Diwali Resource Kit for Journalists | January 2009
Every year, the South Asian community comes together to celebrate Diwali, a massively popular worldwide event that has a rich complexity in belief and meaning. Also known as the “Festival of Lights,” the five-day event begins on Friday, November 9. For some, it signals the New Year while for others, it represents a time for reflection and renewal.
GLAAD is inviting media outlets to cover this important celebration and enrich their stories through the inclusion of the South Asian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in their Diwali coverage.
THE CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE
Diwali is an annual five-day event observed in South Asia and around the world. It is one of the largest celebrations observed within the community. The event symbolizes the celebration of life and an opportunity to strengthen family and social relationships. It has been predominantly a religious celebration for the Hindu community and its recognition of the New Year. However, it has gradually evolved into a cultural event that a majority of South Asians celebrate regardless of faith or religious background.
The United States (US) landscape of race and ethnicity continues to evolve and growth trends have increasingly become more visible. According to data from the 2000 US Census, the South Asian community is one of the country’s largest Asian populations with close to 2 Million claiming South Asian descent. Because of this growth, media have started to produce considerable coverage on the South Asian community and its culture.
The Festival of Lights includes the custom of lighting lamps to represent hope for humankind. Diwali also guarantees fireworks, lights, flowers and sweets. Participants wear new clothing on the day of to signify the renewal of life. Families gather to celebrate the holiday.
Observers of Diwali believe that the event represents celebrating the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance. These held ideals are believed to bring love, compassion and understanding.
TERMINOLOGY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
For additional terminology and other useful information, download a copy of the GLAAD Media Reference Guide at: http://archive.glaad.org/media/guide/index.php
- Desi – This is a colloquial name for people of South Asian descent, particularly those of Indian and Pakistani descent, to self describe each other within the community. Some consider the word derogatory outside of the South Asian community. The media should avoid using this term unless quoting an individual or used within a title of an event.
- Diwali (also called Deepavali) – A major festival celebrated by people of Indian descent and is significant to people who follow Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism. It is colloquially known as the “Festival of Lights.” Despite its Hindu origin, many people of South Asian descent enjoy the event for its cultural significance.
- South Asia – A geographic region located within the Asian continent. It is generally comprised of the following countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Tibet.
General Recommendations on covering the South Asian Community
- Differentiate between those who are American citizens and those who are citizens of other countries. For example, if a story is about American citizens of Indian descent, use “Indian American” rather than Indian. This reduces any implication that people of Asian descent are all foreign or foreign born.
- Avoid hyphenating racial and/or ethnic identities. For example, use “Indian American” instead of “Indian-American.” Hyphenation linguistically implies that a person is not a true American.
LGBT-Specific Recommendations on covering the South Asian Community
- Avoid common stereotypes, particularly targeting LGBT communities of color. For example, exoticizing people of Asian descent reinforce inaccurate stereotypes of being passive, weak or as sex objects.
- Avoid the misconception that all South Asians are of a particular religion or faith. There is a diversity of beliefs within the South Asian community and should be taken into account when writing stories that include this angle. Similarly, avoid the assumption that these religions or faiths are more homophobic than others.
SOUTH ASIAN LGBT STORY IDEAS FOR DIWALI
Diwali is a largely followed community event and many South Asians that identify as LGBT also take part in the festivities. Media outlets have the unique opportunity to explore the lives and experiences of South Asian LGBT community members and why they participate in this worldwide cultural event.
The holiday and its themes of love, compassion and understanding also reflect the unique hopes and dreams that resonate within the South Asian LGBT community. Media can use these three themes to better understand the intersection between the holiday and the community.
GLAAD offers up several story ideas for reporters and journalists to consider in their news coverage:
- Speak to South Asian LGBT families about their own personal traditions they observe and practice to celebrate Diwali.
- Profile various South Asian LGBT community members that address their own hopes and dreams for the coming year that relate to the Diwali themes.
- Use the study titled “No More Denial: Giving Visibility to the Needs of the South Asian LGBTI Community in Southern California” as a resource to write about the unique challenges that face the South Asian LGBT community and what is now being done to overcome them.
- Explore the South Asian community’s involvement with the freedom to marry for same-sex couples and their specific efforts to support marriage equality.
- Analyze the shifting views on sexual orientation and gender identity within the South Asian community among the older and younger generations.
- Write about the lives and experiences of people who are both Hindu and LGBT and the personal importance of Diwali to their identity.
(In alphabetical order)
Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)
Asian-Pacific Islander Media Strategist
Khush DC Washington, DC
SALGA New York City
Steering Committee Member
Satrang Los Angeles
Outreach Committee Member
Trikone San Francisco
Trikone Northwest Seattle