‘Being Gay and Asian led me to depression’: how discrimination against South Asian gay men is a cause of mental health illnesses

In the wake of the Dewani trial, a man tells me how he felt depression and anxiety for being Asian and gay because of prevalent discrimination against homosexuals in the South Asian community.

On Monday 8th December, Shrien Dewani was declared innocent of murdering his wife Anni Dewani in South Africa. The case was dismissed because the judge felt there was conflicting evidence from the three key witnesses.

In a document submitted to the court during the trial, Mr Dewani described himself as a ‘bisexual’ and admitted he had slept with male prostitutes, which was apparently unbeknown to his family and his wife.

This has sparked general questions surrounding sexuality in the South Asian community. Do Asian gay or bisexual men and women have no choice but to lie about their sexuality; are many people forced to live a secret life and get married anyway; and does the South Asian community need to be more accepting of homosexuality?

South Asian mental health

Following the Dewani case, I spoke to a 38-year-old gay and South Asian, Hindu man who explained how he was in the ‘depths of despair’ because he could not openly express his sexuality.

This shows that there are clear implications and repercussions of the stigma and discrimination attached to homosexuality in the South Asian community.

Dr Sokratis Dinos, writing the Psychiatric Bulletin in August, commented that ‘Both BME and LGB populations have a significantly higher prevalence of a number of conditions, including common mental disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosis, attempted suicide and drug dependence.

Most research points towards the higher prevalence of mental health problems among these groups being directly related to discrimination and social exclusion. Numerable surveys and systematic reviews have shown that the experience of discrimination or fear of being discriminated against can have deleterious effects on mental health and well-being.’

The 38-year-old, who has chosen to remain anonymous* and will be referred to as Anon in this article, explained ‘I remember growing up feeling a huge sense of shame and that I’ve let my family down.’

‘I went through so many struggles such as depression until only a year ago, anxiety, and I lost my confidence because I started to feel abnormal – partly because there was nobody to tell me that being gay is normal.’

‘I felt isolated and didn’t have anyone to talk to or any other avenues.’

According to The Counselling Directory, ‘homosexual men are likely to face various pressures throughout their lives as a result of their sexuality. Many will find it difficult to come to terms with their sexuality, others will feel isolated and may face negative attitudes and discrimination from society’.

Anon explains ‘growing up in the 80s, my parents had migrated from India which was already a culture shock. And then we lived in a predominantly Asian area with no gay Asian role models in the media, whereas there are loads in the Western culture’.

‘I knew from an early age the family honour and what the community valued is far more important than my happiness, so I started living a double life as there is only so much you can take’.

‘I had to eventually leave home and be out of the environment where I felt trapped.’

When asked how to bring about change, Anon stated ‘the onus is on people who need to look at their own lives and decide if they want to live a lie to please their parents and just get married. But it is difficult’.

‘The Asian community also needs to be accepting. Why is it such a taboo when it is as natural as heterosexuality, especially when it is now legal under UK laws?’

‘The community didn’t turn a blind eye when Shilpa Shetty was being discriminated against for her race. This is double discrimination. The community should support each other’.

I asked Anon what he would say to people who argued that being homosexual goes against religious beliefs to which he stated ‘I’m still a human being. God created me and God still loves me for me. I don’t think God would pick and choose to make people unequal’. 

Anon has still not informed his parents but hopes they will be ready to hear he is homosexual one day. He also hopes to have children through adoption or fostering.

In my opinion, what is ‘normal’ and ‘natural’ is manufactured by society. At one point in history, it was normal to see women solely as being mothers, even though some women are born without a womb so child-bearing is not ‘normal’ for them.

Heterosexual relationships are seen as ‘natural’ by some because of the child-bearing factor. But are adoption, fostering or surrogacy not deemed as ‘normal’ which means homosexual partners can have children together too?

Homosexuality is a problem within the South Asian community and we really need to open our eyes. If we stop discrimination and stigma towards homosexuality, bisexuality, and lesbianism which I have not touched on, we can prevent sham marriages, suicides, depression and mental illnesses and accept people for who they are – because who are we to tell them who they can and cannot be?

*part of being anonymous is to protect his parents from reprisals from other members of the community who express homophobia.