Twelve years after going through deep turmoil when their son came out as gay, Sushma and Vijay Agarwal are now leading the way by forming a support group for others in the Indo-Canadian and South Asian diaspora grappling with homosexuality.
By 2011, the Agarwals, who live in a Toronto suburb, had accepted their son Rishi for what he was with the help of the support group Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). They also organised a traditional Hindu wedding for Rishi and his partner, Daniel Langdon, complete with rituals and an officiating pundit.
On Sunday, the Agarwals announced the formation of PFLAG-Peel Region, a chapter that will focus on the Indo-Canadian and South Asian diaspora, a community where homosexuality still remains a largely taboo subject.
Sushma said, “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.”
Watch | Video of Rishi Agarwal and his parents, Sushma and Vijay Agarwal
In an interview, Vijay agreed, “We got help by PFLAG Toronto and PFLAG Canada when we were in a very hard spot and we have seen other people going through this dilemma. And because of their support we were able to reconcile in our mind and accept our son, and we did a full Hindu ritual wedding.”
The Agarwals are retired and live in Oakville in the province of Ontario. On Sunday, in Mississauga near Toronto, the PFLAG-Peel Region chapter was formally inaugurated by Ontario’s Premier Kathleen Wynne, who herself is lesbian.
After their interaction with PFLAG Toronto, the Agarwals served on its board, when, the father said, they got their idea: “This group has helped us so much, if we can start this kind of group for our people, then we are able to return the favour that we got from the society.”
The new chapter will meet on the first Sunday of each month at a space donated by a yoga studio.
Rishi and Daniel’s marriage was pioneering as it was then the first Hindu gay wedding in North America. But the new chapter of PFLAG faces a community yet to come to terms with same-sex relationships.
Daniel said, “I think it’s absolutely amazing. Anything that we can do to make families come together and struggle together and support each other is a good initiative.”
Rishi teared up, as did his mother, when he spoke at the launch, recalling the initial years of bullying and the dread of losing his family when he chose to come out.
But their story obviously had a happy ending and Rishi is hopeful his parents’ initiative will prove beneficial to the community. “The only thing that could be better than accepting me for who I am, and making my life whole is working for the community and making sure others can have the same experiences we had,” he said.