By Neha Karamchandani
According to a report by Toronto Public Health in 2001, 1 in 10 Canadians identify as LGBTQ. For many in the South Asian LGBTQ community, however, coming to terms with their sexuality remains a struggle or a challenge because of social stigma. Several South Asian men and women here in Toronto are living dual lives afraid to come out for fear of backlash, isolation and rejection.
Keeping up with the traditions and culture of the South Asian family becomes a constant battle for them.
“When I came out of the closet, I was expected to be disowned and I was expected to have a family…I felt I would be kicked out of the house and I actually felt quite nervous and scared,” said Haran Vijayanathan, 36, an active member in the LGBTQ community.
Many people in the South Asian community believe that being gay or queer doesn’t even exist, but others are slowly accepting it.
“I think it’s a mixed bag. We are going through a flux of change where families are saying you do what you have to do, but then there is eventually that expectation to get married, have children like a traditional family,” added Vijayanathan.
For others like Sush Patel, 39, who transitioned from male to female about seven years ago, things don’t look promising.
“I think there will always be a stereotype in our culture. It’ll never change.”
Though Canada legalized same-sex marriages over a decade ago, the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states, generated some positivity within the LGBTQ community.
“I think legalizing same-sex marriage in America was a big step. It was legalized in Canada a long time ago, but being such a powerful country, I think offers hope to other countries who haven’t reached that point to realize that equality should be given to everybody just by their sexuality. America is a trendsetter across the entire world…it can help set a trend across other countries such as India. This is an example. There is hope,” added media personality, Daniel Pillai, 30, who shared himself with his family in 2010.
“When I approached my mother, I approached her as an individual, as a woman with her own experiences. I approached her as a mother, as a friend, as a person who is going to have her own perspectives and who is going to want answers to questions too. I think when I approached it in that manner; we were able to have a dialogue.”
Supporting family and friends during their process of coming out can be an essential part to the growth and well-being of society.
“There are many South Asian parents who have LGBTQ children and they are supportive as well, so there are ways to find community, especially if you feel your family is going to dismiss you,” said Vijayanathan.
The annual Pride Parade gives people like Pillai, Vijayanathan and Patel a reason to celebrate their sexuality and engage in social activism.
Perhaps, there should be more platforms for the LGBTQ community to feel more accepted as a part of society.
Celina Jaitly makes a difference
“This year’s Pride Toronto celebrations were special,” says Daniel Pillai. “The South Asian contingent of the parade marched at the very front for the first time and it’s all thanks to Celina Jaitly’s presence. We need more prominent international and influential figures like her to step up and take a stand against the inequality faced by the LGBTQ communities all over the world. She’s been advocating for equal rights for over 10 years and having her with us as the International Grand Marshall this year helped make us more visible as a minority and helped shed a brighter light on the cause of equal rights – especially in India where section 377 still exists.”