Uncovering an Invisible Population: South Asian Gay Men

Study finds that family ties and expectations complicate both coming out and acceptance of gayness in South Asian population.

Ekta M. Kumar and Mixalis Poulakis 1

With South Asians comprising 16 percent of the U.S. population (Farver, Xu, Bhadha, Narang, & Lieber, 2007), it is pertinent to understand the familial and cultural dynamics that make sexual minorities from this community “virtually absent from the psychological literature” and even more invisible than other ethnic minority LGBT individuals (Greene, 1997, p. 228). Although the term South Asian can be used to refer to individuals from the Asian subcontinent, the focus here will be on immigrants from India and Pakistan.

The pressures South Asian immigrant parents apply to their children result in their children leading double lives: one in which they feign acceptance of their parents’ wishes and another one wherein they secretly participate in parties, relationships, and “American” activities (Deepak, 2005). It is important to note that many South Asian immigrant parents view homosexuality as a Western, evil entity that is polluting their own culture (Estrada & Rutter, 2006). Many of these individuals experience feelings of isolation and discrimination which has been described by various phrases such as dual marginalization, double oppression, multiple oppressions, and double marginalization (Greene, 1999; Nabors et al., 2001).


This study used convenience sampling, specifically snowballing, in order to recruit participants (N = 9) from the Washington, DC, area. Seven of the participants were born in the U.S. while two others immigrated to the U.S. before the age of 9. The participants identified as gay males and were between the ages of 21 and 35 (mean age was 26 years old). Interview data were analyzed through the Consensual Qualitative Research (CQR) method (Hill, 2012).


The first hypothesis was that South Asian gay men are unlikely to be out to family members outside of their nuclear families. This hypothesis was partially supported. Three participants had not disclosed their sexual orientation to their extended families. The participants who were out to their extended families tended to be out to specific extended family members rather than to their entire extended family. A variety of participants believed their extended family members suspected that the individual identified as gay, but the family had not confirmed these suspicions. For this sample it appears that being out to extended or nuclear family members varied widely. Generally, four of the participants were out to both parents while three were out to only their mothers; two of the respondents were not out to either parent.

The second hypothesis was that these individuals will have experienced negative coming out experiences with family members. This hypothesis was also partially supported by the data. Parents of participants typically had initial negative reactions. It is important to note that some parents’ reactions changed over time, however, and they were able to provide their children with support and to accept their sexual orientation. This hypothesis was not fully supported because a few parents did have initial positive reactions to the participants’ disclosures and siblings tended to have a positive reaction to the participants’ disclosures.

The third hypothesis was that participants will describe being homosexual as a stigma within the South Asian community. This hypothesis was strongly supported by the participants’ responses. The participants noted the homophobia within the culture as well as the lack of education and awareness regarding LGBT issues. Participants commented that South Asian gay men were looked upon negatively and they utilized words such as “disgusting” and “outcasts” to describe cultural views of homosexuality.

This study reviewed the literature regarding individuals who identify as South Asians and as part of the LGBT population. This study illuminated the difficulties that South Asian gay men face. It provided clinicians with a more detailed and informed view of the experiences of this population and it has a variety of implications for mental health providers and advocacy efforts.

It is important for mental health providers to familiarize themselves with this type of research in order to have more knowledge about the rich culture with which these individuals present in therapy. This study does have its limitations. For instance, a text recently published by Hill (2012) indicates that the recommended sample size for CQR is now 12 to 15 individuals. Also the sample cannot be generalized to other South Asian populations (e.g., Sri Lanka).


Estrada, D. & Rutter, P. (2006). Using the multiple lenses of identity: Working with ethnic and sexual minority college students. Journal of College Counseling, 9, 158–166.

Deepak, A. C. (2005). Parenting and the process of migration: Possibilities within South Asian families. Child Welfare League of America, 84, 585–606.

Farver, J. M., Xu, Y., Bhadha, B. R., Narang, S., & Lieber, E. (2007). Ethnic identity, acculturation, parenting beliefs, and adolescent adjustment: A comparison of Asian Indian and European American families. Merrill- Palmer Quarterly, 53(2), 184–215.

Greene, B. (1997). Ethnic minority lesbians and gay men: Mental health and treatment issues. In B. Greene (Ed.), Ethnic and cultural diversity among lesbians and gay men (pp. 216–239). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Greene, B. (1999). Beyond heterosexism and across the cultural divide: Developing an inclusive lesbian, gay, and bisexual psychology: A look to the future. In B. Greene & G. L. Croom (Eds.), Education, research, and practice in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered psychology (pp. 1–45). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Hill, C. E. (Ed.). (2012). Consensual qualitative research: A practical resource for investigating social science phenomena. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Nabors, N. A., Hall, R. L., Miville, M. L., Nettles, R., Pauling, M. L., & Ragsdale, B. L. (2001). Multiple minority group oppression: Divided we stand? Journal of Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, 5(3), 101–105.

1University of Indianapolis. This article is based on a poster presented at the APA Convention, August 2012. Address correspondence concerning this article to: