SASMHA started off as a conversation between two siblings, Tania and Trinish, in a kitchen on a summer evening in 2015. Tania, Sree, Trinish and Sriya all grew up in the DMV (aka DC, Maryland, Virginia), attending many community events and get-togethers over the years. The founding of SASMHA was serendipitous, as we came to the realization that the four of us shared many common passions and interests, and that important conversations were not happening openly among peers in our community. Since then, SASMHA has expanded into a formal organization, helmed by four co-founders at the intersection of sexual health, identity, reproductive health, sexuality, mental health, and above all, what it means to grow up in an immigrant culture, balancing our often-conflicting identities.
In 2016, a year after we began laying the groundwork for SASMHA, we decided to pitch a workshop at the North American Bengali Conference (NABC), a large South Asian cultural conference. We were nervous at the prospect of talking about sex at a brown conference, but rolled up our salwar sleeves and decided to go ahead anyway. Our workshop (titled "The Bengali Birds and Bees") filled up to full capacity with people who couldn't wait to share their stories with us. We were ecstatic to have an audience that opened up so readily and confirmed for us that we all shared experiences growing up as second generation brown kids - no matter where we came from. NABC was a huge risk but had an amazing payoff, and it's in the spirit of that workshop that we continue doing the work that we do today, because we know that these conversations are important, and our experiences are often universal.
The four co-founders and some of our attendees from our very first workshop at the North American Bengali Conference, called The Bengali Birds and Bees (New York City, 2016).
Tania is super passionate about all things sexual health, reproductive health, and HIV, and is a full-time HIV Health Educator working for a major hospital system in the DMV area, and has her Master's in Reproductive Biology from Johns Hopkins University. Prior to moving to the DC area, Tania lived and worked in Baltimore, doing full-time HIV testing and working for organizations such as Planned Parenthood of Maryland, Reaching All HIV+ Muslims of America, and Reproductive Health Initiative. For Tania, SASMHA is a bridge between her professional and personal lives, a way to bring to awareness around sexual health, sexuality, identity, and LGBTQ issues into her South Asian community; it also brings her two cultures - American and South Asian - which are often conflicting, a little closer together. Outside of reproductive/sexual health, Tania is a avid connoisseur of the arts - she's a part time professional photographer, and has been a student of Bharatanatyam, a form of Indian Classical dance, for the past 22 years. Choreography, direction, and costuming are very close to Tania's heart - in the last several years, she has choreographed and directed dance dramas (including several original productions) in the DMV area, and hopes to keep doing more in the future! In her spare time, you might find Tania dreaming about far away places to travel to (her list is ever-growing), and thinking of delicious new foods to cook and eat.
Sree Sinha is a doctoral student at the University of Denver, pursuing a PhD in Counseling Psychology focused on intimate relationships and intersectional identities in the Relationships and Psychotherapy Lab. She previously worked in community mental health, serving a chronically homeless population with severe and persistent mental illness in Washington, DC. Prior to co-founding SASMHA, she was busy bringing sexual health education to an undergraduate community by founding Sex Week at Maryland. Her passions also include advocacy and awareness around sustainability, and particularly the intersections between personal and environmental ecologies. She has been recognized for her leadership and involvement with the 2015 Wilson H. Elkins Citizenship Award as well as the Martin A. Taylor Award for Distinguished Service. In addition to her academic pursuits, Sree is a Company Dancer with Mayur, and has trained for over two decades in the classical Indian dance style of Odissi. Sree also has extensive training in the style of Kuchipudi, and has performed classical and folk dances in India, Singapore, at the Kennedy Center, and at the Smithsonian Institute. Sree describes herself as a queer brown cis woman, and more specifically, a Bengali bisexual babe. She enjoys reading, traveling, and laughing boisterously when not talking about herself in the third person.
Sriya Sarkar is a digital media producer, comedian, and filmmaker working at the intersection of digital media, comedy, and activism. She is the producer of Speakout Laughout, a comedic storytelling show about abortion, as well as lolvote, a comedy variety show and accompanying Twitterbot encouraging youth voter turnout. She's worked with Upworthy, Lady Parts Justice, and Hillary for America, and performed in a variety of bar basements and stages of all sizes.
Trinish Chatterjee is a rising senior at the University of Maryland, College Park, studying Electrical Engineering. Trinish began working on SASMHA alongside his sister, Tania, and has since slowly started gaining experiences in South Asian-American issues. Trinish is a sponsorship director for Technica, an all-women hackathon aimed at addressing gender diversity in the Tech world. He is also currently pursuing an Asian-American studies minor at UMD, and is working on The Purna Project, a collection of LGBTQ South Asian narrative interviews.