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Trikone Has Made Chicago More Welcoming For Queer South Asians For A Decade: ‘Come As You Are’

The LGBT South Asian organization may not be able to meet in person, but they’re still trying to bring people together during the pandemic.

Left to Right: Lal Batti, Masala Sapphire and LaWhore Vagistan are members of Trikone Chicago. The group has tried to build community among queer and trans South Asians and provide them with resources for more than a decade.
Provided/Amy Shelton
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CHICAGO — Trikone Chicago has spent more than a decade trying to help queer South Asian people — and even the coronavirus pandemic couldn’t hold them back this Pride Month.

The 11-year-old group has been integral to providing resources, making space and building a community for queer and trans South Asians to gather and celebrate in Chicago.

The pandemic did make them cancel events — including the group’s once-monthly queer Bollywood dance party, called Jai Ho — but the organizers have gone digital so they can keep up their work. Where they once hosted events at Mary’s Attic in Andersonville or at members’ homes, they now meet online for “family gatherings.”

Masala Sapphire, a board member of Trikone Chicago and host of Jai Ho, said it’s important to have spaces where queer and trans people feel free to express themselves without fear. 

Credit: Provided/Lakshmi Sundaresan
Left to right: Masala Sapphire, Mango Lassi and Abhijeet are members of Trikone.

“That’s our biggest thing that we try to do, is to hold safe spaces for queer and trans South Asians and their allies,” Masala said. “Everything that we do is geared towards that: Our Bollywood dance parties are come as you are, dress how you want to dress. I hope that people are allowed to come whichever way they want to come.”

Trikone Chicago is loosely affiliated with its parent organization, Trikone, which is one of the oldest gay advocacy groups in the United States. Trikone is geared toward LGBTQ+ South Asians and started in 1986.

While Trikone started in the Bay Area and has had many offshoots, Trikone Chicago has focused on building community among queer and trans South Asians in the city since its start 11 years ago.

Ishani Chokshi, a Trikone Chicago board member who started in the position last year, said she was encouraged to run by two people who were on the leadership team at the time. To her, it’s important Trikone Chicago embraces women and femmes as part of its events and community-building work, and the group’s female-dominated leadership has proven inviting for members.

“It’s incredible to see how a different queer community space can be made,” Chokshi said. “There’s a big narrative of like, ‘Cis gays are losing their space if we make it femme-friendly and invite women,’ and it’s just a total myth.

“It’s a big problem how a lot of our spaces are dominated by cis men, so the very fact of seeing that our space is different is very powerful in terms of attracting more people to come who are not cis men.”

Pre-pandemic, Trikone Chicago hosted events to cater to different needs in the community: book clubs, moving screenings, potlucks. The different sizes and types of event helped members who might not be comfortable coming out to large groups of people.

Chokshi said it has been a little trickier to plan as many online events. They’re figuring out what to do during the pandemic, which has made it “really hard,” especially since the group is so focused on building in-person community.

But the group is planning a drag show for later in July, and they host family gatherings where community members can talk online.

And the pandemic hasn’t slowed down the need for Trikone’s advocacy work.

An executive order signed by President Donald Trump in late June temporarily suspended the issuing H1-B visas, which are used by a large number of South Asian immigrants. Visa holders already in the United States are exempt, but Trikone is trying to help South Asians who are experiencing issues due to that order.

Chokshi said people are dealing with economic instability and anxiety because of visa issues under the Trump administration.

But Trikone can help people in need get help.

“A lot of our members and friends have been deported or have had to move because of the expiration of their visas,” Chokshi said. “The big way we do support is through interconnection. We have lawyers in our group and various different ways of assistance, so through our networks we have a lot of resources to give.”

Many of these resources can be accessed by reaching out to Trikone board members through its website, Facebook page or on Instagram.

Credit: Provided/Lakshmi Sundaresan

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