Parents of LGBT Children Form a Support Group

10 parents of LGBTQ persons came together for a closed door parents’ support group workshop that aimed to share experiences and also chart out a future course of action.

Organized by Solaris Pictures, as part of its ongoing engagement with LGBT community and parents, for its upcoming feature film Evening Shadows directed by Sridhar Rangayan, the workshop was structured and moderated by social development consultants Alpana Dange and Pallav Patankar.

The main objective of the workshop was to develop strategies for a cohesive parents’ support group that would help each other, help other parents who may need information or peer-to-peer counseling, and also to be a visible group in the media and society.

“There have been parents support meets and acceptance meets in the past, organized by Gay Bombay and Yaariyan, but the parents have mostly been sharing their experiences in public. This was the first time ever they got to spend an entire day with each other, sharing and discussing in a structured formal manner. It was not only a great learning experience, but also a very definitive move towards forming an Indian PFLAG kind of group, first in Mumbai and maybe later in other cities”, said Sridhar Rangayan who has been wanting to make this happen for many years now, “Part of the funds we raised for the film Evening Shadows was kept aside to facilitate this meet,” he added.

Attended by 10 parents – mothers Chitra Palekar, Padma Iyer, Sarojini Dash, Nargis Wadia, Aruna Desai, Mangala Aher, Bharati Divgikar, Vidya Phadnis, and fathers Pradeep Divgikar and Ramesh Kathale – the day-long workshop was an eye-opener about the challenges faced by parents in coming to terms with their children’s gay, lesbian and transgender identities.

“This formal consultation is a start to many beginnings. My desire is to form an easily accessible group of parents who could assist other parents and children in the closet. Hopefully, one day, we will be able to build a shelter home for children who are forced to escape from their homes of birth. This would give all of us all a unique chance to become their foster parents,” said Padma Iyer, mother of activist Harrish Iyer.

“I think it’s an absolutely amazing initiative. We are simply hoping to create a network of families of LGBT individuals, so that we can work together and offer support to other such families and their children,” said Aruna Desai, an HR professional and mother of a gay son.

Dr. Sarojini Dash, the oldest parent in the group and someone who has been a great support to both LGBTQ children and parents for many years now, felt the parent’s meet was very useful for some parents whose children had recently come out and were anxious about their future. “They heard about those children who had done well in life, overcoming the stigmas and prejudices. Parent’s group made them realize that their fears were mere shadows without much substance,” said Dr.Dash who is also a psychiatrist.

Ramesh Kathale, father of Prachi Kathale, has been able to accept his lesbian daughter wholeheartedly, but finds it difficult to deal with relatives and neighbours who can sometimes be obtrusive and nasty. He said, “The workshop made me aware of experiences faced by other parents and has given me new courage.”

Mangala Aher, mother of transgender activist Abheena Aher felt that there should be more support forthcoming for transgender children, especially in terms of healthcare and livelihood opportunities. She has been a founder of the transgender dance troupe Dancing Queens and regularly performs with her transgender daughter and other transgender dancers.

The consultation focused on the why and how of forming a structured and functional parents’ support group. Speaking about her experience at the consultation, Chitra Palekar, one of the most vocal voices among the parents said, “We have shared our experiences informally at several events, but there was no real progress. This workshop, under the guidance of experienced facilitators, helped us gain clarity regarding the issues involved in this work. The meet created a vision and took the first step towards forming an organization, which we all hope will cause a break-through in supporting LGBTQ children and their parents.”

“The formation of an organized Parents Group is the need of the hour. A vibrant and supportive parent group can provide the required cutting edge to galvanize more parents to join in the battle for the cherished rights of their marginalized and discriminated children. More power to this unique initiative!” said Pradeep Divgikar, father of singer Sushant Divgikar, who was also Mr.Gay India in 2015.

The meeting brought out various needs faced by parents of LGBTQ children and the resources needed to address them. Speaking about the process, facilitator Alpana Dange said, ‘’It was an enlightening experience to facilitate this workshop comprising moms and dads of LGBTQ children who have braved the world and have unconditionally supported their children. In this workshop, what I found most striking was their resolve to support not just their own children, but also help and support other LGBTQ children’s parents in coming to terms with their children’s sexuality and be their confidante and pillar of strength. They considered the meeting as a stepping-stone to help other parents in the city of Mumbai.’’

Echoing Dange’s sentiments, facilitator Pallav Patankar said, “Parents of LGBT people occupy an important space within the LGBT movement. The discrimination faced by LGBT people extends to the parents. Parents are allies, stakeholders and the strongest supporters in this fight for equality. In India, LGBT sons and daughters often continue living with their parents and involving parents’ participation in the movement becomes essential.”

Harrish Iyer concurred, “As a child, I have grappled with my struggle in letting my parents know about my truth and understand that a network of parents helping parents and LGBT children is a need of the hour. Bombay has been privy to other parents of LGBT events since the past two decades, and this fantastic consultation, seeded by funds created by The Evening Shadows crowd funding campaign, will propel this initiative further towards being a strong group that helps other parents and their LGBTIQ children.”

Speaking at the event, Karim Ladak, from Toronto, one of the executive producers of Evening Shadows, having contributed a substantial financial stake in the film said, “So much has changed for the LGBTQ community in India in the past two decades and this initiative is absolutely fantastic. The film and this support group will be the flagbearers for the future, inspiring greater acceptance of LGBTQ persons in society”.