Pioneering South Asian parents start Peel chapter of PFLAG

When their son asked for a big fat Hindu gay wedding, Vijay and Sushma Agarwal had to face up to their community’s fear and silence.

 Coverage of PFLAG Peel in Toronto Star facilitated by Imagebuilderz
Rishi Agarwal and Daniel Langdon, right, pictured here with Agarwal's parents, Vijay and Sushma. Agarwal’s parents have come a long way since Rishi came out in 2004 and hope sharing their story can help other South Asian parents who may be struggling with supporting their LGBTQ children.

VINCE TALOTTA / TORONTO STAR Order this photo

Rishi Agarwal and Daniel Langdon, right, pictured here with Agarwal’s parents, Vijay and Sushma. Agarwal’s parents have come a long way since Rishi came out in 2004 and hope sharing their story can help other South Asian parents who may be struggling with supporting their LGBTQ children.

 

Vijay Agarwal was turned down by seven Hindu priests in the GTA before he finally found one who agreed to perform his son Rishi’s wedding.

“They initially said yes and as soon as they found out that it was a gay wedding, they turned away,” Vijay remembers.

 

Rishi and his partner, Daniel Langdon, were eventually married at an Oakville golf course in 2011, in the only Hindu same-sex wedding they had ever been to.

 

But it’s because of attitudes like those of the priests that Vijay and his wife Sushma have decided to launch a new Peel chapter of PFLAG (an organization for parents, families, friends & allies of the LGBTQ community). It’s open to everyone but especially targeted at the South Asian community in Brampton and Mississauga, where LGBTQ kids sometimes face closed minds.

 

It’s something Vijay and Sushma Agarwal say they could have used 12 years ago, when Rishi sat them down in the family room of their Oakville home to tell them he was gay.

“We both were stunned,” said Vijay, who first came to Canada to do a master’s degree in 1970 and was joined five years later by Sushma in an arranged marriage.

 

“There is a cultural kind of a stigma,” added the 68-year-old retired engineer.

The couple blames their own “ignorance” for their silent, shocked reaction to their son’s announcement, but they soon sprang into action.

They hooked up with the Toronto PFLAG chapter and went to a support group, reading everything they could get their hands on and sitting through several educational films.

The pair is now fully supportive of their son and hope sharing their story and starting the PFLAG chapter can help other South Asian parents.

“This is strictly our baggage, what we bring from India,” said 61-year-old Sushma, who has also written a book on her experience.

 

“The problem is education and awareness, and that’s the reason we thought of starting this.”

Daniel Langdon, left, and Rishi Agarwal, pictured at Rockwood Conservation Area near Guelph, Ont., share a love for cooking and travelling. They met online in 2007.

PHOTOS BY CHANNA PHOTOGRAPHY

Daniel Langdon, left, and Rishi Agarwal, pictured at Rockwood Conservation Area near Guelph, Ont., share a love for cooking and travelling. They met online in 2007.

Growing up in India, the Agarwals said, had no exposure to LGBTQ people and didn’t think that they knew any in their Canadian community.

 

But once Rishi came out, they realized five of their friends’ sons were also gay.

“Nobody would talk about it. They just keep hush, hush, hush,” Sushma remembers. “Our community is very hidden in these issues.”

 

The new chapter will hold face-to-face support group meetings at a Mississauga yoga studio, and the Agarwals are also offering a direct phone line to their home if people want to talk anonymously.

 

Anne Creighton, president of Toronto PFLAG, said such support is vital.

 

“In any community, no matter how progressive it is, there are always some parents who are alarmed when their kids tell them that they’re LGBTQ,” she said.

 

“The most important place to have allies in your life is in your house.”

 

Like many South Asian parents, the Agarwals started dreaming of Rishi’s wedding, in full Bollywood splendor, when he was a child.

 

With the full support of their families, the young couple, who love cooking and travelling and often drop by the Agarwals’ home for dal and card games, were able to have that.

The grooms performed the standard rituals, including circling a sacred fire four times and exchanging flower garlands, but skipped a few with very specific gender roles they weren’t comfortable with.

 

“In order to run a lot of those ceremonies, you really need everyone, the community’s involvement, otherwise it doesn’t really work,” said Rishi.

 

“Unfortunately, others have not had that support in their lives and they’ve just not been able to have the full” wedding.

 

Rishi, who said Hinduism helped him get through tough moments when he was bullied and still in the closet, said there was a moment at the wedding, after the speeches, when it all hit him.

 

“All of a sudden I just started bawling. I just completely broke down,” he said.

 

“I never thought in my wildest dreams that I could have the wedding that I wanted with the person I loved and with all my family and my friends.”

 

How Rishi and Daniel’s wedding unfolded:

Langdon and Agarwal take part in a pre-wedding tradition, where friends and family apply a yellow paste of turmeric and yogurt. “The idea is to cleanse or purify the person prior to the wedding ceremony,” said Agarwal.

PHOTOS BY CHANNA PHOTOGRAPHY

Langdon and Agarwal take part in a pre-wedding tradition, where friends and family apply a yellow paste of turmeric and yogurt. “The idea is to cleanse or purify the person prior to the wedding ceremony,” said Agarwal.

Langdon and Agarwal at a Sangeet before the wedding. “Everyone gets together to just sing and dance, eat and drink,” said Agarwal. “It’s basically just a party.”

PHOTOS BY CHANNA PHOTOGRAPHY

Langdon and Agarwal at a Sangeet before the wedding. “Everyone gets together to just sing and dance, eat and drink,” said Agarwal. “It’s basically just a party.”

Both Agarwal and Langdon wore turbans, traditional for grooms at Hindu weddings.

PHOTOS BY CHANNA PHOTOGRAPHY

Both Agarwal and Langdon wore turbans, traditional for grooms at Hindu weddings.

Agarwal and Langdon are cheered after exchanging flower garlands at their wedding. “The purpose of that is to welcome each other into each other’s lives,” said Agarwal. “The second that garland has been placed, it’s kind of like the point of no return.”

PHOTOS BY CHANNA PHOTOGRAPHY

Agarwal and Langdon are cheered after exchanging flower garlands at their wedding. “The purpose of that is to welcome each other into each other’s lives,” said Agarwal. “The second that garland has been placed, it’s kind of like the point of no return.”

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NEW PEEL CHAPTER OF PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) CANADA WILL SUPPORT THE SOUTH ASIAN COMMUNITY

Chapter to provide support for families coming to terms with the sexuality or gender express of a loved one (South Asian gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans+ people

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A new chapter of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) Canada is being formed in Peel with a mandate to focus on the unique needs of the South Asian Diaspora. The chapter will meet monthly to provide a safe space for support for those coming to terms with the sexuality or gender expression of a loved one.

“The coming out process can be challenging in any culture, and South Asian families face their own unique challenges, such as how other members of the community will react, judge, or reject. Now there is a venue and community support for these families,” say Sushma Agarwal

Co-founder with husband Vijay Aggarwal, and Author of ‘Loving My Gay Child – A Mother’s Journey to Acceptance’, who came to terms with their own son’s sexuality.

The Launch event being held on Sunday, April 17 at 11 AM will have The Honourable Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario and other dignitaries in attendance.

PFLAG Peel, with a focus on the South Asian community, has a mandate to raise awareness and provide support to families with South Asian gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans+ people. Meetings will be held monthly as early as May 2016.

What: Launch Event of PFLAG Peel (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)

When:   Sunday, April 17, 11:00 AM – 2 PM. Official remarks will begin at 12:00pm.

Where:   Versailles Convention Centre, 6721 Edward Avenue Mississauga, ON

Who: The Honourable Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario and other dignitaries will be in attendance. South Asian authors and other members of the community will also offer unique interview opportunities.

Why:     To provide a space and support for families coming to terms with the sexuality or gender express of a loved one (South Asian gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans+ people)

Interviews Available with:

Sushma and Vijay Agarwal, Founders PFLAG Peel

Like many parents, Sushma and Vijay Agarwal expected both of their sons to grow up, marry a lovely girl, and raise a family. When their younger son told them in 2004 that he was gay, Sushma was devastated. She wanted to know why this had happened to her family, who was to blame, and what she should do next.

To come to terms with her son’s sexual orientation, she began to educate herself about homosexuality, a topic that Sushma had no exposure to. She went to counselling and attended PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) meetings. After much soul searching and many conversations with her son, husband, and others, Sushma accepted her son for who he was.

In Loving My Gay Child, Sushma reveals how she came to terms with her son’s orientation, shared the news with friends and family, and finally threw a beautiful traditional gay Hindu wedding for her son and his fiancé.

After her journey with her gay son, Sushma vowed to help other parents, especially those in the Indian diaspora, cope with the pain that comes when a child reveals he or she is gay. Her hope is that Loving My Gay Child, written by an Indo-Canadian author from a mother’s perspective, will help others come to terms with their feelings and accept their children for who they are. She believes that all families, regardless of their culture and traditions, can overcome the hurt and shock they feel after learning that their loved one is gay.

Sushma currently lives in Oakville, Ontario, with her husband. She enjoys playing with her grandchildren and studying spiritual teachings on human behaviour

 

 

Gugni Gill celebrates Women Achievers

gugni gill

TORONTO: They come from all walks of life. They are in real estate, health professionals, image consultants, franchisees, restaurant owners and doctors and have only one thing in common. They are all Women and have achieved something in their own right. All these special women will be brought together on April 9 in Toronto under the auspices’ of Women Achievers Canada 2016 (WAC).

“When I came to Canada, what helped me is the name that I gained in the Punjabi industry in India. That kind of created awareness for me and as I go out and explore other women who do so well and who have done so well, I want to celebrate their success. They come to Canada from different countries and they still pursue their careers and it is high time that we show off their success stories and make them shine. Our platform through WAC will help women achieve glory in whatever kind of business they are in,” says Gugni Gill, organizer of the WAC awards, a platform launched to make women get in the limelight.

The well-known personality from Toronto, who has her fan following in the South Asian community, was born and raised in Africa. She then moved to India where she got her undergrad degree from University of Delhi followed by a diploma course in Computer Science from the Polytechnic College for Women in Chandigarh.

With a highly developed instinct to become a great, leader, performer and entrepreneur, Gill got her limelight through her acting prowess in a famous Punjabi movie Rab Diyan Rakha directed by Dara Singh. She is also a part of many fashion shows in India and several other countries and has hosted several shows in Canada. Gill is also the recipient of the Miss Punjaban Award and has judged several beauty pageants and shows.

Gill ran for elections in Brampton-West riding in Ontario and had a historical voters’ turn out. As a person who never gives up on her passion, she plans to contest again in the next elections. A strong activist for women’s issues in the South Asian Community, Gill has also been selected as the North American Brand Ambassador for Imran Khan Cancer Foundation. Recently, she has been honored with the prestigious Mrs. India United Nations (Delegate) and Mrs. United Nations International (1st Runner Up 2012/2013) awards. She was also a jury member of PIFF Canada 2013 and has recently been nominated as a Canadian Ambassador for ROKO Cancer Foundation.

Now the enterprising achiever, has launched a one of a kind event to be held on April 9 at Woodbine Banquet Hall in Toronto. Towards this end, more than 150 women achievers applied from several cities in Canada, out of which around 30 nominees have been shortlisted in several categories. These include Bravery, Education, Entrepreneur, Entertainment, Politics, Sports, Social Work, Special Cases, Writers and other. Contestants will be judged by a panel of judges who will select the winners at the final event in April. The event will feature a Mother Daughter walk and a Q&A round for nominees as well as a variety of entertainment, glamour and buzz.
“The first gala event will unveil 30 beautiful Women Achievers in Canada,” says Gill. “The shortlisted contestants will also attend a three day grooming session and be invited to a launch party on April 8 at the trendy Atmosfera Lounge in Mississauga.

Meanwhile, the grand finale show will be attended by well-known actor/actresses of Bollywood/Pollywood as well as a host of Members of Parliament and Members of Provincial Parliament.

“There will be all this and much more. We will entertain, celebrate and dance the night away to the beats of Bollywood, Bhangra and Club anthems. Music will be provided by North Americas leading Bollywood DJ Shuja,” says Gill.

– See more at: http://theindianeye.net/canada-news/canada-news-home/gugni-gill-celebrates-women-achievers-37753.html#sthash.JUBxsHsD.dpuf

SAROJ KHAN TO PERFORM LIVE IN TORONTO

saroj-khan

Ace Bollywood choreographer Saroj Khan will be showcasing her choreography skills in a live performance in Toronto.

The performance, which will take place at the end of a four-day long workshop will be choreographed by Saroj Khan herself and include participants who attend two sessions of the workshop.

“The idea is to give participants in the workshop a complete experience. They will experience first-hand how choreographers work, how dances are set, and how the whole process works. The experience of putting together a complete show in just four days itself is incredible. And who better to learn it from than Saroj Khan herself”, says Puja Amin, founder of Sanskriti Arts.

The performance will be part of Dance Diaries with Saroj Khan, a unique endeavor by Sanskriti Arts and Imagebuilderz for Bollywood dance fans to learn the art of popular dance under the tutelage of one of Bollywood’s best choreographers’ and get a once in a lifetime opportunity to perform with the choreographer on stage during the final showcase.

The first event of its kind in Canada, Dance Diaries will allow Bollywood enthusiasts to train with leading dance director Saroj Khan who is credited with choreographing some of Bollywood’s most popular numbers including Ek Do Teen from Tezaab, Dhak Karne Laga from Beta and more recently Gun Guna Re from Agneepath and Dil Mera Muft Ka from Agent Vinod. The workshops will be half day (on first day only), full-day or one on one sessions between March 25 and March 28, 2016 in Toronto and Ottawa and will allow students to learn directly from Saroj Khan the moves to some of her evergreen popular classics.

“We hope this experience will help participants move forth and be part of bigger and more prestigious projects in the future. Through this workshop and showcase, we aim to provide participants the know-how and confidence required to perform as in Bollywood,” says Renu Mehta, president of Imagebuilderz.

Saroj-Khan1

The final showcase on March 28 from 7PM until 9PM will take place at the Maja Prentice Theatre in Mississauga and present the dance choreography that participants would have learnt during the course of the workshops.

 Event flow:

Doors open: 7.00 PM

Show times: 7.30 PM until 9.00 PM

Tickets: $26, $35 and $42

For workshop registration visit: http://app.mainstreetsites.com/dmn2092/classes.htm?sem=18611#sem

To buy tickets for the final showcase visit: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/dance-diaries-featuring-saroj-khan-tickets-22704296161?aff=eiosprexshreclip&ref=eiosprexshreclip

 

Saroj Khan comes to Toronto in March, speaks of the creativity in Bollywood choreography

khan3

She is the name behind several hit dance steps in Bollywood. She has sculpted and taught Bollywood dance to leading actresses such as Madhuri Dixit, Sridevi and even Aishwarya Rai. A popular saying in B-town says that if you need a hit, then you need Saroj Khan. Fondly called Masterji by all those who love and respect her in the industry, Saroj Khan talks of her journey in Bollywood, her struggles to get accepted and her love for dance.

“I never learnt dance from anyone”, says Khan. “I often used to watch my shadow and dance. That’s how I learnt. I never dreamed that one day I would become a dance director.”

While dance was always a passion, Khan began to work at a very young age to support her family. She worked as a child artist in the film Nazrana and later as a background dancer. It was during this time that choreographer B Sohanlal started polishing her dance skills, which eventually led to a choreography assignment.

“Masterji (B Sohanlal) went to Europe to shoot for Raj Kapoor’s movie Sangam. And there was a song that he was to picture for director P L Santoshi’s movie Dil Hi To Hai. As I was Masterji’s assistant, they approached me to picture this song, Nigahein Milane Ko Jee Chahta Hai, which I did with the help of the director. I was only 14 then.”

Khan had to struggle during her initial days as a choreographer simply because she was a woman.

madhuri saroj

“Of course producers and directors didn’t believe in me because I was a lady”, she says. “They had the impression that dance direction was a man’s job. That was until director Subhash Ghai approached me to choreograph songs for his film Vidhaata. Then came Ek Do Teen from the movie Tezaab. And Filmfare acknowledged my work by giving me an award for it. That was also the first year when FIlmfare recognized choreography as a separate category in film-making, thus opening doors for all other choreographers.”

So what has changed in the way Bollywood choreographed its songs from the 1950s until today?

“When I started working, dance directors in Bollywood had their own identity. Their creations had their signature and simply by looking at the way a song was picturized, one could make out who had choreographed it. We would create movements and dances according to what the song demanded. We never copied. Nowadays I feel there is no more creativity happening in dance. Choreographers simply watch English videos and ask artists to dance in a similar way.

“If someone was really interested in learning Bollywood dance, I would encourage them to watch the yesteryear songs that have been choreographed and learn facial expressions and postures from those artists”, she says.

Over the years Khan has worked with many well-known actresses, be it yesteryear favourites like Nutan or today’s heartthrobs like Kareena Kapoor.

Who was her favourite actress? “My favourite actress was and will always be Vyjanthimala. I also like Madhuri Dixit very much”, she says.

Saroj Khan is a part of Dance Diaries, a unique endeavour by Sanskriti Arts and Imagebuilderz, to give local talent the opportunity to train with exemplary choreographers and dancers. She will be conducting a four-day workshop in Toronto, from March 25 to March 28 for students interested in learning Bollywood dance. For registration and more information visit www.sanskritiarts.ca

Imagebuilderz and Sanskriti Arts present Dance Diaires with Dance Maestro Saroj Khan

Saroj Khan comes to Toronto in March, speaks of the creativity in Bollywood choreography

Facilitated by Imagebuilderz

She is the name behind several hit dance steps in Bollywood. She has sculpted and taught Bollywood dance to leading actresses such as Madhuri Dixit, Sridevi and even Aishwarya Rai. A popular saying in B-town says that if you need a hit, then you need Saroj Khan. Fondly called Masterji by all those who love and respect her in the industry, Saroj Khan talks of her journey in Bollywood, her struggles to get accepted and her love for dance.

“I never learnt dance from anyone”, says Khan. “I often used to watch my shadow and dance. That’s how I learnt. I never dreamed that one day I would become a dance director.”

While dance was always a passion, Khan began to work at a very young age to support her family. She worked as a child artist in the film Nazranaand later as a background dancer. It was during this time that choreographer B Sohanlal started polishing her dance skills, which eventually led to a choreography assignment.

“Masterji (B Sohanlal) went to Europe to shoot for Raj Kapoor’s movieSangam. And there was a song that he was to picture for director P L Santoshi’s movie Dil Hi To Hai. As I was Masterji’s assistant, they approached me to picture this song,Nigahein Milane Ko Jee Chahta Hai, which I did with the help of the director. I was only 14 then.”

Khan had to struggle during her initial days as a choreographer simply because she was a woman.

“Of course producers and directors didn’t believe in me because I was a lady”, she says. “They had the impression that dance direction was a man’s job. That was until director Subhash Ghai approached me to choreograph songs for his filmVidhaata. Then came Ek Do Teenfrom the movie Tezaab. And Filmfare acknowledged my work by giving me an award for it. That was also the first year when FIlmfare recognized choreography as a separate category in film-making, thus opening doors for all other choreographers.”

So what has changed in the way Bollywood choreographed its songs from the 1950s until today?

“When I started working, dance directors in Bollywood had their own identity. Their creations had their signature and simply by looking at the way a song was picturized, one could make out who had choreographed it. We would create movements and dances according to what the song demanded. We never copied. Nowadays I feel there is no more creativity happening in dance. Choreographers simply watch English videos and ask artists to dance in a similar way.

“If someone was really interested in learning Bollywood dance, I would encourage them to watch the yesteryear songs that have been choreographed and learn facial expressions and postures from those artists”, she says.

Over the years Khan has worked with many well-known actresses, be it yesteryear favourites like Nutan or today’s heartthrobs like Kareena Kapoor.

Who was her favourite actress? “My favourite actress was and will always be Vyjanthimala. I also like Madhuri Dixit very much”, she says.

Saroj Khan is a part of Dance Diaries, a unique endeavour by Sanskriti Arts and Imagebuilderz, to give local talent the opportunity to train with exemplary choreographers and dancers. She will be conducting a four-day workshop in Toronto, from March 25 to March 28 for students interested in learning Bollywood dance. For registration and more information visit www.sanskritiarts.ca

 

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