‘Chennai is ahead of other cities in accepting sexual minorities, but it still has miles to go'
Whatever stuff emotions are made of, they are definitely not words. Around 12 years back, Sameer Ghunakikar called up his father from the United States and spoke for about half-an-hour before he actually said what he wanted to convey. “I want to tell you that I am gay,” he said. And in reply, his father said, “Its okay, it's perfectly normal.” In these brief words, Sameer recollected, how he and his father had one of the most crucial conversations of their lives. “He is still my best friend,” said Sameer. On day two of ‘Colours of sexuality', organised jointly by Chennai Dost, Orinam and Goethe Institut Max Mueller Bhavan, the focus was on what parents of those with different sexual orientations go through and what their anxieties are.
However, acceptance for many parents is a journey, observed Magdalene Jayarathnam, director and counsellor, Centre for Counselling, at the panel discussion in which human rights lawyer Sudha Ramalingam, Orinam member L. Ramakrishnan, and Sameer along with his father, participated.
“There is no question of changing anything. Whatever is natural is natural. As far my son is concerned, there is absolutely no problem. I have accepted him as he is and I love him very much,” said Vinayak Ghunakikar, Sameer's father. In the three films screened on day two, the recurring theme was parents' acceptance of their children's sexuality. In the poignant short film, She Is My Son , transgender Sandhiya's mother refers to her as a daughter and not as a son. The Bengali docu-drama More Than A Friend , which is about a lesbian couple, ends with the mother of one of the girls throwing a surprise birthday party for her daughter's lover.
However, acceptance, said Magdalene, had to come from within. “I decide to tell my father about my orientation when I was around 25 years because that was when I accepted that it was okay. More than a decade back, things were very different but my father and my siblings have been very supportive. Even today my transgender friends come home, and there has never been a problem,” said Sameer.
He said that he had found acceptance even at his workplace. “I have worked in many companies and I have always been accepted because the key lies in educating people. I have been very lucky in the sense that I have not faced much discrimination,” he added. Ms. Sudha said that we should stop using the word ‘alternative'. “It is just another preference, and we have to be casual about it and treat it as another way of life,” she said.
Though they observed that Chennai was much more progressive when compared to many other cities, it still had miles to go. “Irrespective of which part of the country parents are from, their anxieties are universal. They all want to know who will look after their child once they grow old, if their child could be a victim of some hate crime, and whether their orientation would change,” said Magdalene.
Though members of the community now had common platforms and forums to discuss their experiences and share their stories, their parents often have to fight their own battles. To that, Magdalene said the best solution is when parents connect with other parents and have discussions. “What one mother says to another is far more valuable that what I can offer. A parent was once considering getting her son married despite finding out he was gay. When other parents advised them against it, they gave up the idea,” she said.
Like how young people from the LGBT community have forums and groups to socialise and share experiences, stories and anxieties, parents too need a platform, panellists noted.
At the discussion, topics ranged from how many are still subjected to behaviour changing techniques, how Section 377 had changed their lives, and how the challenge for parents of transgenders is greater in many ways. “The most invisible are transmen (female to male) and also lesbians. I started work in 2000, and only after 2006 I had lesbians coming for counselling. Now I get around two women a week,” said Magdalene.