Jasvir Singh is one of the most prominent members of the British Sikh community, as Chair of City Sikhs, the British Sikh Report, Co-Founder of South Asian Heritage Month and Co-Chair of the Faith Forums of London. He has been expansively honoured for his work within the British Indian community, including a CBE by King Charles III.
Recently, Singh chose to also share a more personal aspect of his life – as a gay man who got married to his partner in a colourful Punjabi ceremony in the south of England last year. While it is entirely coincidental that this news came during LGBT+ History Month being marked in February, the timing has proved quite serendipitous.
In this wide-ranging interview, he tells iGlobal about the many heart-warming messages of support, being a positive role model for the community and balancing a packed year ahead as a barrister and community champion.
What has the reaction been to your very personal decision?
When I did the interview with the BBC, I was very anxious and nervous. I had no idea how people would respond. Even though I'd been supported within my private life by my friends, my family, my loved ones, I just didn't know how the public would react.
And the reaction so far has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive. It's been incredible. Not what I was expecting at all, I readied myself for having to defend myself and defend my identity. But I didn't need to. I feel like people have embraced me for who I am, which is wonderful.
How important was it for you to be a positive role model with your story?
It was very important; for others to realise and appreciate that they’re not alone, that there are others who are going through or have been through a similar journey, not just in Britain but I hope globally.
When I was growing up, there were no other role models of any Sikh men who openly gay or any Sikh people who were openly part of the LGBTQ plus community. No one spoke about it in the 90s and early Noughties. So, to be able to be that for others is very humbling and also a great privilege.
And how important is the message from religion perspective?
It's all about being authentic and being authentically oneself. I’m Sikh, I’m a gay man, I wear a dastar (Sikh turban) and I'm proud of the fact that I'm visibly a Sikh. I've never felt the need to compromise my faith in order to be at peace of my sexual orientation, or to compromise my true identity and also fit in with my faith. I've never felt the need to compromise at all.
Obviously, I went through challenging times when I was a teenager. But when I got into adulthood, it was a case of I'm happy in myself. And if people have difficulties with that, that's really on them, not on me.
The beauty of the Sikh faith is that it's open to interpretation. Ultimately, it's about going straight to the scriptures, being at one with these scriptures, and being able to live your life in accordance with these teachings. And I feel that I'm able to do that as a gay married man.
How do you feel about your story coinciding with LGBT+ History Month?
It's happenchance that it's happened during LGBT History Month. It's been great to see people engaging with it and using that as an example of talking about intersectionality: when it comes to faith, cultural backgrounds, ethnicity and sexuality. So actually, I have many labels that can be attached to me and each of them are equally valid and equally representative of who I am.
You have spoken of being supported by your family; please share some insights on that?
They haven't questioned it. Some members did question it. They've been through a journey as well because it's a paradigm shift. It's not something that they've necessarily come across before. So, they've had to go on their own journey to come to a point where they understand, appreciate and love me and my husband.
And the wedding itself, was it a big fat Indian one?
Well, we had to delay the wedding for a couple of years from back in 2020 [over Covid lockdowns]. So, we decided that rather than compromising, we would put it off until we can have the big fat wedding that we wanted to have.
And it was it was a wonderful, lovely day. Everyone, regardless of which side they were from, was wearing Punjabi outfits or colourful outfits. We had all of the Punjabi elements, with the only elements missing being the religious ones.
MORE LIKE THIS…
It came just before your CBE; how did that feel?
The news came whilst I was traveling on honeymoon with my husband in India, where we were visiting gurdwaras and lots of places of importance. I felt very blessed for that to have happened at that time.
It's important because it's a level of recognition for the work that is being done, not just by myself but by so many people involved in all of the organisations. It’s great opportunity to make sure that light is being shown and a lot of attention is being given to those organisations.
MORE LIKE THIS…
It’s shaping up to be a busy year; what’s coming up?
The British Sikh report is going to be celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and we're still thinking about how we're going to mark that occasion, so keep your eyes peeled for more information on that. And, we are going to be having our theme launch for South Asian Heritage Month 2023 in the next few weeks and I think it's one that lots of people will be able to engage with and really make their own.
MORE LIKE THIS…
Finally, a note to conclude on…
Well, it's not always easy to be your authentic self. There can be a lot of fear and anxiety associated with that. But it is so worthwhile. And just remember that whatever your story is, whatever it is that you want to share, there will be people out there who are willing to support you and to show you the love that you need to feel brave enough to be able to share your story.