For 29-year-old Daniel Pillai it has been a long journey finding his identity as a gay man.
He grew up surrounded by South Asian culture and tradition – things he followed and respected – but still felt something was missing.
“Somewhere around grade 11 I realized they were South Indians from the Fiji Islands and then later in my life I realized I was gay. So I was having an identity crisis,” he said.
“I didn’t look at my identity separate from my parents and culture. There really wasn’t anybody I could have a conversation with in my family.”
Pillai said he knew he was different from the rest of his family as an early age. He often tried to explore his identity through dance and dressing up in his mother’s clothes.
Pillai said being different certainly made him stand out, both at home and in the school yard.
“They surrounded me in the soccer field during recess. They bullied me and eventually these four girls got the entire school, they just kind of surrounded me and I was alone in the centre being humiliated,” Pillai said. There was a lot of bullying in my own family when it came to my sexuality. We know who you are without me knowing who I actually was.”
Not understanding his own identity led Pilliai down a road of inner exploration. He needed to know what was right for him, rather than what was right for his family.
“It was an evolution. I woke up one day and I said I am gay and I’m going to tell my mom,” he said.
“She said I will always love you, but cried herself to sleep that night, not because I was gay, but she had no idea what was happening.”
His mother wasn’t upset he was gay, Pillai said. Instead she was concerned about what her family might say.
“’My son is telling me he is gay. I know that is not accepted in society. What will my brothers and sisters think?’ She was clouded by a lot of fear,” Pillai said. “My dad, he didn’t really listen. We haven’t really spoken about it.”
Pillai was 25-years-old when he told his family he was gay. He is happy now, with a budding career as an entertainment journalist and a new love for life.
“The last four years have been very freeing. I was a prisoner in my own world. Really coming out was my own choice. When you learn to accept yourself first, that love just radiates and you attract like minded people,” he said.
Pillai said he is proud to celebrate with WorldPride in Toronto, not just with the LGBT community but everyone.
“That rainbow flag is not just representing the different sexuality – it celebrates diversity,” Pillai said. “When I told my parents I was gay… it was an absolute and it would not change our relationship.”