Aruna Desai talks about Sweekar, an LGBT support group for the parents by the parents based in Mumbai, with the goal of helping more and more parents accept their children.
Tell us about Sweekar
Aruna Desai: Sweekar – The Parents Group was formed with the help of a few parents and the support of Sridhar Rangayan and Saagar Gupta. The main aim is to help parents with their own journeys of coming out and to help them accept their children with a full heart. We seek to dispel the myths and misinformation that surround sexual orientation and gender identity by providing educational presentations through our speakers so that parents ca learn to be more comfortable with their children’s sexual orientation.
How did you come to join Sweekar?
Aruna: Sridhar Rangayan made a film called Evening Shadows (now available on Netflix). In October 2016 I was invited to a press conference for this film to speak about parental acceptance. There, I announced my involvement in the film as a co-producer. I am immensely proud of this film because it is a universal story about a mother-son relationship.
This film was made through crowd funding by the community. And from those raised funds Sridhar decided to use Rs. 1 lakh to form a support group for parents of LGBTQ children. That support group is now called Sweekar.
Why do you think a support group for parents is important?
Aruna: Support groups like these strengthen the bond between parents and children. We work to help members of the LGBTQ community come out to their loved ones and their friends and still hold on to their relationships by helping their families understand their identities.
Experiencing such a non-normative situation as your son coming out must be extra ordinary. How was it for you?
Aruna: To be honest, in that moment I did not fully understand what being the mother of a gay child would mean for my life moving forward. The only thing I was sure of was this he was my child, and I loved him. How could I stop loving him just because he loves a man? That’s not how parenting works. That’s not how mothers and fathers should think.
So when he told me he was gay, I remained calm. I took him out for dinner and told him I loved him no matter what. I am first a mother, and then the mother of a gay child. Children don’t come with tags. Society puts these tags on them.
I would never let anything come between my son and me. I love his friends and everyone else he loves because his world is an extension of him. My son is an adult and has the freedom to define who he wishes to call family. I am a part of that family and so is his father.
As a parent, what would you say to other parents having trouble with accepting their LGBTQ children?
Aruna: I feel like a person cannot choose their sexuality or their gender identity. So as parents, when a child comes out to you, you need to remember that your child has probably also struggled with their identity and suffered internal turmoil. Keep in mind that your child does not intend to hurt you.
This world does not look kindly towards the LGBT community. People from the LGBT community often have a hard time accepting themselves, so as parents, we should not make them feel any worse. We need to understand their internal struggle when they feel no one is on their side and be proud that they trusted us enough to tell us.
Have an open dialogue with your child where you can both ask questions and share concerns. Remember, your child probably feels a little confused and very nervous. Focus on being non-judgemental, rather than accusatory, even if the subject makes you uncomfortable. The most reassuring thing you can say is, “I love you, and I am proud of you for telling me.”
Remember that this is just who your child is, and whether you believe they were born like that or not, you still want your child to feel comfortable enough to be true to themselves around you. It is part of their identity, just like their freckles or their laugh. They haven’t changed – they’re the same person they were yesterday. Even if you don’t understand at first, try to learn about sexuality as a spectrum so you can better understand your child’s thoughts and feelings. Become an advocate for family and friends. If you shame your child or belittle them, your family may repeat the same attitude.
Finally, don’t get angry or tell them that what they have decided or accepted is wrong or suggest that it is just a phase that will go away. Remember that your child may already be nervous about telling you, and afraid that you will disown or hate them. If you believe that your child chooses the lifestyle they are living, and could just as well choose a heterosexual lifestyle, ask yourself: Who would voluntarily choose a life marked by fear of discovery, discrimination, and isolation by classmates, friends, colleagues, and family? Would you choose to live in circumstances that made your life a lot more difficult and keep it that way just for the heck of it?
Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Aruna: My request to all the parents out there whose children have come out but they have not accepted them and those parents whose children are yet to come out but do not have the courage to come out, please think seriously about it and try to accept them as they are. They are our future. We should not impose our expectations on them.