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Canada gurdwara invites LGBT group for Vaisakhi celebrations

A historic Canadian gurdwara has for the first time invited a support group for the LGBT community to join the country’s oldest Vaisakhi celebrations.

world Updated: Mar 22, 2017 01:41 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Khalsa Diwan Society
Alex Sangha, founder of Sher Vancouver, an LGBT support group for members of the Indo-Canadian comunity, which has been invited for this year’s Vaisakhi celebrations by the Khalsa Diwan Society.(HT Photo)

In a pioneering move, a historic Canadian gurdwara has invited a support group for the gay community to participate in what is considered the oldest Vaisakhi nagar kirtan in the country.

The nagar kirtan on April 15 will feature Sher Vancouver, an LGBT support group for members of the Indo-Canadian, particularly Sikh, community.

The Khalsa Diwan Society, which established the first gurdwara in North America more than a century ago in 1908, formally invited Sher Vancouver to participate in the Vaisakhi celebrations under its own banner and also listed it as a community partner.

Sher Vancouver’s founder Alex Sangha described the development as a “significant breakthrough”. He added, “It shows a growing tolerance and acceptance of LGBTQ people in the Sikh community. I don’t think there is any other Sikh temple anywhere that has partnered with a South Asian LGBTQ group.”

In past years, individual members of Sher Vancouver participated in the annual parade but had never done so under their own banner

The involvement of Sher Vancouver in this year’s Vaisakhi in Vancouver, one recognised as a civic event by the city in British Columbia, was facilitated by the Khalsa Diwan Society’s outreach coordinator Pall Singh Beesla.

Speaking to the Hindustan Times, Beesla said, “Our faith has constantly faced challenges in fighting the institutions of the time. That started with our gurus fighting against inequality. This means anybody who is marginalised and the LGBT fall into that category.”

Give the heft the historic society has within the Sikh community in not just Canada, but in North America, this initiative will create greater awareness of gays within the community and their issues.

“It will start a discussion at the very least. A lot of criticism is born out of ignorance. When you inform, people become enlightened on their own,” Beesla said, expressing hope the example will be emulated by gurdwaras elsewhere in Canada.

But he said, “To be honest, people are so afraid of controversy, they don’t want to disrupt anything, which is contrary to what we stand for. We should be provoking constructive discourse.”

Sangha is understandably elated: “It sends a message that we are all equal and deserving of dignity and respect regardless of who we love.  Its a strong message of acceptance, tolerance, and unity.” 

Beesla first became aware of Sher Vancouver following the group’s support for an Indian youth studying in the metro Vancouver area who was abandoned by his family after coming out as gay. This was reported by Hindustan Times earlier.

Sangha is hopeful this precedent will also have an influence in India, as he said, “For our brothers and sisters in India, I feel it sends a message that change is possible.”