Words: Jason Kattenhorn
Sassify ZIne - July 2019
Neuroscientist, Great American Baking show semi-finalist and part-time photographer, San Diego resident Jiwandeep Kohli took the internet and Pride 2019 by storm and with his rainbow turban.
Tweeting: “I’m proud to be a bisexual bearded baking brain scientist. I feel fortunate to be able to express all these aspects of my identity, and will continue to work toward ensuring the same freedom for others.”
The post went viral receiving more than 152K likes and even a tweet from Obama himself. In another post, he wrote: “This received a lot more attention than I imagined it would! It also makes me feel so much pride and joy to be a part of such supportive and welcoming communities.” Sassify illustrated and caught up with Jiwandeep now that Pride month is over, to talk about his coming out story, balancing his faith and being LGBTQ+ and celebrating Pride all year round.
What was your coming out experience like?
As for many other, coming out was a challenge for me. I struggled for a long time sorting out my own feelings, never feeling quite gay or straight. My cultural background was an added layer of difficulty. When I realized that I am bisexual, I also had the choice to stay silent and hide that part of myself. However, into my 20s, it felt disingenuous and out of line with my values to conceal a core aspect of my identity out of fear. So I first told my sister, my closest friend in the world, who was nothing but supportive, followed by my parents who found it shocking but quickly came to terms with it and were equally understanding. Once my family knew, sharing with the rest of the world felt easy.
Do you have any Queeroes?
There is a strong community of LGBTQ+ scientists on Twitter that I now consider role models and heroes. The visibility campaign @500queerscientists, in particular, was an inspiration to me.
How does it feel to go viral/ did you expect such a massive response?
It came as quite a surprise to go viral, and I knew it would be a mixed bag once it started happening. However, the positive far outweighed the negative and I have felt so fortunate to reach so many people and have an impact just by being visible.
How did you go about making a rainbow turban?
I added a few strips of cloth to one of my black turbans. Took a bit of measuring and a lot of safety pins, but once I had the idea, it was easy to execute.
Have there been obstacles balancing your faith and sexuality?
Sikhism is rooted in egalitarian beliefs and is therefore quite easy to practice as a sexual minority individual. I think it is unfortunate that some people are caught up in cultural values that stand in contrast to our religious beliefs and lose sight of the core tenets on which Sikhism was built. Being a Sikh means standing up for equality and justice for everyone, not just those with characteristics with which you directly identify.
Why did you choose this year to post the image?
This is actually not the first year I have posted the image. I started wearing the pride turban back in 2017, but this was the year it happened to get a lot of attention.
What advice would you give to other Sikhs struggling with their sexuality and faith?
I would advise reflecting back on our core beliefs and recognizing that while certain cultures may be at odds with acceptance of sexual minorities, our religion is not.
Did you do any Pride-themed baking?
Certainly! I have not figured out quite what it will be, but a rainbow confection will definitely grace my @bearded_baker_ Instagram account before the end of the month.