They met on a Facebook group. They fell in love. They got engaged. Sounds like any other New Age love story? Not really. This gay couple went against all the odds, breaking all barriers, and got engaged in a traditional South Indian way.
Salaphaty Rao, 22, a Malaysian Indian with his roots in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, met John McCane, 28, a banker from Ohio, USA, on the Facebook group ‘LGBT Hindus Satsang’. The duo, who became friends on the social media platform, did not speak to each other for few weeks, Salaphaty says.
“John added me on Facebook, and it was our common interest in spirituality and religion that flourished into love,” Salaphaty reminisces.
Their relationship was strengthened when the couple decided to visit India together three years ago. “Originally, it was really just to get to know one another but after the journey and experiences we had, everything seemed to click,” McCane said.
Salaphaty first proposed to John when visiting him in Ohio and they got unofficially engaged at the temple, where Salaphaty put a ring and a rainbow coloured sacred thread on John.
Unlike many homosexuals who have a hard time coming out of the closet due to social constraints, this couple’s families have rallied behind them.
“My mom was supportive from the start and I have shared everything with my mom. She drove me to get our engagement rings. My dad, on the other hand, took some time to accept it. When we were engaged, outwardly he was happy but inwardly he was still on the fence, that was till he met John and he was convinced that John was a great son-in-law,” Salaphaty fondly recalls.
“We were surprised with the number of people, whoever we thought would not accept, congratulated us and invited themselves to our wedding,” he says, adding that the only way to fight the prejudice that exists against homosexuals across the world is by educating people on the matter.
The Orlando shooting, where many gay men were killed by an armed assailant, was distressing, John says, adding that possibly the shooter, who is said to have hidden his sexuality, was fighting his own mind. “I remember being a teen, and realising that I liked other men, but I fought and suppressed it due to the conservative atmosphere I was in,” John says.
Things are different now.
“I am exactly how I was meant to be and I am proud of it,” he says with joy and pride.
Many societies can show prejudice against homosexuals but the times are changing, and soon there will be an equal world, John opines.
“Ignorance and fear are the reason many of us show prejudice against a certain group. Until recently many of us were closeted and therefore in most people’s eyes we were an oddity. Today, it is changing,” he says.
South Indian culture is “rich and unique,” and growing up in a strong cultural environment, cultural values were deeply embedded in him. That is why they had a very traditional engagement ceremony, Salaphaty says. John, who follows Hinduism, says, “I had dreamed of a huge Telugu function like you see in the movies with women all in nine-yard saris, countless sweet dishes, dancers and singers and surrounded by family.”
“We both have dreamed of a perfect South Indian wedding but we aren’t sure of when it will be. We are planning to have it within a year or two,” Salaphaty says, adding, “When society looks down upon homosexuals, be the change for which the same society will look up to you. This will break the misconceptions surrounding homosexuality.”
Earlier this year, Rao officiated his own engagement to McCane at this beautiful function in Australia when his fiancé came to visit him.
The couple will be married next year and live together in the U.S. happily ever after.