On a balmy August day in 2011, Sushma and Vijay Agarwal walked into the large tent where their son, Rishi, was about to be married.
Strewn with rose petals and sparkling with red and gold details, the tent soon filled with 200 people. It looked like the quintessential Hindu wedding.
The Agarwals couldn't have been happier. Their son was marrying the love of his life – a man named Dan.
It was the first time in North America, and perhaps the world, that a gay wedding was performed with full Hindu rituals.
Now, Sushma and Vijay Agarwal are opening a chapter of PFLAG Canada (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) in Peel region, which is just outside of Toronto, with a mandate of focusing on the distinct needs of the South Asian community. The chapter will meet monthly and provide support for those learning to accept their loved ones in the LGBT community.
"The coming-out process can be challenging in any culture, and South Asian families face their own unique challenges, such as how other members of the community will react, judge or reject," Mrs. Agarwal said. "Now there is a venue and community support for these families."
Rishi Agarwal said many South Asian parents feel responsible and embarrassed when their child comes out. When he came out to his brother and parents in 2004, they were speechless. He told his father he had two choices – he could either accept him or disown him.
"You could kill someone and I'd never disown you," his father said.
Acceptance wasn't as easy for his mother. Sushma Agarwal questioned why her son was gay and if someone was to blame.
And then she educated herself about the LGBT community.
She went to PFLAG meetings and had countless conversations with Rishi about being gay, eventually accepting him for who he was.
When Rishi introduced Dan to his parents, they felt as if, "God has given us another son."
A few years later when Rishi and Dan became engaged, Mr. and Mrs. Agarwal were refused by eight Hindu priests before finding one who would marry their son and his now husband.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who came out as a lesbian 25 years ago, will be attending PFLAG Peel's launch event on April 17.
In a written statement, she said, "Traditions are to be celebrated – they are a part of our individual and cultural identities. But prejudices based in our culture and traditions do not give value to our identity – they only work to undermine the identity and value of others."
Salimah Kassim-Lakha, the owner of YogaVision in Mississauga, has given up her studio one Sunday a month to serve as the location for PFLAG Peel's meetings.
When she herself came out to her parents more than 30 years ago, they were supportive, but she says she witnessed friends who were also South Asian have a more difficult time coming out to their families.
"When the opportunity came to donate the studio, it was an instantaneous yes," Ms. Kassim-Lakha said. "If we can contribute in a way that allows people to live with dignity and understanding, particularly between parents and children, our answer should always be yes."
Nearly 5 per cent of Canadians identify as South Asian. While the number fluctuates between studies, approximately 5 per cent of Canadians also identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Ms. Kassim-Lakha said sexuality in South Asian families is still taboo.
It's a topic Mrs. Agarwal explores in her book Loving My Gay Child – A Mother's Journey to Acceptance. The 2015 book details how families of any religion and culture can accept and celebrate their LGBT children.
Rishi Agarwal said it can be difficult having personal details about his life revealed in a book, but he is proud of his mother for helping friends and families of the LGBT community.
"Deep down, I really believe in the ability for others to change and accept new ideas once they are exposed to them."
He said he saw this happen at his wedding, when many of his guests who were South Asian said they realized that gay and straight weddings were no different.
They celebrated the same thing – love.