Vaibhav Jain grew up “deeply closeted” in Delhi, India. He always worried about going to aparade, fearful of being outed. But when Jain moved to Washington, D.C. in 2011, he decided to go to his first Pride parade.
“I heard through the grapevine there was a South Asian group marching and I was so excited, I was like, ‘Oh my God, there are people like me, who are actually celebrating being LGBTQ,'” Jain told CBS News.
He decided marching in the parade was “too forward” so he went as a spectator – and his life changed forever.
Marching with the group was Parag Mehta. “He was holding this beautiful Pride flag, just walking around,” Jain said, remembering how Mehta would go up to people in the crowd and dance to Bollywood music. “I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ I was fascinated by this man.”
Jain sifted through Facebook groups until he found Mehta’s page and sent a message. “He had actually attached a photo from the Pride parade,” Mehta said.
“It wasn’t of the whole float, it was just a close up of me – which is beyond stalkerish, with all due respect,” Mehta said jokingly.
That meeting started the two on the journey from strangers to husbands.
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Mehta read Jain’s Facebook message, which detailed how he had just moved to the U.S. for school and how he was excited to see people who looked like him marching in Pride. The two decided to meet in person.
They soon started dating and Mehta, who had come out to his parents in college, helped Jain talk to his.
“He actually was such a big guide and role model to me as to how one could come out,” Jain said.
Jain was fearful: “I had all these difficult scenarios planned in my head,” he said. “Because my father was funding my master’s education, what if he says, ‘You know, I’m not funding your education anymore, come back to India with me?'”
“What if he forces and takes my passport like a dramatic Bollywood movie?” Jain said.
But Mehta told him not to worry. “If anything were to happen, I will support you. I will take care of your education if you need to do that. If he takes you to India, I will come rescue you,” Jain recalls Mehta saying.
If Jain didn’t know Mehta was the one yet – he did now. “He just made it all right for me. He made it safe,” he said.
And while his parents were shocked, they were loving.
Jain said his mother told him she felt she failed as a parent. “And I cringed, and I was in tears. I said, ‘Why would you say this, Mom? Are you saying this because I’m gay?’ She said, ‘No, I feel like you hid such a big aspect of your life for 25 years. And I feel like I failed as a parent because I couldn’t give you that safe space.'”
When they got married in Texas in 2019, both sides of the family attended.
During the wedding, Mehta’s father gave a speech that showed how far they had come. Mehta said he had no clue what his father was going to say, but his father, Dr. Vijay Mehta, spoke about how his son came out to him and how he found acceptance in a speech that later went viral after Jain posted it to YouTube.
Dr. Mehta decided to write a letter to friends and family, explaining his son’s coming out. “I thought maybe 50% of the people [I sent it to] would not talk to me, and my life will really be isolated,” he said in his speech. “I said, ‘Vijay, if 50% of the people don’t want to talk to you, maybe they don’t need to be in your life.'”
But someone else at the wedding, a stranger to the couple, also touched their hearts.
Jain recalled received a Facebook message: “Hey, you don’t know me but I had the pleasure of bartending last night at your wedding reception. I wanted to let you know I’m gay, but I’m very closeted. And I saw the love with which your family celebrated both of you and it just gave me so much hope.”
The couple has received countless messages of support and admiration over the years, but their fight for acceptance extends far past their lives in the U.S.
After tying the knot in the U.S., Jain and Mehta went to the Indian consulate in New York to register their marriage so it was recognized in India. But as a same-sex couple, they were denied.
When a senior consulate officer came out, Mehta confronted him. “I said, ‘Are you denying us because we’re a same-sex couple?’ And he looked me right in the eye and said, ‘Yes,'” Mehta said.
That moment spurred the couple to try to make a change. They filed a lawsuit against the Union of India and are now, along with other couples, part of a legal battle to have same-sex marriage recognized in the country.
“If we win, that means 1.2 billion people in the entire world would suddenly live in a country with marriage equality,” Mehta said. “Let me put that into context… The total number of people in the world right now who live in a country with marriage equality is 1.2 billion. This case could double the number by the stroke of a pen.”
For now, the couple is continuing to live out and proud – because they know how important Pride is. “I found my hope at a Pride Parade, walking with this guy,” Jain said.