checked out my music, my Ted Talk on YouTube and by the time we connected, she already knew a lot about me.


She followed me on Instagram and without knowing any of this, I followed her back. I kept on trying to start a conversation with her, but kept miserably failing at it. She then came to my rescue and initiated a conversation after a few small talks over our Insta stories. The rest is history and now after almost one year we can’t wait to start our lives together. There are always challenges for a queer couple to overcome though. Moving in together, finding a place, jobs, and dealing with families are only a few. The biggest one however, is the distance between us. And the pandemic hasn’t helped at all – we haven’t met for the last hundred days or so. But despite that, our relationship is just growing from strength to strength and that’s what I love about us the most!”- Jay Anand, Trans singer, songwriter and guitarist on his journey with his partner Jesmin Ahmed.

Pride, to me, means protest. Pride is a commemoration of the Stonewall riots in 1969 that gave so many queer people the rights they have today. Pride is also acknowledging the struggle there is to go in eradicating homophobia from our societies. There are still too many rights for the LGBTQ+ community across the world that need to be fought for.


I was 22 when I came out. I was living and working in London at the time. It had been over a year since I had finished university, where I met so many people from the LGBTQ+ community. Seeing a lot of queer folk, definitely normalised being queer for me. I grew up with a very heteronormative life plan laid out for me. As the eldest daughter of three in my family, it felt natural for the conversation around marriage, boys, etc to constantly involve me. It took many years to realise I am queer because I just didn’t dare think otherwise. I had a lot of fear to let go of, shame and internalised homophobia to unlearn, and I took years to do that. So in retrospect, the one thing that I would like to keep reminding myself and others like me is that life’s too short and precious to live on other people’s terms!


Making my first ever two queer south Asian women friends while in University was very significant. If I’d never met them, I don’t think I’d have ever come out. I didn’t know any queer South Asian people growing up, so meeting them was knowing I’m not alone in feeling what I feel, and that there are people like me – living and thriving.  Knowing this over the years gave me the confidence to come out.” – Hanshika Jethnani, poet and visual artist.

Pride to me means a celebration and assertion that LGBTQ+ people are here and that they deserve all the rights that are afforded to everyone else. At its heart it’s a protest which demands that everyone within the community and outside be treated equally. Rights for us don’t stop at marriage, there are many more battles to be won and we must continue to fight those. Pride is about demanding more for the community and celebrating what’s special about us by spreading awareness and sharing our traumas and our life stories.


Being of mixed race, Scottish-Malayali origin, meant I was already slightly different from those around me, and then to additionally be queer, thoughts like, “I can never be honest with the world and that the day will never come” were only natural to creep in from time to time. But surprisingly as time went by it’s not felt like the end of the world. Friends have been super supportive of me. No one has made a disparaging remark, no one has made any mean joke. I hope I always continue to experience such positive energies from those around me!” – Alexander Balakrishnan, student and model.

Follow @NykaaFashion on Instagram for more!



Leave a Comment