Life is a strange animal. We feel we can manage (read control) our lives, but often life itself jumps over our shoulder.

Ten years ago, I was busy in my corporate cubicle with blue, green and gray carpets and walls. A two-for-one stock split was announced and with 20 percent growth, spirits were high. Very soon I would move into the proverbial room with a view, and the sundown view would be to kill for!

This illustration is a graphic created to mark the 10th anniversary of ‘Varta’ webzine on August 1, 2023. It shows a stylized horizontal scroll, unfurled, with “10 Years, Varta Webzine” written on it in large letters in the centre. In the figure 10, the digit one is represented by the graphic of an open fountain pen with the nib visible. To the left of the writing two feathers are sketched as symbols of writing instruments, and to the right is the Varta Trust logo with the tagline “Gender, Sexuality, Intimacy, Publishing”. The logo is presented in a manner that it looks like a postage stamp pasted on an envelope on the top right corner. The entire graphic, made with shades of creamy white, deep brown and yellow, is placed inside a black horizontal rectangle with a thick creamy white outline. Graphic credit: Arkadeepra Purkayastha

Graphic credit: Arkadeepra Purkayastha

Ten years hence, here I am, taking a breather after the ‘Pride Pop Up Pujo Edit 2023’ organized by The Rainbow Room, Kolkata. Teeming with people, the space was overflowing with smiles, chatter, happiness and a sense of belonging; where no one was judged, no one needed to explain their identity, where individual struggles were empathized with, where hands of support reached out without any prompt. It was a space for everyone, including those who see themselves outside of queerness. I am flooded with messages from people on how they felt good, loved and wanted.

It also saddens me that a space like The Rainbow Room is still needed for everyone to feel they are valid.

Ten years into the future, I hope such spaces are no longer needed. To get there, we need to think of the entire ecosystem.

* * *

Some years ago, when I lived in the US and in California in particular, I had seen many movies dealing with queer themes, read books, and come across the social milieus of queer couples, far more inclusive than what I had seen in my circles. So, I kind of had a perception about queer people and same-sex couples.

My son was always a little different and sensitive from childhood. I did not want to put any labels on him till he decided for himself. I just wanted him to grow up happy knowing he was loved. I did make it clear to him that I was okay with anything. I ‘came out’ to him about my stand through a blog post on the reading down of Section 377, Indian Penal Code in 2018. When my son came out to me as gay during Durga Puja that very year, I was supportive, but I was also gripped with anxiety and fear.

To be honest, I wanted him to remain in the closet for some more time. I was scared about the bullying and violence he may have to face in school. He was only 16 at that time. Most importantly, I realized I did not know how to support him.

This graphic shows a colourful poster of the ‘Pride Pop Up Pujo Edit 2023’, an event organized by The Rainbow Room, Kolkata at Café Adda Ghor. The poster is headlined with text that says “The Rainbow Room Kolkata presents a two-day pop-up supporting queer entrepreneurs.” The tagline says “Time to get your Pujo wardrobe ready!” Below the text, there are two rows of logos of the participating brands, some of which include Charu, Recrea, Shirto, Quirky Bae, The Agarwals, Kanak, and art décor and pieces by Satyaki Chakrabarti. The poster also announces a book reading session by Avijit Kundu from his book ‘Men Don’t Dance’, open mic sessions, food and beverages. The lower part of the poster shows the logos of The Rainbow Room and Café Adda Ghor with their contact information, the pop-up dates July 22 and 23, 2023 and timings 11 am to 8 pm. The café is located on the first floor of 52C Hindustan Park, Beside Saha Textile, Kolkata 700 019. The Rainbow Room can be contacted at and @therainbowroomkolkata. Graphic credit: The Rainbow Room

Poster courtesy The Rainbow Room

I looked for support, and I found many queer persons who helped me understand their struggles, of how it felt being different as a little kid, and how they wanted validation and pushed themselves to excel in academics. Their stories of rejection from their parents and becoming homeless as teenagers moved me to tears. I remember I came back home from a meeting and told my son that if ever circumstances became hard and he felt he had to leave home, I would leave before him so that he would have another home with me.

I discovered Sweekar – The Rainbow Parents, a support group for parents of queer people, quite by accident over Facebook. As I listened to the stories of so many parents, I realized that each family went through so much pain and struggle yet found a way to stand by their child. Most paid some price for it too.

Slowly, I found the strength and calm within me. I knew that no matter what, my priority would be my child and I needed to have his back. I can say that almost a year after he came out to me, I felt I was finally there with him. There has been no looking back since then and what a journey it has been!

* * *

I was already involved in the diversity and inclusion council in my organization, and I pushed to start an employee resource group (ERG) for our LGBTQ+ staff members. I realized how uninformed and even mal-informed people were. It infuriated me when seemingly obvious requirements like making gender and sexuality a part of the ambit of prevention of sexual harassment (POSH) or proactively setting up gender neutral washrooms were turned down.

I stepped back and understood it was the lack of awareness and knowledge that drove this apathy. I started sensitization sessions, month after month, batch after batch, learning from each interaction. I could see things changing – slowly but surely . . . medical insurance for same-sex partners, coverage for gender affirmative surgery, universal anti-bullying and workplace harassment policies, real estate design brief to include gender neutral washrooms, and more.

I had a fireside chat with the CEO and CFO of my organization on why LGBTQ+ inclusion is important, which was telecast globally. Copies of Parmesh Sahani’s book Queeristan: LGBTQ Inclusion in the Workplace were delivered during the COVID-19 pandemic to 50 business leaders in India to educate them. Eventually, after two years, the LGBTQ+ ERG was the most active and vocal of all the ERGs in my organization.

* * *

The more I got drawn into the queer circles, the more I noticed the need for human connection, and the desire for belonging and social acceptance. I could see the hunger for day-to-day conversations and gatherings which the heterosexual society takes for granted. I could see isolation, loneliness, and the fear of not being understood. I could sense the sadness of not being able to share one’s gender or sexual identity with one’s parents.

I decided I had to do something. I offered a loving space, a cup of coffee, and hugs. Nothing more. Thus, was born The Rainbow Room, a safe space for any queer person to meet, chat, make memories, and feel that they belonged. A year down the line, I got back love in more measure from the members of The Rainbow Room.

Quote: The moment a child is born, the whole life of the child flashes past in the minds of the parents. When it comes to parenting, our culture puts a high premium on responsibility. We do not look at parenting with wonder and curiosity, but as a strict role to play. When the child deviates from the mental picture the parents created when their child was just a week old, it seems like the world is collapsing for the parents. They feel that they have failed as a parent.

It became clear to me that we need to build more awareness across every section of society.  The Nigerian Igbo communities got it right when they said, “It takes a village to raise a child.” We need to work with the parents, of course, but also the uncles, aunts, teachers, coaches, colleagues and neighbours.

Parents have their own struggles, and we need to understand that to help them cope. Typical Indian families are tied together with so many traditions, practices and beliefs, it can become difficult to accept anything other than the norm. The moment a child is born, the whole life of the child flashes past in the minds of the parents. When it comes to parenting, our culture puts a high premium on responsibility. We do not look at parenting with wonder and curiosity, but as a strict role to play. When the child deviates from the mental picture the parents created when their child was just a week old, it seems like the world is collapsing for the parents. They feel that they have failed as a parent. All hell breaks loose. Worries about what will happen if the child does not get married and who will take the family name become paramount. They feel shattered.

Deep down, most parents want to support their child. They just do not know how. They are scared. They fear rejection of their child, of themselves. It is imperative that we work with parents and larger natal families to help them understand gender and sexuality, and this must include holding their hands, listening to their lament, wiping their tears, and telling them about other parents who have accepted their queer children. We need to be with them through their journey of accepting their child’s identity.

I have seen the power of peer support and counselling in support groups like Sweekar. The parents band together in strong groups to help provide the emotional, mental and knowledge support needed. In the past, members of Sweekar have signed petitions for the reading down of Section 377, and more recently, in support of marriage equality.

When more parents meet, they discover others with similar challenges, and they gain the confidence to move forward. They in turn become a source of solace and support to others. I am confident that if we keep building support groups for parents and families, it will become a game-changer for now and the future.

Between The Rainbow Room, where we hold queer individuals in loving space, and Sweekar, where we bring parents and families into the rainbow world, we can forge a more caring, loving and affirming world for everyone.

Click here for gender and sexuality FAQs for parents and family members of queer individuals. This resource has been developed by queer support group Orinam, Chennai – Editor.

About the main photo: The author with her son Mihir Seth during a holiday trip. Photo credit: Mahua Seth