A mother and father in Oakville, Canada, have launched a support network specifically designed to unite South Asian parents whose children have come out as LGBTI.
Sushma and Vijay Agarwal were blindsided when their son Rishi confronted them about his sexuality in 2004. The subject is somewhat of a taboo in their community and they were fearful of what their family and friends would think.
What they didn’t realise at the time however is the torment their son also faced in preparing for that fateful conversation. Judging by the negative experience of others, Rishi was concerned he would no longer be welcome in the family home.
Vijay recounts to CBC, “Rishi said, ‘Dad, you have two choices, either you can accept me or you can disown me’.
"I said, ‘Son, disowning is not one of the choices, I have to educate myself before I can tell you what I think’.”
His wife's response was a more emotional one, as she explains, “I was just speechless and heartbroken, I was going through such hell in my head, god knows how life is going to be, what is he going to do – all those thoughts."
As Sushma and Vijay had had little to no contact with the LGBTI community prior to their son's coming out, they set about researching what it meant to be gay and joined a Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) group in Toronto.
Twelve years on and their son is happily married, with Sushma and Vijay even insisting he and his husband be given a traditional Hindu wedding – despite seven priests declining to officiate.
Now they are taking the support they received from the PFLAG back to their hometown of Oakville and more specifically, to others in the South Asian community.
“Because of their [PFLAG’s] support we were able to reconcile in our minds and accept our son,” Vijay tells the Hindustan Times.
“The coming out process can be challenging in any culture, and South Asian families face their own unique challenges, such as how other members of the community will react, judge, or reject. Now there is a venue and community support for these families,” Sushma adds.
Rishi and his husband Daniel's wedding in 2011 was the first gay Hindu one in North America but Sushma and Vijay feel that a lot of work remains to be done to help same-sex families come together.