Queer Sikh Man Uses Visibility and Experience in Healthcare to Help and Empower Others.

by Sundeep Singh Boparai

My name is Sundeep Singh Boparai. My pronouns are he, him, his, and I’m from Queens, New York. 

I was a senior in undergrad and my mom was actually making lunch for me. And we have a long dining room table and I had all my books scattered all across the table and I was studying for my finals. 

She’s having conversation with me and she’s like, “Oh my God, I can’t wait until you graduate. It’s going to be so great.”  And we just like… “I can’t wait to find you a partner. We’re going to have a fantastic wedding.” 

And I’m like, “Who am I marrying?” 

Mom’s like, “Oh, don’t worry about it. I’ll put your biodata in the matrimonials back home in India.” And that’s in our culture, how it works when folks are getting arranged married. 

And I just couldn’t focus anymore, and I’m like, I have to say something, and I’m like, “Mom, I’m gay.”

Literally, it’s like time froze and she just became so still, she just started crying hysterically. I remember my brother had come back and he just saw my mom crying and he looked at me and I was like, “I told mom.” 

He was like, “Do you want to take a minute? Do you want to go somewhere for the day? Let me talk to her. Let me see what’s going on, how she’s feeling.” So I just packed up all my books, everything that I was studying. I called one of my cousins. He came over and I just stayed at his house the whole day.

Later that evening, I came home and I guess my mom calmed down. In Punjabi, God, we say, “Waheguru.Waheguru is God, right? 

So she’s like, “If Waheguru created you this way and this is the path he chose for you and this is who you are, who am I to question what he made and what he created?” And it just speaks to my mom’s character and who she is as a person.

"If Waheguru created you this way and this is the path he chose for you and this is who you are, who am I to question what he made and what he created?

So I decided to go to Hofstra University, where I studied Master’s of Healthcare Administration. Once I graduated, I was like, I need to join a large health system. I joined Northwell Health and I started as a front desk receptionist. So fast-forward, I went from there to working with the World Trade Center Health Program. And throughout that time, I still had some interactions with my father.

So I’m a product of two parents that were married before and have a child each from their first marriage. But fast-forward, my dad actually ended up leaving my mom when I was seven, eight years old. During the time of working at the World Trade Center Health program, I had an opportunity to tell my father about my true identity, and unfortunately, the interaction didn’t go as well. It became a little violent. 

It was that interaction that made me understand that, hey, if this happened to me and I’m queer and I’m Sikh, there must be hundreds and thousands of other queer Sikhs out there that are also going through something very similar, but no one is talking about it. That’s when I was like, I’m going to utilize social media as a way to create visibility and awareness.

There’s one person in specific who’s actually on the kingsunnyb team now. I told him about this idea that I had. I was like, “I want to create a social media platform. I don’t know how to do it,” but he was starting off as a photographer. 

He was like, “Why don’t we help each other? I’ll take some pictures of you.” So we took those pictures, I wore my turban, and we put them out. Within minutes, the pictures just kept getting reshared. I had people that had blue check marks reposting my pictures. I had people that were South Asian celebrities posting my pictures. Through that, we created a lot of visibility. We created a lot of conversation. We received a lot of hate, but I think when you are free and when you’re liberated, it invokes that. 

I maybe had a few thousand followers or something and I was like, This is not it. I was like, I need to be in the trenches of the work. I need to do grassroots work, but how do I get there? So Northwell has an HIV service line. I had the opportunity and privilege of being the administrator of the HIV service line for a couple of years here at the health system. A month before COVID hit, February, the Director of the ID program said that the health system is going to be opening up a transgender program in the health system, and they want an administrator to run the program.

And I’m like, “I’m not trans.” 

And he was like, “Yeah, but your passion and your hard work speaks so highly that I feel like you’re going to do a great job.” So I agreed. 

I was like, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” And then COVID hit.

We opened up the center in June. I remember, I think it was two or three days a week, we had it opened. And basically, Dr. Rosenthal and I, our Medical Director, we basically built this from ground up. It was like a beacon of hope for the patients and the community that, “Okay, for this hour, hour and a half, I can get away.” 

Even though I went to school, got a Master’s Degree in Healthcare administration, was working at the trans program, had the social media platform, I was like, I need to do more. So I decided to go back to school, and currently, I am getting a Doctorate at the Medical University of South Carolina. Through that experience, I was able to meet Admiral Rachel Levine, who is the first trans federall- appointed person, individual, in the United States of America, the Assistant Health Secretary to President Biden. We were able to work and have really invigorating conversations on gender diverse issues and initiatives. That is one of the most proud moments in my academic career.

I’ve continued on to do Sikh, queer, LGBTQ activism. I’ve continued to be the administrator at this program. I’m in my last year of school. I’m expected to graduate this year in 2024. 

But I think the fundamental goal is that I want to make sure that there isn’t any Sunni that grew up the way that I grew up. That little queer Sunny that’s sitting somewhere, that’s crying in the corner. So when he goes on Instagram or she goes on Instagram or they go on Instagram, they see someone like me, and they’re like, “Hey, if they can do it, if they can persevere and they can make something out of their life, so can I.”

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