“I was raised in a classic patriarchal, machismo environment and was under the impression that homosexuality was a perversion” says Bharat Balan, whose sister Anita Balan is a lesbian. He was the first person in the family to whom Anita chose to come out. She initially came out to him as a bisexual, as she thought it would make things easier for Bharat.
Bharat still found it very difficult to comprehend Anita’s feelings. He concluded that Anita’s sexuality was either a psychological disorder or she was under “corrupting American influences”, their family had just moved from India to the U.S two years prior.
Bharat was 19 and Anita was 21 when the coming out happened. Bharat was confused,overwhelmed and clueless. “We fear what we don’t understand. I was shocked and couldn’t believe that this was happening to my sister” he remembers. He was in his sophomore (first) year in college. Coincidentally one of his close friends also came out as gay around the same time. It took several conversations with Anita and the friend for Bharat to open his mind to an issue with which many Indian families are struggling.
Anita then came out to her father, who accepted her immediately. Bharat was there with Anita when she came out to their mother. It was hard for everyone involved. Mom is slightly more conservative and even today struggles with Anita’s sexuality. She thinks it is just a “bad phase” in Anita’s life. But Bharat is confident, “Mom loves her daughter so much. I am more hopeful than ever that she too will come around to fully accept Anita for who she is.”
Most hatred of LGBT folks comes from people who have never seen, worked with or have a family member who is LGBT. It is much harder to hate when it hits so close to home. This is exactly what makes Bharat hopeful. “Open your mind! It is simple as that.” smiles Bharat. According to him, siblings, friends and family of the LGBT community should play a key role in advocating for their rights. “That is how hearts and minds can be changed. That is how walls of ignorance, antagonism and fear can be torn down.”
There is a huge cry that giving equal rights to the queer community would harm traditional family values. Bharat dismisses this argument with a strong response. “I don’t see anything that is more inherently a family value than treating LGBT folks as equals, allowing them to marry and adopt children, giving them full rights and benefits that all heterosexuals enjoy.” He promises his absolute and unequivocal support to Anita in all her future endeavors.
Things would be lot easier for Bharat and his family if Anita were straight. If he had a magic wand that would change Anita’s sexuality, would he use it? “No I wouldn’t. First, I believe that sexual orientation is an innate part of one’s identity and that no amount of external intervention can change that. Second, such “magic wands”, whether imaginary or real (as in the case of psychiatric help which was advocated in the early 70s, or some future medical help in the form of a “miracle” drug) would only exacerbate the problem of marginalization of the LGBT community. Let me put it this way, I would not use that magic wand any more than I would use a magic wand to turn her into a caucasian because I fear racial discrimination. My sister is a lesbian, Indian-American. I love her very much and I am very proud of her. I completely accept and celebrate her sexual orientation.” concludes Bharat.
Read Tamil version of this story on Orinam.net here