Indian-American parents of gay children must connect with each other to better understand their children and build a solid foundation for their future, according to former top Obama administration official. Gautam Raghavan, 34, who was the White House liaison for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population from 2011 to 2014, and the Defense Department liaison before that, says he has seen a gamut of reactions from Indian-American families toward their gay children, ranging from rejection to acceptance.
Prior to joining the White House, Gautam served as the Deputy White House Liaison for the U.S. Department of Defense and as the Outreach Lead for DoD’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Working Group. Gautam previously worked for the Obama campaign, Democratic National Committee, and Progressive Majority, and is a graduate of Stanford University.
From 2011 to 2014, Gautam served as President Barack Obama’s liaison to the LGBT community as well as the Asian American & Pacific Islander community. In this role, Gautam directed the White House’s outreach around major policy developments advancing LGBT equality, including President Obama’s support for marriage equality and the implementation of the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor, the signing of an Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers, the roll out and implementation of a Presidential Memorandum on international LGBT human rights, and administrative actions prohibiting LGBT discrimination in housing, health care, and other areas.
From 2009 to 2011, Gautam served as Deputy White House Liaison for the U.S. Department of Defense and as Outreach Lead for the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Working Group, where he directed all outreach and communications with key external stakeholders, including organizations advocating for and against repeal, scholars and research institutions with relevant expertise, and gay and lesbian military families and veterans.
Prior to joining the Obama Administration, Gautam worked to strengthen the progressive movement and expand the Democratic Party as Director of the 2008 Obama Campaign’s Asian American Finance Committee, Midwest Finance Director for the Democratic National Committee under Chairman Howard Dean, and in other positions for the DNC and Progressive Majority.
A first-generation immigrant, Gautam was born in India, raised in the Seattle suburbs, graduated from Stanford University, and currently lives in Washington, D.C. with his husband Andrew. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Point Foundation and Stanford Pride and sits on the Advisory Committee for The Council for Global Equality.
Graduating from Stanford University, Raghavan served in the Democratic National Committee, was on the Presidential campaign of then Senator Barack Obama, served in the White House, and married his college sweetheart Andrew Masloski, five years ago. The couple now plans to address one of his mother’s first concerns when he told her he was gay – add some children to expand his nuclear family.
Raghavan left the Obama administration, choosing instead to work with a Denver non-profit at its Washington, D.C. office. The Gill Foundation, where he is vice president of policy, advocates for LGBT equality and has given more than $277 million since its founding in 1992 to efforts to secure that goal.
“I was born in India and it’s not lost on me that my life would have been very different if my parents had not come here. I would not have been able to marry my husband, or have the protections that I have here,” Raghavan said.
“Our family tradition has always been fairly progressive and open-minded on a broad range of issues, so I’m not surprised they – and my extended family – were quick to support me,” Raghavan said. He concedes that not every Indian-American gay’s story is as rosy, and believes one of the things needed is to create more public spheres on the Internet and elsewhere, that give space to Indian-American gays to tell their stories. Sounding abashed about being cast as a role-model, Raghavan encouraged Indian-American gays, like others, to explore the umpteen options open to them in this country. There’s no limit to what a gay Indian-American can achieve in this country given acceptance and family support, he emphasizes.
“Models of advocacy that have worked here may not work elsewhere,” Raghavan said but added activists and advocates in India are using some of the same tactics and tools that worked here in America – for example, enlisting the support of pro-gay celebrities. The more we can do to share strategies and lessons learned, the better,” he said, adding, “I’m confident both the Indian diaspora community and global LGBT community will continue to support efforts in India to revoke 377.”
At the Gill Foundation, his focus is on the program entitled “Freedom for all Americans” modeled on the previous campaign “Freedom to Marry” all directed at raising awareness and sending the right messages about what LGBT people are like, to communities traditionally seen as dug in. The Gill Foundation is focusing on the South, particularly on business, faith, and conservative communities, which he says would be most helpful in spreading the message. “We have to push back against the traditional narrative that people of faith are against equality for gays,” he says. And that goes for cultural communities as well, like Indian or Chinese Americans.