On December 17, 2023, the iconic Park Street of Kolkata was taken over by the colourful and joyous ‘Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk’. Thousands participated with protest and celebratory songs, slogans for queer rights, and support for Palestine and Ukraine. People remembered Pranshu, Arvey, Swapnodeep and countless others who we have lost to homophobic and transphobic bullying.

It was also the 20th edition of ‘Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk’, the oldest in South Asia and first organized on July 2, 1999.

When I walked in the past pride walks, I did see a parent or two in the march, walking quietly and almost lost. I did see a lot of folks watching the march from the footpath, curious, some also making snide comments.

As the parent of a queer child, I have had people reaching out to me almost to console me. I have seen the looks of ‘poor her’ on their face. I have felt that some people avoided calling me to their social gatherings, though they never said anything to me. I have been a member of India’s largest support group for parents of queer children, Sweekar – The Rainbow Parents, for almost four years. It has given me tremendous strength to hear the phenomenal stories of parental journeys. I have seen the pain parents feel when their child has been invisibilised in familial events and gatherings. It has also given me insight into the struggles that many parents have in their journey towards acceptance.

For the past one year, I have been trying to create an active eastern India chapter of Sweekar, primarily in and around Kolkata. I have counselled many parents, mothers mostly, over the phone or face-to-face, but most have been quite hesitant to come to the meet ups that I organize every month. There is a resistance or barrier somewhere. Then there are many queer persons who have not had the courage to let their parents know or have that conversation, but we all know that parental and familial support goes a long way in the overall well-being of queer persons.

This year we succeeded in rallying together a few parents to walk as a group in the ‘Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk’ and carry the banner of Sweekar. We were delighted to have Nilakshi Roy, long time member of Sweekar and a resident of Mumbai, who walked with us.

We wanted to be visible – to tell the queer community members that there are parents who are willing to walk the journey with them; to tell the larger society that there are families and parents who are perfectly comfortable with their queer children; and to tell the parents who are still scared, worried and unable to come to terms with their child’s gender or sexual identity that there are others to lean on for support.

Inset: From the parents who walked the walk: Swagata and Shanto Bakshi: Our child is our pride. We’re lucky to have Tessa in our lives. She’s like a rainbow – open, honest, willing to learn and loves to educate others. Queer = human. Tessa helped us become better humans! Nilakshi Roy: It was a wonderful feeling to join the historic ‘Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk’ with thousand others, mothers, fathers, siblings and families of queer community members down Park Street. She was beautiful, wasn’t she, decked in pride colours with lights and placards! Props and hairstyles, sarees and dhotis, everything made a bold statement: We’re queer and we’re here! It was worth every moment of my long journey from Mumbai to come and walk with Mahua, her family and Shanto and his. I’ll always remember ‘Kolkata Pride 2023’ fondly.

We gathered at the start of the march, eager and excited with our large banner. As we moved on, we realized that our purpose was met. There were people noticing us, taking pictures of us, and we could see bystanders also talking about us. By the time we had covered just about 300 metres, the news spread. Bunches of young college students who were among the marchers came to see us. They clicked pictures, took selfies with us, asked for hugs, and told us that our presence had given them hope and strength. One girl started weeping – clearly, she was going through an intense struggle at home.

I was lucky and blessed that my elder sister, brother-in-law, my niece and her husband also joined the walk with me. It was a moment of great strength for my son and me to know they were there publicly supporting us. It was their first ever pride walk, and I think they also learnt a lot from the experience.

Building awareness and a network of allies among family members and society at large will go a long way to remove the stigma and help queer children on their journey of self-discovery.

The doubts I had on whether I should be publicly visible as the parent of a queer person or not were removed after the walk. We need to be visible! Only then can we help the parents and other family members to turn around and be comfortable with the queer person amidst them.

I hope to see the ‘family contingent’ for the ‘Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk’ growing in the years to come. Unapologetically.

About Sweekar – The Rainbow Parents

Sweekar has been around from 2017 and today has over 450 parents as members. Its main objective is to support other parents who are struggling to accept their LGBTQIA+ children. It offers peer counselling, organizes workshops to provide the information that may be needed, and supports queer rights through public interest litigations. The sharing of personal experiences helps create an inclusive, understanding, empathetic, and safe environment where everyone can gain strength from each other. Any parent can become a member of Sweekar by submitting the form available here.

The most important aspect of Sweekar is its promise of strict confidentiality. Hence, the parents who are not yet fully out or are confused and struggling, find Sweekar a safe space where they can freely express their doubts, fears and anxieties without any hesitation, and in the process, find answers and solace.

About the main photo: The author (second from right) along with other parents and family members of queer persons at the ‘Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk’ held on December 17, 2023. Photo courtesy Sweekar – The Rainbow Parents