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This Queerness & Hinduism panel features Dr. Raja Bhattar, Harish Iyer, and Sonal Giani.

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What does it mean to embrace the LGBTQ+ community and queer identity with a spiritual and/or religious journey? What does it mean to be a sexual and/or gender minority and belong to a faith tradition? How can we ask these questions to prepare ourselves to transform the world? These are the motivations behind the Inaugural Stanford Speaker Series on Queerness, Spirituality, and Religion. For LGBTQIA+ identified people, these questions speak to a long history of rejection, reconciliation, and joy. But the topics at hand are relevant to social, political, and cultural questions which all parts of humanity might find themselves asking. Inclusion and exclusion, transformation and meditation, prayer, worship, faith, love, forgiveness, community, and the nature of being in this modern world are just some of these topics we hope to cover.

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This 90 minute panel will consist of three parts. First, each panelist will introduce themselves and their work, sharing a part of their journey and practice with the audience. Second, a student moderator will pose questions for the panelists with audience observation. Last, an open question & answer session will be held fielding questions from the audience.

Headshots are in respective order to the below biographies, from left to right.

Sonal Giani is an LGBTQ activist and filmmaker. She has been featured on The Better India's list of '8 Inspiring Indian LGBT Individuals', 'Rainbow list of 20 LGBT Role Models' by Cosmopolitan. She is known for her pioneering work in lesbian and bisexual women’s issues as well as LGBTQ youth work. She co-founded one of India’s largest LGBTQ youth initiatives “Yaariyan” and 'Umang', an LBT initiative in Mumbai. She has worked on human rights issues and crisis handling of the queer community for about 8 years previously when she was an Advocacy Manager at The Humsafar Trust. This includes Section 377 related violations. She is best known for featuring on ZEE TV's prime-time television show 'Connected Hum Tum', Bollywood film W and documentary 'Purple Skies'.

Harish Iyer is an equal rights activist and an active voice for a number of social causes. He is one of the people who had moved the Indian Supreme Court on Section 377. He is the only Indian national listed in Guardian's world pride powerlist, a list of 100 most influential lgbt persons across the world. He is a member of the core committee on LGBT Rights by the National Human Rights Commission. He has two films and one book based on his life.

Dr. Raja Gopal Bhattar (pronouns: they/them/theirs) is a nationally-recognized higher education leader, advocate, consultant and author. Hailing from a long lineage of Hindu Pandits and scholars, they hold a PhD and Master of Arts degrees in Higher Education and Organizational Change from UCLA, a Master of Education in Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration from the University of Vermont and Bachelor’s in Psychology with a minor in Spanish Literature from Boston University. Raja has been featured in The Advocate Magazine, Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, India Abroad Magazine, Hinduism Today Magazine, the Vermont Quarterly and many other news outlets. Dr. Bhattar is a proud queer and gender non-conforming person of color, 1.5 generation immigrant, first-generation college student and spiritual practitioner. They approach this work with a passion for sustainable organizational impact and a bold vision of equity and access through social change.

We are excited to announce that this event will be moderated from a student at Stanford University. This panel will be moderated by Vivek Tanna.

Vivek (he/him) is a Stanford undergrad ('22) pursuing a combined major in Philosophy & Religious Studies. He identifies as Hindu and feels drawn to Vedantic philosophy and spirituality. Vivek is also interested in health and involved in research in pediatric pain and psycho-oncology in the School of Medicine.

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