Indian mothers explain how they ‘came out’ as proud parents to their LGBTQ+ kids

Nilakshi Roy, Vidya Phadni and Padma Iyer

Three Indian mothers explain how they celebrated their LGBTQ+ children long before the law accepted them.

Four years after India repealed Section 377 – the British colonial era law used to criminalise LGBTQ+ people – being openly queer and Indian comes with its fair share of both glory and pain.

The community often find themselves in opposition to everything – society, religion, the state, even their own families.

There is much work to be done – but there are many out there who have been championing LGBTQ+ rights for decades. Among them are the mothers who have loved, celebrated and defended their LGBTQ+ children long before the law accepted them.

Vidya Phadnis, 78, is a retired teacher and the proud mother of a gay man who’s soon to be 50.

She recalls how his coming out, in October 1998, came at a time when homosexuality was punishable with up to 10 years in prison, and the discourse on gay rights in India was almost non-existent.

“It was difficult for me to understand that my son was gay because I didn’t know much about it. There was no conversation about it at all –  everything was under a veil,” she tells PinkNews. 

Vidya Phadnis

Vidya Phadnis. (Supplied)

“I went into turmoil and isolated myself. As they say, when LGBT children come out of the closet, we parents go into it.”

She made a decision that has guided her ever since: “I am a mother, so I will love my son. He was born like this and I have to accept it – why not accept it with a smile. What difference does my son’s sexual orientation make? He will remain the same for us. And that is when my journey of acceptance began.”

For Nilakshi Roy, 61, a retired English professor, her daughter’s coming out led her on a similar journey.

Nilakshi Roy

Nilakshi Roy. (Supplied)

“Coming to terms with my daughter’s identity took some time for me,” she says. “It took me years to completely understand what she was going through. Even though I had been exposed briefly to the idea of queerness, I anticipated society’s disapproval, and the thought that kept ricocheting around in my head was always about her safety. I was worried about the future more than the present.”

Nilakshi said she had her own “coming out”, embracing the fact that she is the mother of an out and proud queer woman.

She says counselling and reading international articles about the community helped her along the way.

While she would have loved to talk to other parents in the same boat, she found it impossible at the time. Today, the Sweekar Parents Group brings together parents of LGBTQ+ people, offering them support so that they can show up in the way the need to.

Padma Iyer, 64, is one of the group’s founding members, and the mother of equal rights activist, Harish Iyer.

In May 2015, Padma also placed what may be India’s first gay matrimonial advertisement for her son – after which he received half a dozen proposals.

Padma Iyer

Padma Iyer. (Supplied)

Talking about her own journey, she says: “My son came out to me when he was 23, we lived in a joint family. My horizon was very centred as a homemaker. My world was limited in a way.

“At first, I refused to believe it. I didn’t have much awareness. After I came to terms with Harish’s sexuality, I advised him to go abroad because I was afraid that he’d have no future in India. But he wanted to really advocate about his abuse and being gay.

“It changed my outlook. I started going places with him. In those days, hardly any mothers would come out and talk openly about their children being gay. Today, It feels so surreal to see so many other parents stand by their LGBTQ children.”

“There’s more awareness now,” she adds. “Scrapping Section 377 has brought a massive change, social media also plays an important role. Parents now want happiness for their children. The ideologies of Indian parents have changed. It makes me so happy. We didn’t know how to do things, now things are available for one to get educated. It’s commendable what the new parents are doing. What we started, the legacy continues. 

“They just need to love their children, it doesn’t come with education, or being high class. It comes from within.”

For those who have found themselves on a similar journey and want to embrace their LGBTQ+ child, Padma says: “Never question your child, don’t ask for verifications. Your queer child is your best teacher, imagine how a child has to struggle and come out over and over again. What you should do is just believe in them.”

Since Section 377 was abolished, many LGBTQ+ people have been able to more open lives. But equality is about much more than simply not being considered a criminal because of who you are – and India still has a long way to go.

Vidya notes that while queer people are “no longer considered criminals”, legal rights are virtually non-existent.”

“LGBT education should be started in schools and should be age-appropriate,” she says. “There are no legal rights or laws to protect partners. There needs to be a marriage or civil partnership act. It will make them feel safer. An anti-discrimination bill or wider protection is needed. They should be treated equally.”

Offering her advice to other parents, Vidya says they should remember to think before they react if their child comes out to them.

“Show love and affection, and show them that you are with them and are a strong pillar in their life. If you can’t accept it right away, then take time. Keep calm. Think: you are a part and parcel of my body and I will not disown you. Show support and love. Time is everything.”

Aditya Tiwari is an award-winning Indian writer and gay rights activist. Learn more about him on Twitter @aprilislush.