Rishi Agarwal’s story is nothing especially new, but his happy ending is one that's spreading a message of tolerance and acceptance within a community that desperately needs it.
Agarwal was raised in a devout Hindu home in suburban Toronto by his parents Vijay and Sushma, who both emigrated there from India over 30 years ago. When Rishi came out to them in 2004, they were initially shocked and devastated.
But after opening themselves up and doing some research, the parents changed their opinion.
“There is a cultural kind of a stigma,” Vijay told The Toronto Star. "This is strictly our baggage, what we bring from India," said Rishi's mother Sushma. When their son asked them if he should move out of the house after coming out of the closet, they told him absolutely not, and that they still loved him.
Even though his parents' mother country still frowns heavily on homosexuality—it is illegal to be gay in India and the topic is considered shameful in traditional Indian families—Vijay and Sushma not only learned to embrace their gay son, but also threw him a classically opulent Indian wedding when he decided to marry his boyfriend, Daniel.
Vijay told The Star of the struggle they faced in trying to make the wedding happen, in all its traditional pomp and circumstance. He says he was turned down by seven priests before finding one who would perform the ceremony. “They initially said yes," he says, "and as soon as they found out that it was a gay wedding, they turned away.”
In spite of this, the wedding was a huge and beautiful bash, replete with all the colorful rituals: matching turbans, the grooms circling a sacred fire, exchanging flower garlands, and getting matching henna tattoos of each other’s initials.
Now, the Agarwal family is publicizing its story. They have spearheaded their chapter of PFLAG outside of Toronto, which specifically targets South Asian parents of gay children, and Sushma has even written a book about her experience, called Loving My Gay Child: A Mother's Journey to Acceptance.
"In order to run a lot of those ceremonies, you really need everyone, the community’s involvement, otherwise it doesn’t really work. Unfortunately, others have not had that support in their lives," said Rishi. “I never thought in my wildest dreams that I could have the wedding that I wanted with the person I loved and with all my family and my friends.”