“He was straightforward. He said, ‘ Aai, mee gay aahe [Mom, I am gay]’. At that moment I knew I should accept his choice. He is my son, after all,” said 62-year-old Anita Kale, recalling how her son Akshay disclosed to her his sexual inclination in 2006.
Ms. Kale is one among many parents who have gathered in a small auditorium in the conservative Shaniwar Peth area as the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community celebrates the milestone of “coming out” to one’s family amid the heady beat of dhols marking the ongoing Ganesh festival in the city.
“I have always felt gay people have the right to live and love like everybody else. Akshay’s revelation tested that belief, and I think I passed,” the former school teacher said.
Another parent confessed that his first reaction was shock. “I thought, he is just 22; does he know what he is talking about? I asked how he was sure he was gay. He asked me if I could prove I [was] heterosexual. I realised he had sorted this issue out in his mind I would do everything to support him,” Sarang Deshpande says. His son, now 29, is seated in the audience.
The event was organised by Samapathik Trust which works for LGBT rights. “Coming out to the people who matter to us is one of the most significant moments of our lives. It is a rite of passage,” said the trust’s president Bindu Madhav Khire.
Of course, there were those parents to whom acceptance did not come easily. “I cried a lot. I thought, why me? Why my son? I wanted him to get married and have a family,” said Shama Kamble, whose son Zameer is a German language teacher at the University of Pune. Ms. Kamble went on to confess that she had not known much about homosexuality and had associated it only with h ijdas or transgenders. It was only with her daughter’s help that she understood and embraced her son’s orientation.
Over the years, many parents have met Mr. Khire to understand homosexuality better. Dr. Deshpande met him a few years ago at his son’s instance.
“Meeting him was the best thing that happened to me. I felt, ‘This is different, but it can be dealt with’,” he said.
Speaking of the rising acceptance of homosexuality in middle-class homes, Mr. Khire said parents were increasingly letting go of their bias and fears. “People also need to be patient with their parents and give them time to understand,” said Vivek Anand, CEO of Humsafar Trust, a Mumbai-based NGO that promotes LGBT rights.
Now, Dr. Deshpande supports his son against relatives who don’t accept him. “When it comes to my son, I can fight the world. We are in this struggle together. We have cut off ties with relatives who failed to understand and who tried to ‘talk him out of it’,” he said.
Yet, many of these parents remain concerned as to whether their children will find life partners. “Now I really wish my son finds a nice boy and settles down,” Ms. Kamble said, to loud applause.
(Names of some parents have been changed on request)