It took a five hours of sobbing on a flight from Vancouver to Toronto for Rishi Agarwal to realize he was done with living a double life. It was time to tell his parents he's gay.
Now 35, Agarwal grew up in an Indian-Canadian home in Toronto's suburbs where talking about different sexual orientations was taboo.
"That’s one things that's different about South Asian families — sex and sexuality isn’t talked about openly," Agarwal told BuzzFeed Canada.
"If it comes up on TV, the channel was immediately changed."
But even as a kid, he knew he was different. And as an adult he began to lead a dual life. It all came to a head during a business trip to Vancouver where he had a romance with a man who wrote Agarwal a heartfelt letter as he left. Afraid someone would find it, he threw the letter away before getting on his flight home.
"I can’t believe I threw someone’s heart in the garbage. I don’t want to be this person."
It was 2004, just after Canada Day, when he finally told his parents the truth. He expected his mom to cry and his dad to kick him out of the house.
"Instead what happened is my mom stayed quiet for two hours and my dad being the engineer that he is, very methodic, just kept asking questions."
Far from being kicked out, Agarwal's dad, Vijay, assured him they would figure this out together.
"He was like, 'Son, this is your home, you’re always going to be our son, don’t ever think otherwise. We love you so much,'" said Agarwal.
"That was the moment I realized, oh my god, I’m not going to lose my family."
They went into research mode, taking out books from the library about homosexuality and driving into Toronto once a month for PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) meetings. They eventually even volunteered for the organization and sat on its board.
It took time, but Agarwal said his parents “switched from worrying about me being gay to worrying I’d be single my whole life.” But that wouldn’t last long either, because Agarwal soon met his now-husband Daniel Langdon.
Agarwal married Langdon in a full Hindu ceremony in 2011, his beaming parents by his side.
And now Agarwal's parents want to make sure others in their position can access the same support they did. They launched a new PFLAG chapter in Peel Region aimed at the South Asian community.
The April launch party was attended by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and her partner Jane Rounthwaite.
"The South Asian community is in desperate need for support like this," said Agarwal.
"I’m immensely proud. The only thing you could do more than just accepting me and letting me live my life peacefully is to allow others to do the same."
Lauren Strapagiel is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto, Canada.
Contact Lauren Strapagiel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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