Moment of pride for the Indian Rainbow community

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Shay Singh speaking, watched by (from left) Vinod Bal, Michelle Pillay, Arrun Soma, Moushumi Das
and Sunita Torrance (aka CoCo Flash) (INL Photo)

Venkat Raman
From Wellington, May 10, 2022

It was a moment of pride and achievement for the members of the Rainbow Community of Indian origin as they launched their organisation with the blessings of Ministers, Members of Parliament and community leaders on Tuesday, March 10, 2022.

Shannan Halbert, elected Member of Parliament from Northcote in Auckland hosted the event in Parliament Building to launch ‘Indian Origin Pride New Zealand,’ in the presence of Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Grant Robertson, Diversity, Inclusion and Ethnic Communities Minister Priyanca Radhakrishnan, Members of Parliament, Statutory Deputy Commissioner of Police (Iwi and Communities) Wallace Haumaha, Superintendent of Police (National Partnerships Manager Ethnic) and officials from various ministries and agencies.

Support Programmes

Ms Radhakrishnan said that the Labour government and her Ministry understood the challenges faced by the Rainbow communities and have in place policies and programmes to protect and promote their rights.

Mr Haumaha told Indian Newslink that the Police had assured the members of Indian origin that they had ‘nothing to fear’ from the Police and that their rights are assured under the New Zealand laws and that the Police will ensure their safety and security at all times.

Mr Naidoo wrote on the LinkedIn platform about the first meeting of the ‘Indian Pride’ held in Wellington last year and the traumatic and challenging story of Arrun Soma, one of the founders of ‘Indian Origin Pride New Zealand.’

A year ago, I was privileged to share a post about the first meet up of Wellington Indian Pride and Arrun Soma’s story. Today at Parliament in New Zealand, Arrun and fellow Executive members launched Indian Origin Pride NZ.

“The atmosphere was electric and the optimism and sense of occasion tangible. It demonstrated what can be achieved by a committed and dedicated group that genuinely cares and has the vision to empower Rainbow Indians to celebrate their ethnic, cultural, sexual and gender identities collectively. Thank you IOPNZ for your seva and mahi,” he said.

Labour MP (Northcote) Shannan Halbert (extreme right) with (from left) Rakesh Naidoo, Sunita Torrance, Vanisa Dhiru and Arrun Soma at the launch of Indian Origin Pride New Zealand on May 10, 2022 in Parliament Building (Photo from LinkedIn)

Challenges of discrimination

The organisation’s website describes the challenges faced by the Rainbow community, especially those of Indian origin.

“Our identities make us unique, special and fabulous – and arguably, there is nowhere more colourful than the Indian community and the Rainbow community. But it is tough being a minority within a minority like many of us in New Zealand who are Indian and part of the Rainbow community. We have struggled in our own ways and so have our Indian families.”

​Indian Origin Pride New Zealand has been established to lead the way for LGBTQIA++ Indians and their families in New Zealand to be proud of their identity.

“Indian communities are historically traditional and conservative, and this is challenging for community members who identify as LGBTQIA++. Rainbow people are more at risk of violent and psychological attacks, erasure and invisibility, mental illness, and suicide. IOPNZ works with Indian community leaders and organisations to ensure the community is inclusive of diversity and is safe for Indians who are part of the Rainbow community,” the blog says.

Shay Singh

IOPNZ Chair Shay Singh is passionate about creating a safe space for the Indian origin Rainbow community, which he said was imperative.

“I want to connect with our community to help make sure we all feel connected and supported. I will lead a team that puts Rainbow people of Indian origin in New Zealand at the forefront of our work. We will strive to make sure we can be proud of our genders, sexualities, cultures and heritage – so these things do not have to exist in isolation,” he said.

Born in Fiji, Shay migrated to Auckland when he became a teenager. He spent 20 years in Australia and returned to ​New Zealand in early 2021.

“We aim to support the Indian community to help manage the issues facing the Indian Rainbow people. IOPNZ will achieve this through education, engagement, events and utilising support networks,” Shay said.

Arrun Soma recounting his experience and challenges (INL Photo)

Arrun Soma

Arrun Soma, who holds the office of Secretary, said that he went through an identity crisis and brain battle in his teens and twenties as he navigated accepting being gay and also being proud of his Gujarati heritage. A decade on, his family’s experiences saw him launch Wellington Indian Pride in early 2021. His parents were present at the launch.

Arrun said that he is proud to be gay and Indian and that his family is very supportive.

However, it took the family time to reconcile. He lives in Wellington with his husband Jake, son Niko who was born through surrogacy, and their two small Maltese pups Snow and Minnie.

​“My passions lie in working to support people who are navigating journeys like mine, as well as raising up Indian communities in New Zealand to support our Rainbow people,” he said.

Arrun worked as a television news reporter and producer for 12 years and is currently involved in communications and media management contract roles.

“By being visible at Rainbow community events, IOPNZ will lead the way for LGBTQIA++ Indians so they can be proud of their identity. Social events will bring together New Zealand’s Indian Rainbow community and their supporters,” he said.

Sunita Torrance (CoCo Flash) at the launch (INL Photo)

Michelle Pillay

Treasurer Michelle Pillay was born in Durban, South Africa in a family that traces its ancestry to North and South India and Trinidad and Tobago. However, she admits that her Western way of life has ‘robbed’ her of her original culture.

“I am enthusiastic about IOPNZ and how we can help bring people together,” she said.

A psychotherapist specialising in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and other forms of therapy, Michelle works with adolescents, adults and couples of the Rainbow community.

“My focus is on assisting LGBTQIA+ people in developing emotional resilience. My expertise and experience lie in the areas of abuse, depression, anxiety and sexuality. I am interested in the intersectionality between culture and sexuality experienced by Queer and Trans People of Colour, and about how society views us,” she said.

Sunita Torrance, the CoCo Flash

Sunita Torrance, who packed humour and information in her role as the Master of Ceremonies at the launch, is a founding Board Member of IOPNZ. She is credited with promoting the visibility of the Rainbow community in Taranaki and other parts of New Zealand. She is also the Founder and Chair of Out & Proud Taranaki Charitable Trust and won the ‘Kiwibank Local Hero Award for her services to the LGBTQ+ community work in 2021.

“I am at the forefront of Taranaki’s LGBTQ+ scene and I don’t back down to injustices against others. I not only provide support and host amazing events for the Rainbow community, in particular youth, but I also educate and encourage more people to be Rainbow allies,” she said.

Sunita is a fierce ally to the community and a vocal activist for the transgender community.

“Think of me as the New Zealand version of Michelle Visage,” she said.

Her alter-ego is CoCo Flash, one of very few AFAB Drag Queens in New Zealand. She uses her performances as a platform to educate and create more opportunities for other people interested in drag. She created Erika & CoCo Flash’s Rainbow Storytime NZ and Living Library using her unique format, utilising her education and facilitation background.

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