I never felt anything about my daughter was ‘different’: Chitra Palekar

Parents of LGBT+ children have their own journey of acceptance and inspiration

Chitra Palekar

Chitra Palekar is loved and admired unequivocally across India’s vibrant LGBTQIA+ community. The theatre veteran and author, was one of the first people to accept her lesbian daughter way back in 1993, inspiring many parents to do the same.

In a deeply gendered society, parents often get their first inkling of their child’s homosexuality when they notice decidedly campy behavioural traits. Therefore, most parents begin to suspect their son is gay if he displays feminine behaviour, or that their daughter is a lesbian if she like sporting short hair and masculine clothes. This is hugely problematic as it perpetuates unhealthy gender stereotypes. Luckily, Chitra was more intellectually evolved.

“I was also what some people would call ‘tomboyish’. I wore shorts, had short hair and played table tennis. So, when my daughter did the same, I had no reason to suspect she was a lesbian,” says Chitra. “She did not like toys, she picked up books, just like I used to. I did not ‘notice’ anything because there was nothing to ‘notice’ in my child’s behaviour,” she explains. “When my daughter came out to me, I accepted her instantly. What’s not to accept. I love my child,” she says.

Her daughter Shalmalee also helped Chitra gain greater understanding. “This was when there was no internet, so my daughter would give me books to read. I went a long way in helping me understand how natural it was for my daughter to feel the way she did,” she explains.

But Chitra’s real journey began after her daughter had moved abroad. “Back in the day, I had no real contact with any parents. I interacted with the kids at their meets and events where I gatecrashed,” she says. Chitra also interacted a lot with Vikram Doctor and Shobhana S. Kumar, who she credits with helping her chart and navigate her journey as a committed ally of the community.

“Vikram opened my eyes to so many things I could not see earlier. Shobhana hand held me through my journey, helping me understand correct terms, taking me to events, bringing me closer to members of the community,” says the septuagenarian who is still as enthusiastic as a seven-year-old. “I needed to learn the correct words so empathy does not disappear. I committed myself to empowering myself with all the correct information,” she says.

Gradually these interactions inspired Chitra to take the next step. “I was curious about the journey of other parents. Their experiences with their children coming out and how they dealt with family and social pressure afterwards. So, I got together with like minded people to chalk out a strategy to help them,” she says explaining the genesis of Sweekar: The Rainbow Parents.

Filmmaker Sridhar Rangayan and activist Harish Iyer were always keen on building a community of parents and creating a safe space for them to share their experiences and learn from each other. “I wanted this to actually mean something. One cannot have a superficial approach to something this serious, so discussions went on for months. There were psychologists, other experienced parents of queer children, such as Aruna Desai, Padma Vishwanath, Nilakshi Roy and many others committed to help scared, worried, anxious parents,” she says.

“We started by educating them about the correct terminology. So many people were confused about what is bisexual and what is intersex. We created a safe space and encouraged parents to ask questions without fear of judgment,” she says.

Chitra explains the objectives of Sweekar saying, “Sweekar is about support, acceptance and empowerment. We have made a conscious decision to never out a parent against their will. We maintain complete confidentiality,” she says.

On January 26, in the run up to the Queer Azaadi March, Sweekar held a parents’ meet where parents and their queer children narrated their stories. At this meet Chitra read out the Preamble, encouraging the audience to repeat the words after her. “I want to help the community integrate with society. So, it is important to make mainstream issues also relevant to the community. What better way to inculcate values of freedom, democracy and inclusion than to take the community through the vision of our founding fathers,” says Chitra.




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