He says: “Gay Village should be a safe place for me to express myself. But now it’s full of terrible memories that I can’t imagine having to relive.”

Vaibhav is not alone in this experience and one of the UK’s most queer-friendly cities has had a major problem with racism at its heart.

Such abuse is still widespread outside Manchester.

At a club in London, Sakshi went out with her friends. When she went to the toilet, she was the target of repeated insults.

She says: “I just went to the toilet and saw a few drag queens there. They were all confused and looked at me like I wasn’t supposed to be there.”

Sakshi was asked by the visitors, “Are you really a lesbian?” She ignored them but was tormented in the stalls as people knocked on the doors and asked her to come out.

She stayed on the toilet for the next 30 minutes when a friend came to help. She called the experience “traumatizing.”

When Ryan Lanji, a London-based cultural events producer, saw such experiences in queer spaces, he decided to create his own Bollywood-style nightclub – Hungama – which opened in 2017 to allow “South Asian queers to express themselves.”

Although the nightclub is based in London, Lanji recognized the importance of spreading this across the country. For this reason, he went on tour through Great Britain in 2023 with a club evening – Club Zindagi.

Club Zindagi paid one of its first visits to the Churchills of Manchester Gay Village. This was a direct attempt by Lanji to find a solution to the accusations of racism in the city.

Jasmine, who attended the event, said: “This night was something we had never seen before. It was a confrontation, a space where we could be ourselves.”

She called it one of the most emotional evenings she had ever experienced. She could be queer and celebrate being Indian at the same time.

The evening began with Bollywood music, themed cocktails were served, and films from her childhood with queer messages were released.

Jasmine remembers: “I made friends with people who had the same experiences as me growing up. And the reason I was able to talk to them was because we felt like we could have the freedom to be ourselves without judgment.”

Since then, Club Zindagi has become a fixture in the Gay Village, showcasing a variety of Bollywood music while ensuring that South Asian queer people can enjoy a safe evening.

Others in Manchester are coming up with creative ways to be their authentic selves safely.

This also includes the House of Spice. A collective founded by Mancunian drag queen Lucky Roy Singh to create a space for drag queens from South Asia and the Middle East.

Queen Sheeba, a member of the collective, says: “We did not intentionally create this collective to combat racism in queer spaces. We did it so we could express ourselves more confidently.”

She adds that they are now using this platform to talk about and shed light on racism in the industry. “It is important to show people that racism is still widespread for two reasons. First, to make white people believe that this is actually happening. But more importantly, telling South Asians that it’s okay to share their experiences and not feel burdened by it. People will believe you.”

This is a common theme for many South Asians. In conversations for this article, many South Asians questioned whether they should speak about their experiences. On the one hand, there is a fear that they will be accused of harming the LGBTQ+ movement. On the other hand, many believe that homophobia still exists in South Asian communities. Therefore, they feel uncomfortable talking about their experiences with family and friends.

Sejal is a Brighton-based queer activist who speaks about the intersectionality of race and sexuality. She believes queer spaces are becoming “more tolerant.”

She says: “Change is coming. Slowly but surely, at least I hope, our world is evolving.”

This article is from The Big Issue magazine, which aims to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalized people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work, buy a copy!

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