Last week I had the opportunity to interview a prominent voice in the NYC South-Asian queer community. Joshua Patel is a queer South Asian American currently working as the Development and Communications Officer at the American India Foundation (AIF) in New York. Back in 2013 he graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in Communications and a certification from the university’s LGBT studies program.
A few minutes after beginning the interview I became readily aware of Joshua’s political prowess and his incomparable devotion to civic engagement and community building. His impassioned affinity for activism and organizing started in 2012 when he worked to help Maryland become the first state to win at the ballot vote for marriage equality in the US. A year later he interned at the internationally recognized Human Right’s Campaign assisting the major gifts team and at Amnesty International as a development assistant before joining the American India Foundation.
“AIF has allowed me to fulfill my philanthropic passion and establish a connection to India.” – Joshua Patel
While during the day Joshua works hard to manage the execution of AIF’s development plan, at night he enjoys having fun at various Desilicious parties and attending various South Asian LGBT events hosted by the South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association (SALGA).
While it may seem like Joshua has successfully come into his own, coming out wasn’t all that easy. When Joshua was just 17 years old he came out to his Gujarati parents at a point in his life when he was a “reckless high school student” who struggled to find and express an authentic identity. After coming out, however, Joshua found happiness and so did his parents.
Here’s what Joshua’s mother had to say:
“It happened in 2007 during a trip to Puerto Vallarta. He was going through something. He was drinking a lot. Something was going on.”
When Joshua came into the room one evening in Puerto Vallarata after a heavy night of drinking, his mother pulled him aside and asked him if he was gay. She told me that all the blood rushed out of her at that moment. She was worried about society, stigma, what her son’s future was going to be like, and all those things that could happen to him. But then the image of her son came to her eyes and she knew everything would be okay. She knew that she would always be on her son’s side regardless.
The day after Joshua came out, his mother said that she could tell that her son felt freer, he was starting to wear different clothes. On the plane ride back to America, Joshua’s mother said that it felt like she was going back home with a new son. They would be starting a clean slate together as a family. When Joshua’s mother settled back at home in Maryland she said she made an appointment with a psychiatrist and went to PFLAG meetings with her husband because she “needed to understand this for herself.” Joshua’s mother told me that she is still learning, she has said things she regrets and has made mistakes along the way but that her son is helping to educate her.
At the end of our conversation, Joshua’s mother left me with a few words
“Every person is different and everyone needs to live their own life.”
and made it a point to mention that any parents who have children who are LGBTQIA+ should go to a PFLAG meeting. According to her, “PFLAG is number one.”
While Joshua is an out and proud queer South Asian American, he recognizes that he is one of the lucky few. He mentioned to me at the end of our conversation that he has seen some of his own friends come out and then retreat back into the closet because of various familial and cultural pressures. To those who are struggling to find and fulfill the most authentic expression of themselves, Joshua has a message to share:
“Follow your gut, meditate, and stay true to yourself. Pain is inevitable but suffering is a choice.”