“The point in history at which we stand is full of promise and danger. The world will either move forward toward unity and widely shared prosperity, or it will move apart.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt
These days, the country seems to be in a bizarre world in which everyone is at each other’s throats for the slightest difference of opinion. We need a break from that with an oasis where we can find respect and patience. Luckily, there’s a group of young folks dedicated to creating space here in Philadelphia that is open to all.
Qunify is an LGBTQ social community that organizes events to foster personal connection, group community and city partnerships to make additional spaces and opportunities open for all LGBTQ people to be safe, comfortable and visible. The goal is to achieve a world that welcomes, embraces and supports all people.
We took a moment to speak to core member Neha Ghosh.
PGN: I hear you’re a Jersey girl. What part?
NG: Actually, I was born in Albuquerque, N.M., then Edison, N.J., then Bridgewater. When we moved, it was at the start of the cookie-cutter house era, so my parents got one of the houses. We moved from Edison, which was all Indian folks, to Bridgewater, which was a mix of white, Indian and Chinese but not many black people at first. It was a nice suburban town and I made a lot of friends.
PGN: It’s always surprising to me to find these small ethnic enclaves where you wouldn’t expect them.
NG: Yeah, we used to call our area Chindia, which is probably not PC now, but it was what it was back then.
PGN: [Laughs] There are a lot of things that we did and said back in the day that wouldn’t fly now; half the shows on MTV that were considered groundbreaking would be in trouble now.
NG: I know. If you watch old “The L Word” episodes, there are some things that make you cringe a little. But it was such a good show!
PGN: Describe the family.
NG: I’m the oldest of two; my sister is 10 years younger than me. My parents are both in technology — computer science, just to fit the stereotype. My dad does computer-security type stuff and my mom does more accounting stuff.
PGN: Dad should be hot right now. I’d think cyber security would be in big demand.
NG: It is. He works with colleges and universities. Most of them have their own copyrights and trademarks, etc., on all their scholarly works and he created a program that keeps people from stealing, sharing or plagiarizing the materials.
PGN: Did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up?
NG: No, I had no idea. But I loved my AP bio teacher, probably a weird one to choose. But she was incredibly smart and she was kind and funny and sassy. She talked to us like adults; she was actually one of the hardest teachers, but she had a way of inspiring you to want to do the work. My sister is actually taking her class right now, which is funny.
PGN: Any extracurricular groups for you?
NG: Uh huh. I did Key Club and basketball and tennis. Key Club was a community-oriented organization that did fundraisers and volunteer work.
PGN: Where did you go for college?
NG: Rutgers, the trashy terrible Rutgers campus, and I loved it. It was like the best of both a big and a small school at once. I got into martial arts my freshman year and carried on with it for the next six years. It was a lot of fun.
PGN: So if I ask you a question you don’t like, you can kick my butt?
NG: I would never do that … but yeah.
PGN: What was your major?
NG: Public health and economics, with an emphasis on the math side of things, econometrics and epidemiology and all that, because I do not like writing, never have. But I liked learning the theory behind the numbers, the statistical relevance of why people do certain things. It was interesting. But then you realize that all stats and numbers can be manipulated and interpreted to get the results you want, so what does it all mean in the end? It’s weird.
PGN: What are you doing now?
NG: Job wise? I’m a senior customer-success manager for AscentERP, it’s a great job.
PGN: I looked on the website and could not figure out what they do!
NG: That’s fair. They do supply-chain technology, so if you need to figure out how to get goods from point A to point B, they figure it out.
PGN: You moved to Philadelphia right after Sisters closed, so where do millennials go to find tribe?
NG: I moved here originally with my ex. In the beginning, we just went to the Gayborhood and made friends there. I love to dance and I’ll just go up and talk to anyone in the bar and make friends that way. Then I slowly got into more activist work; my partner right now does a lot of work on domestic violence, which opened my eyes to learning more about my community and the history of Philly activism. So I try now not to just go to the clubs, although I love that, but I also try to go to book readings and nonprofit events, etc. I try to make sure to get out of the Gayborhood regularly as well. I want to know about the entire community; if you just stay with one group or in one area, you’ll only see a fraction of the community.
PGN: You’re one of the founders of Qunify. Where did that name come from?
NG: We wanted to have queer in the title but we realized that some older folks still have a hard time with that word. We also wanted to include something about unity. So Qunify was created.
PGN: And what is it about?
NG: Qunify is a community-based organization that’s trying to make space for LGBT folks that is safe and comfortable and to create opportunities for all. It’s a very simple statement.
PGN: What makes it different from groups like OurNightOut or Stimulus?
NG: Those are great groups and there’s room for all, but our leadership is primarily women of color, so it’s different than ONO. We try to go to all different sections of the city and find not straight, but queer-adjacent places, like book stores or coffee shops or museums so that’s a little different too. For the parties, we try to go to different neighborhoods as well. Most other events are in Center City but that’s not where everyone is. We’ve been to Giovanni’s Room and Ulises Books, Dahlak in West Philly, Amalgam Comics in Fishtown, all over the place. We don’t want to be just one thing so we’ll do some parties, some hang-outs or things like our discussion series, “You Can’t Ban Our Stories,” which have a variety of topics. Last time it was about immigration and we had real LGBT immigrants, not just people like me who are first generation, to share their stories — people who are here from another country giving their stories and their take on how this administration is affecting them. The next one will be about non-binary sexualities, categories that often get dismissed or misunderstood by the LGBT community: pansexual, asexual, demisexual, etc.
PGN: That’s great that you have different types of events for everyone.
NG: The thing is, as queer people, we’re always asked to go and drink. It’s made to seem like that’s the only way we can socialize or communicate with other queer folks but that’s not true. And we do that too, but what about a queer night at the museum, or at a bookstore? We also recognize that substance abuse in the community is a thing; there’s a reason for it, but it’s a thing and we don’t want to perpetuate it. When we do have events with alcohol, we promote “sober buddies” and give a discount for it. We want people to know that you can come to a party and have fun and alcohol isn’t always going to be centered.
PGN: Are the events open to anyone who wants to come?
NG: Absolutely. Our covers are $5-$15 sliding fee and $3 for sober buddies. Our only rules are listed on our webpage: no homophobia, no racism, no transphobia, no sexism, no ableism and no fatphobia will be tolerated in any of our virtual or physical spaces.
PGN: How many people in the core group?
NG: There are five of us and we have a really nice mix of strengths. I’m good at finding the locations and planning the events, we have someone else who’s good at social media and someone for finance, etc. It’s a strong group and we work together well.
PGN: Where do the Pandas come in?
NG: [Laughs] I love pandas! It’s a stupid love, but I identify with them. People sometimes see me as a hard, confident person, but I’m really just a big teddy bear. I even have a panda tattoo, a cute little thing. People are always sending me panda memes, which is excellent. I want them all. I love the fact that they don’t really walk, they just tumble everywhere. They just roll head over feet. That’s how they travel! How can you not love that?
PGN: What are some of your other tattoos?
NG: I have a tattoo of Durga; she’s a Hindu Mother Goddess. I have several tattoos and am getting more soon. I love them.
PGN: Are you practicing?
NG: I don’t practice Hindu in an extreme way. As I learn more about it, like most religions, it has a lot of problematic features. There’s inherent castism and sexism and other stuff, but I do like the duality of Hinduism, where no one is just one thing. There’s a lot of gender fluidity and queerness that’s just kind of in there. I find very calming concepts in Hinduism, but of course that’s if you pick and choose certain parts, like with most religions.
PGN: Do you think being Indian made it more difficult to come out?
NG: It is hard to be South Asian and queer, mostly because you just don’t see it. Obviously, we’re there; there are like a billion of us, so statistically there are a lot of queer folks among us across the diaspora. If you include Trinidad and all the adjacent countries that are also South Asia, there are a ton of us. But you really don’t hear or see anyone and when you did — when I was younger — it was always very uber-masculine women or extremely femme women and I was like, “I’m not either of those!” So it was hard to figure out what was going on, especially because no one talked about anything directly. It was all gossip and innuendo. My friends knew, but it wasn’t discussed and no one I knew was queer. I mean, not even a little bit … that I knew of.
PGN: Were there familial expectations too?
NG: I think I was always the odd ball. I was into sports and other tomboy things that were celebrated when I was younger, but as I got older people started to ask, “OK, why aren’t you cooking and cleaning and learning typical femme duties now?” “Because that’s not who I am and you knew that when you were celebrating those athletic characteristics when I was young. But now that I’m living that truth, you’re uncomfortable.” These days, it’s not bad, but I am still the “gay” cousin you talk about or that “gay” person in the community that everyone knows. A lot of the LGBT South Asian folks I know just kind of disappear from the community because it’s so difficult to go back and be yourself. There are things that are still tough. Going to the Puja is where we went to be with other brown folks; it was more about community than religion for many of us. It’s where all my friends were so that’s something that’s missed.
PGN: It seems that there’s a sort of personal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” vibe.
NG: There is. Because I’m an Aries and I like attention, I’m not a big DADT fan. I want to make people confront it. I look like a big old queer anyway. I just do, so there’s no hiding it and I’m OK with that now, but for sure there was a time when it wasn’t such an OK thing. I present pretty masculine and it’s a positive now, but I can understand how for some other people, especially in the Bengali community, it’s not as much of an option. Even for me, it’s baby steps. I went to a wedding and for part of the party I wore a shirt and tie and no one gave me a hard time about it, so I think people are starting to open up. Or maybe they’re just used to me because they know and like me and that makes it OK. But would they be OK if I brought a partner? That’s the next step.
PGN: I think people might surprise you.
NG: I think you’re right. Me being big and bold is one thing. I’ve just been hesitant to put someone else in a position where they might be uncomfortable. But on the other hand, my partner fucking rocks the game. She’s the one who just went up and introduced herself to my parents at a fashion show where I was modeling masculine clothes. A lot of layers shed in that one moment and it was really cool!
PGN: Tell me about her and how you met.
NG: She works for Medical Students for Choice, basically working with med students who want to learn about abortion care. If you want to be an ob/gyn, there are apparently no courses available on abortion care. That’s insanity!
PGN: That is! It’s a legal procedure. People should be taught how to administer it properly.
NG: Yeah, and they are one of the few entities that do it. They provide educational material to medical students who want to learn more about abortion care.
PGN: What’s up next for Qunify?
NG: Bounce! It’s the next party and it’s going to be a blast! It’s going to be at Isla Verde on Oct. 20. Get ready to dance!
For more information about Qunify, visit https://www.facebook.com/qunifyphl.