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Indo-Canadian LGBT support group to celebrate 10th anniversary

Founder Alex Sangha says the Sher Vancouver group plays a significant role in addressing the needs of a “very vulnerable minority within a minority”.

world Updated: Apr 22, 2018 19:50 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times, Toronto
Sher Vancouver,LGBT,Sikh community
Sher Vancouver’s founder Alex Sangha as grand marshal of the Vancouver Pride Parade in 2016.(Courtesy: Sher Vancouver)

When it was first formed Sher Vancouver had to shy away from positioning itself as focusing on the Sikh community due to fears of a backlash from the orthodox, but its 10th anniversary will come a week after members of the pioneering Indo-Canadian LGBT support group participated in the annual Vaisakhi parade in Vancouver metro area for the second year running.

Ahead of the anniversary on Sunday, the group’s founder, Alex Sangha, said, “This is the second year in a row that Sher Vancouver marched in the parade.Many of our members have experienced rejection and discrimination in their lives, so it is very significant for them to be included, accepted, and welcomed by their community.”

Sangha, born Amar, was a social worker when he decided to form Sher Vancouver in 2008. He had accidentally outed himself at 19 by doing an interview as a gay Sikh during a pride event at the University of British Columbia. Sixteen years later, he asked himself, “What sort of social worker am I if I can’t even advocate for my own people?”

As a result, Sher Vancouver came into existence, but though it started off as a “queer Sikh group”, there was resistance as people in Surrey, the suburb of Vancouver where it was located, “said there’s no such thing as a gay Sikh”, Sangha recalled.

Sangha asked himself, “Am I putting myself at risk? It was really hard.” But the group adopted a pragmatic course and positioned itself as a South Asian outfit, though still concentrating on the underserved gay Sikh demographic.

Over the years, attitudes have changed somewhat. Last year, Sher Vancouver was invited to the Vaisakhi Parade organised by the Khalsa Diwan Society. But because of criticism of that move, the society’s outreach coordinator Pall Singh Beesla had to clarify Sher was present at the parade at his personal initiative, not that of the organisers.

Later that year, there was another breakthrough for the group, as Canada’s defence minister Harjit Sajjan clambered on to Sher Vancouver’s Bollywood-themed float at the Vancouver Pride Parade and danced along with group members, making a very symbolic statement for the Sikh LGBT community.

Canada’s defence minister Harjit Sajjan with Sher Vancouver founder Alex Sangha at the Vancouver Pride Parade last year. (Courtesy: Sher Vancouver)

Sangha was also selected as a grand marshal for the Vancouver Pride Parade in 2016. Sher’s contribution has been recognised by progressive politicians in British Columbia such as Jalandhar-born Jinny Sims, a minister in the provincial government.

Now, as they prepare for Desi Q, the cultural celebration of Sher’s decade of existence on April 22, Sangha said the group plays a significant role in addressing the needs of a “very vulnerable minority within a minority”.

While prejudice still remains, Sher Vancouver has become a sanctuary for Indo-Canadians gays in and around Vancouver. “We’re giving them a lifeline, and that is a huge impact we’re having,” Sangha said.

First Published: Apr 18, 2018 20:02 IST