The stars must be aligning for the South Asian LGBTQ community in 2016. A friend brought it to my attention that Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver Pride will all have South Asian grand marshals this year.
This is kind of like a South Asian triple crown in Canada! Times are changing. It’s really quite amazing to have South Asian grand marshals leading the pride parades in Canada’s three biggest cities.
This shows a significant leap forward in terms of acceptance, acknowledgment, inclusiveness, and diversity. It sends a positive message to the South Asian LGBTQ community that they are welcome and supported.
Not all people of colour feel comfortable and safe in mainstream queer communities. However, having South Asians and people of colour in visible and important positions in the LGBTQ community sets an example as role models and mentors for others. This is critically important for those who are still coming out, suffering in silence, or coming to terms with their sexual or gender identity.
Here are brief biographies of the three South Asian grand marshals this year.
An acclaimed voice for Toronto’s trans community, Vivek Shraya is a multimedia artist who expresses her experiences and views as a trans woman of colour through music, performance, literature and film.
From albums and poetry to films and novels, Vivek is a three-time Lambda Literary Award finalist, a 2015 Toronto Arts Foundation Emerging Artist Award finalist, and a 2015 recipient of the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s Dayne Ogilvie Prize Honour of Distinction.
When she’s not writing as the associate editor of Heartbeats—a website featuring racialized artists and stories—she’s performing with her brother Shamik in Too Attached. The duo has released albums ranging from acoustic folk-rock to electro synthpop and performed internationally with Tegan and Sara and Dragonette.
Alex Sangha is an award winning author, social worker, and advocate for equality and human rights. He was elected co-chair of Pride UBC. He fundraised close to $10,000.00 to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Outweek. Alex was involved with the Gay Warriors talking circle and was elected secretary on their Board.
Alex is the Founder of Sher Vancouver which is a social, cultural, and support group for LGBTQ South Asians and their friends, families, and allies. Sher has over 600 members. The DOSTI project is an anti-bullying, racism, homophobia, and transphobia workshop that Alex launched from scratch in April 2009.
As part of his Master of Social Work practicum, Alex decided to bring the LGBTQ community together to develop affordable housing for LGBTQ seniors and allies called Dignity House. Alex secured close to $40,000.00 to do a market and feasibility study. Dignity House is now a non-profit society. Alex is currently working to advance LGBTQ programs and services within Fraser Health Authority. He has also developed the DOSTI Project (HIV edition).
The Out and Proud Project celebrates the strength and diversity of amazing queer South Asians. This popular blog has attracted approximately 20 profiles and over 10,000 hits. Alex is currently producing a documentary film about the late Sher Vancouver social coordinator, January Marie Lapuz, who was a trans woman of color. Alex also founded and supports the January Marie Lapuz Youth Leadership Award which is a $500 annual cash prize.
Alex feels we can all be “role models.” We can set an example for other countries. In India and many parts of the world homosexuality is illegal and our queer friends are persecuted if not executed. We have a duty to advocate for equality and fundamental human rights for everyone everywhere. Our beautiful corner of the world can provide support and strength and a blue print to implement improved laws for queers around the globe.
Sridhar Rangayan wears many caps—that of a filmmaker, writer, activist, and festival director. For over two decades, he has consistently strived to give a voice to social issues in India through his films, writings and public speaking.
His award-winning films The Pink Mirror, Yours Emotionally!, 68 Pages, Project Bolo, and Purple Skies present hard-hitting social issues with warmth, compassion and humour and are at the forefront of India’s emerging queer cinema movement. His latest film, Breaking Free, won the National Award for best editing (monfiction) and was selected for the prestigious Indian Panorama by the Government of India’s Directorate of Film Festivals.
He has served on the jury of such prestigious film festivals as Outfest (U.S.), Berlinale (Germany), Iris Prize (U.K.), and Movies that Matter (The Netherlands). He is the founder and festival director of the FLASHPOINT Human Rights Film Festival and the KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, South Asia’s biggest queer film festival.
He is one of the founding trustees of the Humsafar Trust, which was established in 1994 and is still is one of India’s largest community-based organizations working on HIV/AIDS intervention. He served on its board for 19 years. He also was one of the core team members of Bombay Dost, India’s first gay magazine, which was launched in 1990.
He has appeared on Pink Pages’ list of the “5 most influential gay & lesbian Indians” and Mumbai Boss’ list of “The People Changing Mumbai’s Culture Scene” and was listed as one of the “21 heroes changing LGBTI Asia for the better” by the Asia LGBT Milestone Awards (ALMA).