Sunday was a big day for the Indo-Canadian LGBT community as the Vancouver Pride Parade was led by Alex Sangha, the first-ever Sikh to be the grand marshal of an event of this nature. While the appearance of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – the first person in his office to take part – raised the parade’s profile higher, just as significant for the community was the presence of Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan.
Sangha, who was in driven along the parade route in a car painted in the colours of the rainbow, was its Role Model Grand Marshal. He told Hindustan Times after the march, “It was amazing. It’s very meaningful to see a brown person leading the Parade. That sent a message of diversity within the queer community.”
Sangha, who runs Sher Vancouver, a non-profit that works on LGBT issues within the community, is a resident of Surrey, a suburb of Vancouver and also the unofficial capital of the Sikh population in Canada. In that sense, his presence was particularly symbolic as the matter of homosexuality remains “taboo within the Sikh community,” as he pointed out. “You need role models in this world,” he said.
That made Sajjan’s participation at the parade important. The Minister tweeted images of walking with the crowds, noting: “Excited to be marching in #Vancouver Pride today. We’re #Forever Proud.”
“Sajjan is in a prominent situation. He’s a role model for the community. This makes the work I do easier; it’s easier when we see these high-profile leaders,” Sangha said, referring to his outreach and activism on gay issues within the community.
Sangha was driven in the special Pride car at the head of the parade, surrounded by supporters of Sher Vancouver and other participants. Trudeau joined the march later. “It’s really interesting it took till 2016 for a prime minister to march in our parade. Things are changing, times are changing,” Sangha said. Trudeau had also marched in Toronto’s Pride Parade last month, becoming the first Canadian Prime Minister to attend that event as well.
This year’s Pride parade in Vancouver wasn’t without controversy. The Black Lives Matter movement boycotted the parade due to the participation of Vancouver’s police force in the celebration, and that led other groups like Salaam, consisting of gay Muslims, and Trikone, a South Asian group, to also withdraw. But Sangha was not fazed by their protests: “Yes, there is racism in the queer community. But there needs to be solidarity, we need to work together,” he said.
Most importantly, he may have blazed a trail for Sikhs in the country as he piloted the Pride car.