For PRIDE month, June of 2020, Margaret W. Wong & Associates, LLC sought to interview an immigrant for “I, Foreign-Born” who was both LGBTQI and an individual of accomplishment. Accordingly, we asked our good friend, Ms. Alana Jochum, Executive Director of Equality Ohio, for a suggestion and she replied that she could not think of anyone more appropriate than her good friend, Dr. Swagata Banik, Chair and Professor of Public Health and Prevention Science at Baldwin Wallace University (BWU). He has been recently named as the Dean of Research & Graduate Studies at BWU.
Dr. Banik’s research addresses health disparities experienced by gender and sexual minority communities both in the U.S. and globally. As his biography on the BWU’s website notes his research, “on HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STI) prevention has been supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other Government and private organizations, one of his projects, which informs a transphobia reduction intervention to promote HIV and other healthcare access among gender minority populations in India is the first project of this kind funded by NIH in international settings.” Therefore, we contacted Dr. Banik, who very graciously agreed to sit down with us on the patio of a noted restaurant in Cleveland Heights where we could properly social distance.
Recalling his early life, Dr. Banik grew up in Tripura, a hilly state in Northeast India, in middle-class surroundings with his parents and three brothers. To be sure, he always had an interest in science and thus attended Shivaji University in India where he earned his doctorate in Ecology & Health hand, came to Cleveland to serve as a research fellow at Cleveland State University where he worked until 2011 when he accepted his current position at Baldwin Wallace where he established and grew the Department of Public Health & Prevention Science. He was instrumental in developing a partnership with The MetroHealth System for a graduate program in Public health which focuses on Population Health management and promotion.
Along these lines, Dr. Banik told us that the purpose of his work in to heighten awareness about the inequities of available health care and health outcomes as it pertains to LGBTQ communities throughout the world. Besides India, he also works with the sexual and gender minority community in Nepal and Bangladesh. As of late, through his work, he has both imparted knowledge and learned a lot from the communities across the world. Himself a very modest and private man, Dr. Banik shared with us that it is much easier being open about one’s sexual and gender preference in the United States than it was in India where discrimination against LGBTQI people was legal until 2018. However, extreme discrimination and violence against LGBTQI people still exist. Fortunately, however, his family and friends in India have always been very supportive of him. For more about the decriminalization of homosexuality in India.
Of course, there is unquestionably still a serious stigma and discrimination against LGBTQI people here in the United States; as both an immigrant and as a member of the LGBTQI community, Dr. Banik encounters multiple stigmas and negative attitudes on a regular basis that cannot be overcome (i.e. at least not at this time) but can definitely be coped with. Nevertheless, Dr. Banik considers Cleveland his home and he genuinely loves it here because, in addition to more opportunities afforded its residents, he believes that the United States is overall a country of “great diversity, social liberty, and opportunities for all.”
Dr. Banik is currently a green card holder who looks forward to becoming a United States citizen. Let it be noted that the persons who assisted with the process of obtaining his green card (i.e. as well as several other previous visas including O visa) were Ms. Margaret W. Wong and Ms. Marisela (Chela) J Marquez. He regards Ms. Wong as an inspiration because she “showed me pathways as to how to succeed here in the United States as an immigrant with limited resources.” And Ms. Wong likes him too. In fact, she has known him since his very first days in the United States and says it has been wonderful watching him grow as a person.
After telling Ms. Wong about Dr. Banik’s high regard for her, she replied, “I love him too. Mutual admiration society. He is really humble and intelligent and very, very, courageous!”