Sher Vancouver and Khalsa Diwan Society unite LGBT and Sikh communities for Vaisakhi for first time

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      A pivotal partnership between a religious organization and an LGBT group has formed within the local South Asian community in Metro Vancouver.

      Alex Sangha told the Georgia Straight by phone that this will be the first year that Surrey-based LGBT organization Sher Vancouver, a social and resource group for LGBT South Asian people with over 600 members, will participate in the Vaisakhi parade.

      As to how this significant relationship developed, Sangha said that in November 2016, he was appealing to the public to help a 21-year-old gay Punjabi Sikh immigrant who was an international student who was disowned and financially cut off from his family because of his sexual orientation.

      Georgia Straight contributor Gurpreet Singh introduced Sangha to Pall Singh Beesla, who is the assistant treasurer and outreach coordinator of the Khalsa Diwan Society.

      Sher Vancouver founder Alex Sangha

      Beesla and the society offered their support, Sangha explained, and also agreed with Sher Vancouver's mandate to help oppressed and marginalized people and their intent to pursue social justice.

      Accordingly, the Khalsa Diwan Society, which organizes the Vaisakhi parade at their Ross Sikh Temple in Vancouver, invited Sher Vancouver to participate in the parade on April 15. The society also added a link on their website to Sher Vancouver's website. Sangha said Sher Vancouver will place an advertisement in the Vaisakhi edition of Aaj Magazine, which is collaborating with the Khalsa Diwan Society for the parade.

      Sangha called this partnership a "huge, huge step in the community" and said it represents an unprecedented shift for community members.

      When Sangha first founded Sher Vancouver in 2008, a Sikh temple leader told him, "There's no such thing as gay Sikhs." A South Asian radio poll found that 80 to 85 percent of listeners said they would not support gay Sikh organization.

      Consequently, Sher Vancouver's participation in the parade will begin carefully and respectfully for everyone involved.

      "A lot of people are not out of the closet," Sangha said. "They don't feel comfortable outed in a parade like this."

      When he asked his members if they wanted a float or a marching contingent in parade, he said the feedback he received was that most members don't feel safe as a separate entry.

      However, they will participate by being interspersed throughout the parade and Sher Vancouver will have a banner displayed on a float.

      "Our goal is not to change the religion," Sangha said. "Our goal is to provide support to people who are suffering, who are alienated, who are isolated, who are lonely, who are depressed, who are suicidal. We want to create safe spaces."

      Singh's Radical Desi magazine honoured Beesla with the Radical Desi Activism Award of the Year for his support of the LGBT community. Sangha was also named a grand Pride marshal for the 2016 Vancouver Pride parade and Sher Vancouver also participated in Surrey's inaugural Pride parade in 2016.