When Alex Sangha started his South Asian LGBT group Sher Vancouver in 2008, he heard that the president of a Sikh temple had told media that there weren't any gay Sikhs. Furthermore, a South Asian radio station took a poll and found that 85 percent of listeners said they would not support gay Sikh group.
Fastforward to 2014 when Sangha received a call from the same Sikh temple, when they sought to work together with Sangha's group to fight suicide ideation, fight HIV and STIs, and depression, to improve the health and wellbeing of their community.
Sangha told the Georgia Straight by phone that his group has grown from only 15 members at the outset to its current 600-person membership. He said he receives about 10 to 15 emails per week from people interested in being involved, and many people are still struggling with coming-out issues.
"It's a sign that the broader queer community is recognizing queer people of colour as well, as being important and also members of their community," he said. "I think it demonstrates that we all belong to one family and we need to support each other in solidarity and strength, especially with what happened in Orlando where a lot of the people who were murdered were actually people of colour."
He feels it's important to stand up with other minorities.
"If you don't stand up and say you're against these kinds of actions, then in effect, what you are doing is supporting them if you are silent."
He sees parallels between the racial issues raised by the Orlando shooting and what can happen, and has happened, here in Metro Vancouver.
A few years ago, prejudicial sentiments arose both outside and within local LGBT communities when South Asian individuals were identified as being involved in gaybashings.
Sangha recalls the racist backlash directed at South Asian communities.
"It's easy to target a minority group who may be perceived by the general public to be causing certain things," he said. "I think it's a matter of creating awareness and education, and letting people know that 'No, just because one person does something doesn't mean you have to stereotype the entire community.' "
He cites the inaugural Surrey Pride parade (to be held on June 26), the raising of the Pride flag at Surrey City Hall on June 13 (flown in solidarity with Orlando and to remain there until June 26) for the first time, and a Pride Prom held at Guildford Park Secondary on June 20 as significant signs of social change and progress.
While he acknowledged the city is still developing and experiencing growing pains on infrastructure, social services, school board, he noted that how much things have changed when only a few years ago, the Surrey school board and city council were resistant towards progressive policies for LGBT people.
Sher Vancouver is expanding its outreach this year by participating in not only Surrey, New Westminster, and Vancouver Pride parades, but also by sponsoring Fraser Valley Pride.
"We want to support our brothers and sisters…in Mission-Abbotsford, in Langley, in Chilliwack, because Surrey's not too far from there and why not support each other? This is all part of the spirit of Pride."
He said he wants people to come out to attend Pride parades to help make history together, and to support what Pride stands for.
"We have to remember that what happened in Orlando, can happen in Vancouver, can happen in Surrey, can happen anywhere, and that could be your child, that could be your daughter, that could be your son, and we need to say no to violence…and people deserve to live with dignity and respect and be safe."