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Besharam door policy tested

An entrance policy barring straight men unescorted by women from a monthly party successfully prevented incidents of homophobic and sexual harassment that had plagued previous events, says an organizer.

The new policy was instituted at the Nov 2 Besharam party after repeated reports of harassment over the past year. Besharam is organized by members of Toronto’s South Asian queer community and donates part of its proceeds to the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention.

“It went pretty well,” says Mohammed Khan, one of the founders and promoters of the event. “Gay attendance as well as women’s attendance increased dramatically.

“The downside is we had to turn down a few groups of guys. They challenged it but they were pretty reasonable.”

Khan says the organizers only had trouble with one group of three men who, after being told several times of the new policy, still wanted admission. Khan says security asked the men to leave.

“One of them just started shouting homophobic profanities for about 10 minutes, then they left,” he says.

Khan says that the next day another one of the men sent a message to everyone in Besharam’s Facebook group saying he had been discriminated against and inviting everyone to join him in suing the organizers. Khan says Besharam has removed the man from the group.

But Khan says most people seemed relieved the new policy was in place. He says he expected numbers to decline initially after the new policy was instituted but instead attendance, normally at about 750 people, reached about 800. Khan adds that November is usually a busy month for Besharam.

He says there was a noticeable change in the makeup of the crowd.

“The majority will always be heterosexual but it brought back a different crowd, people who are lot more civil about these issues,” Khan says.

Khan says the new entrance policy will continue, although the organizers will use their discretion.

“Part of it is going to be just speaking to people and seeing where they’re at,” he says. “This is not just any South Asian party, it’s a theme party and the theme is antioppression.”