Vega Subramaniam was born in Madras (now Chennai), India in 1965. Her family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin when she was three, and later to West Bend, Wisconsin. Despite facing racism as an immigrant, she had a happy childhood in a small, safe town. Vega’s father had feminist and anti-capitalist ideals, which influenced Vega’s political ideology. Vega knew from a young age that there was something very different about her.
Mala Nagarajan was born in Washington, DC in 1968. She spent a happy early childhood in Delhi, India before moving to Alexandria, Virginia. Her conservative father was a single-income earner, providing support for Mala, her three sisters and her mother, who went deaf when Mala was in second grade. In Virginia, she faced more challenges, including language barriers and bullying, but remained a happy child with androgynous characteristics.
In 1980, Vega and her family left Wisconsin and moved to Bryn Mawr, Philadelphia. While there, she fell into a deep depression, struggling to adjust to her new environment. During freshman year, she came to terms with her attraction towards women, being comfortably out to everybody on campus. However, at home, Vega faced significant pressure from her family to excel in academia and marry a man. She didn’t see a future for herself until she went to graduate school for sociology. There, she could lead a double life, enjoying a successful academic life while keeping her personal and family life separate.
In Virginia, Mala was madly in love with girls, but acted homophobic towards others. By her early teens, she was experiencing depression and struggling with her sexuality. She eventually quit high school due to severe depression and suicidal thoughts, convinced she would end her life in her early 20s. At age 23, she traveled to India with her mother and sister, where she fell in love with a man. However, she remained confused about her identity and future.
In Bryn Mawr, Vega was enjoying life being out with her professors, friends and community. She became a founder of the graduate student lesbian, gay, and bisexual alliance, yet continued to remain closeted with her family.
In 1991, while working in a service for the deaf and hard of hearing in Seattle, Mala fell in love with her best friend. This experience helped her accept her sexuality and envision a future for herself. She began attending Pride parades and PFLAG meetings, and joined the Hands Off Washington speaker bureau. In 1993, she came out to her friends, sisters, and parents, informing them of her relationship with her best friend. Her parents struggled to accept her sexuality.
In 1994, Vega moved to Bellingham, Washington to become a visiting lecturer in the sociology department. In her new city, she felt comfortable being out and involved in the LGBTQ+ community. Mala and her soon-to-be-ex also moved to Bellingham, and in 1996, Mala and Vega met on a listserv for South Asian women and discovered their shared identities as Indian lesbians. Mala was out to her parents, which inspired Vega to come out to hers. They quickly developed feelings for each other and decided to have a summer fling before Mala moved to Seattle. Then Mala’s ex left the apartment they shared, Vega swooped in, and their “fling” became a relationship. The following year, they co-founded Trikone Northwest for the queer South Asian community in the Pacific Northwest.
In 2002, Vega and Mal cemented their union with a Hindu marriage ceremony. Shortly after, they were one of eight plaintiff couples in Washington State’s landmark 2004 marriage equality case Andersen v. Sims. After being initially denied a marriage license under the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the court ruled the act was unconstitutional, but the WA Superior Court overturned the judgment on appeal. Mala and Vega were then legally married after Washington voters approved same sex marriage in 2012.
They then visited India together, where their names appeared in Indian newspapers. Mala and Vega felt it was crucial to be finally recognized as a married couple by their extended family and the LGBTQ+ community in India. In 2013, Mala and Vega quit their jobs and started Vega Mala Consulting, a nonprofit company working with social justice nonprofit organizations.