Last edited: January 01, 2005

Minority Gays Create a Voice for Unserved Community

San Jose Mercury News, June 2, 2002
750 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, CA 95190
Fax: 408-271-3792

By Cecilia Kang, Mercury News

When Ashok Jethanandani and Arvind Kumar first met 16 years ago, the two engineers felt an instant connection.

Both grew up in small north Indian towns. Both came from families with four sons. And both had lived a lonely existence as gay men in India.

"It was the most animated and electrifying conversation I had ever had," said Jethanandani, 44, as he recounted their first encounter at Stanford University. "Arvind was the first openly gay South Asian I had ever met. I had found a kindred spirit."

That meeting marked the beginning of a creative partnership that has blossomed into a pioneering publishing force within the Bay Areaís fast-growing Indo-American community. The San Jose duo are behind Trikone, the first quarterly magazine for gay South Asian men and women, and India Currents, a monthly arts and entertainment magazine targeted to Indo-Americans living in California.

A recent survey by New California Media, which tracks ethnic press, found that 84 percent of minorities in California prefer to get their information from ethnic publications such as Trikone and India Currents. That trend is particularly significant in the Bay Area, where Indo-Americans number 143,000.

"These two are trailblazers and have become increasingly influential in their community," said Pueng Vongs, editor at New California Media.

Kumar, 46, co-founded Trikone in 1986 with his own money. A year later, after meeting Jethanandani, the two left their high-tech jobs and used all of their savings to launch India Currents.

"We didnít expect to start magazines. But we knew there were people who needed both of these publications," said Kumar, who co-founded Trikone with a friend while working as an engineer at Hewlett-Packard.

The two magazines have become staples in the Bay Areaís South Asian community. Trikone is published by volunteers with more than 1,000 loyal subscribers from San Jose to Mumbai. India Currents, with a circulation of 27,000, marked a milestone recently when it turned a profit.

Early vision

Kumar first envisioned starting Trikone when he moved to the Bay Area in 1982. He discovered that a cultural gap existed between him and other gay men. Few people could relate to the intense pressures he felt to maintain strong family bonds and get married.

"These are very strong Indian cultural values, and no one could really understand why they were so important to me," Kumar said.

Although Indiaís gay community has become increasingly vocal in the past decade, homosexuality remains taboo. An arcane law carried over from British rule outlaws sodomy, and Indian police have been known to abuse gay men and women.

In the United States, homosexuality was virtually unheard of within the Indo-American community, Kumar said, but he was confident that there were others like him.

He launched Trikone, which means "triangle" in Sanskrit, to connect gay South Asians from places such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

"We wanted Trikone to help South Asians around the world come out and be visible," Kumar said.

When Jethanandani read about Trikone in the Advocate, a leading national gay magazine, he knew he had to meet Kumar and join the magazine. Jethanandani, who now lives with Kumar in San Joseís Evergreen neighborhood, became publisher and the business brain behind Trikone. Kumar wrote editorials and was the creative visionary.

Growing awareness

In the pages of the magazine, they have shared stories about their relationship. They wrote about their commitment ceremony in 1996, which was officiated by Kumarís mother. And they became activists, marching at gay pride parades and hoisting banners advertising Trikone at the India Day parades in Fremont.

Trikone started as a newsletter but has grown into a glossy 25-page quarterly with contributions from around the globe. It explores issues like "coming out" to family, homosexuality and Islam, and committing to traditional marriages out of fear or denial.

The magazine has won awards from the Gay and Lesbian Historical Society and New California Media. And it hosted the first conference for South Asian gays in 1995.

"Trikone has survived for so long because so many people believe in it," Jethanandani said.

While Trikone has been a labor of love, India Currents has thrived financially.

The pair poured their entire savings into the magazine and launched what began as a newsletter of entertainment listings from their living room.

The monthly magazine is more than 150 pages, packed with short stories, reviews and opinion pieces. It has separate editions for Northern and Southern California.

Although Kumar has returned to high tech, he regularly contributes stories to both magazines. Jethanandani, meanwhile, continues to help run the publications.

"We believe in these magazines because we want to make a difference and leave things a little better than we found it," Kumar added.

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