Growing up gay and brown in the suburbs was rough. I came really close to flying to freedom towards the end of my senior year of high school when I drove off a cliff near my home. I thought it would be better than the stress of exams and the alienation I felt from being the only gay kid in the neighbourhood.
I had nobody turn to for help and nowhere to go to make friends. My adolescence as a sexually confused teen still brings back episodes of sadness and emotional struggle nearly 20 years later.
I kept silent about my problem. I only managed to cope because I had a loving mother who sacrificed everything to raise me.
The scary thought of being "outed" took up an exhausting amount of time and energy. The mere mention of the words "faggot" or "homo," or any other of the insults I regularly received would ruin my entire day.
Too often the cruel words got me thinking about what the world would be like if I was no longer here. The name-calling and rumours made me depressed and took its toll on my self-esteem and self-confidence. I was being taught to hate myself at high school.
I managed, eventually, to overcome this internalized homophobia at college and university. I learned to embrace my sexuality and started to feel inner peace and happiness.
At college I got my first break from this hatred by meeting men and women (many of them straight) who, to my surprise, did not pass judgment on gay people. It was a breath of fresh air and a whole new world.
At university, I became interested in classical art and literature. I was amazed to discover that some of the most brilliant and greatest men in history were gay or bisexual: Alexander the Great, Leonardo da Vinci, Emperor Hadrian, Edward II, Oscar Wilde, John Maynard Keynes, Salvador Dali, Lawrence of Arabia, Rudolph Valentino, and my favourite, Michelangelo.
I never learned this in Western Civilization 12 class. I always thought it was kind of odd that Michelangelo spent years sculpting the statue David or painting muscular figures on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
These days I feel good about my identity and myself. I have discovered that gay people contribute an enormous amount to humanity, despite the marginalization, prejudice, and homophobia we experience. This is why it's so important for the community to celebrate the achievements of gay men and women and spread the message of "pride."
By this I mean more than just the pride parades, I mean the pride that gay people feel for coming to terms with and celebrating their sexuality and culture. This acceptance of diversity is good for everyone, regardless of sexuality.
I would like to think that things have changed for the better. We now have the Internet and email, which allow alienated gay and lesbian youth to connect. But it's still not enough. Nothing can replace the support of family and friends.
Acceptance is the foundation we all need to develop and flourish into well-adjusted, stable individuals. We need to stop discrimination: racism, sexism, and homophobia. We need to accept each other unconditionally, in all our diversity. That's why I launched the DOSTI project in 2009 for Sher Vancouver.
Sher is a social, cultural, and support group for LGBTQ South Asians and their friends, families, and allies.
DOSTI, which means "friendship" in Persian and many South Asian languages, takes the message to schools and the community that anyone can be a victim of racism, bullying, and homophobia.
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