While the United States and Western Europe are making significant advances in LGBT Equality, there are 79 countries where homosexuality is a criminal offense. Eight of the countries punish homosexuality with death. In India, homosexuality is a ten-year prison sentence under Section 377 of Federal Criminal Law (Hitesh Bussie, 2015 Interview).
The United States is one of 13 countries that currently recognize same sex marriage at the federal level (International Freedom to Marry.com). Executive Director, Chad Griffin, of Human Rights Campaigns (HRC) says, “No longer is there ‘Gay Marriage,’ now there is just marriage (HRC National Dinner, 2015).” American cities are known to be the most LGBT accepting and many foreign people who face persecution in their own country seek asylum in the United States.
Hitesh Bussie, director of Grassroots Campaigns in Sacramento, California grew up in India and sought asylum in the United States in 2009. Grassroots Campaigns (GCI) is a leading professional fundraising company that employs canvassers to raise funds for nonprofits like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and Equality California (EQCA). It is also a great place for LGBT people to find jobs directly related to fighting for federal, State, and Local Equality.
For groups like the ACLU, Grassroots Campaigns (GCI), raises more money than the internet and phone banking combined. Canvassers sign about 30,000 contributors per year, one-third as monthly contributors (ACLU Telephone Briefing, 2015).
Hitesh shared in an interview that “In India, there is very little hope for finding a same-sex partner and building a family and home together.” Hitesh remembers that he knew he was attracted to the same sex but there were only derogatory terms for homosexuality in India. He came out to some family members as a late teenager, struggling with his first relationship and a suicide attempt. They sent him to a Psychiatrist to treat his homosexuality and depression. He remembers the word “Launda” was the slur used to demean homosexuals and he did not learn the American word “Gay” until he was 22 years old.
In India, Hitesh was violently attacked, almost raped, and lived in fear of the 10 year prison sentence he could face for being homosexual.
The Psychiatrist would jokingly mention that if Hitesh wanted to live an open life as a gay man and have a partner or husband he should move to the United States. Hitesh was not laughing, in 2009 he began the process of finding asylum in the U.S. and in 2010 he moved to Berkeley, California with his sister.
That year, Mr. Bussie began fundraising with Grassroots Campaigns in Berkeley, California. He moved to Sacramento, California to become director of the Sacramento office two years later. Mr. Bussie wants to continue working with nonprofit advocacy, development, administration, healthcare, and politics.
By canvassing since 2010 and directing the Sacramento Grassroots office to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, every year for Marriage Equality Mr. Bussie has made a significant contribution to winning Marriage Equality at the Supreme Court. To celebrate the Supreme Court ruling that made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 States in June 2015, he treated his Sacramento Office to a social and mixer and spent time with his long-term partner Domi.
Yes, Hitesh has been able to live the life as an openly gay man in the United States with his partner of two years. Though they have been verbally attacked for holding hands in public several times, being able to live together and the freedom here in the United States is an opportunity that would not be allowed in India.
To young LGBT people, Mr. Bussie says, “Come out, don’t think twice, it is worth it. It does get better” Asking Mr. Bussie “Considering the current Grassroots Campaign for the ACLU to fund raise for LGBT Workplace Protection what would you like to tell LGBT Professionals” he replied, “Come out, talk about your personal life, talk about church, family, and kids. Coming out is important to acceptance.”
Chad Griffin of HRC shares similar views that “Coming out is the secret to the success of the LGBT Equality Movement. When people know someone who is LGBT as a neighbor, friend, or coworker, it makes it nearly impossible to wish fewer rights upon us (HRC National Dinner, 2014).”
It is necessary for people to come out because in numbers and visibility we can build communities of peers and loved ones. Every person who comes out can be another person taking an active stance for Equality.