Alex Sangha: Growing up gay and brown in Surrey

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      What was it like to grow up gay and brown in Surrey? (I am referring to Newton, of all places.) It was very distressing. I hope things have changed for the better. My adolescence as a sexually confused teen at Frank Hurt Secondary still bring back episodes of sadness and emotional struggle nearly 20 years later.

      I came very close to flying to freedom towards the end of my senior year by driving off a nearby cliff. I felt it would be much better than the stress of studying for exams and the alienation I felt of being the only "gay kid" in the neighborhood. There wasn't a place for me to make friends or to turn to for help. Thank God we have the internet and email now to connect alienated LGBT kids. But it is still not enough. Nothing replaces the support of family and friends. Acceptance is the foundation from which to develop and flourish into a well-adjusted, stable individual.

      I wrote a suicide note but I did not have the courage to follow through with my plan. I kept silent about my problem. I only managed to stay alive because I did not want to hurt my mother who had sacrificed everything just to raise me. This was the only barrier separating me from heaven or hell or being reincarnated into a lesser mortal as punishment for my gay existence.

      The scary thought of being "outed" took up an exhausting amount of my time and energy. The mere mention of the words "faggot" or "homo", or any other slur that is commonly used in high school, would ruin my entire day or get me thinking about what the world would be like if I was no longer here. The name-calling and the rumours would make me depressed and take its toll on my self-esteem and self-confidence. I was being taught in high school to hate myself.

      Alex Sangha at age 19.



      I managed to slowly overcome this internalized homophobia at college and university. I learned to embrace my sexuality and started to feel inner peace and happiness. At college, I got my first break from this hatred by meeting men and women, many of them straight, who to my surprise did not pass judgment on gay people. It was a breath of fresh air and a whole new world separate from high school.

      At university, I became interested in classical art and literature. I was amazed to discover that some of the most brilliant and greatest men in history were gay or bisexual. This magnificent list includes Alexander the Great, Leonardo da Vinci, Emperor Hadrian, Edward II, Oscar Wilde, John Maynard Keynes, Salvador Dali, Lawrence of Arabia, Rudolph Valentino, and my favourite, Michelangelo. I never learned this in Western Civilisation 12. I always thought it was kind of odd that Michelangelo would spend hours sculpting the statue David or painting muscular Gods on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

      Today, I am a fan of fabulous women who have come out and act as role models to millions of people such as Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O'Donnell.

      I started to feel good about my identity and myself. I discovered that gay people contribute an enormous amount to humanity, despite the marginalization, prejudice, and homophobia they experience.

      This is why it is important for the community to celebrate the achievements of gay men and women and spread the message of "pride." It is of benefit to everyone regardless of their sexuality. Anyone can be a victim of homophobia. This pain and suffering can be alleviated if society were more tolerant. No one has the right to judge anyone.

      We need to help send a message to people that they need to help stop discrimination of all sorts including racism, sexism, and homophobia. We can learn to accept each other unconditionally in all our diversity.


      Alex Sangha is the founder of Sher Vancouver, a social and support group for South Asian LGBT people, and Q-Karma!, an intercultural LGBT Facebook group.


      This article was originally published in Xtra West and The Peak in 2001, but has been revised.




      Aug 26, 2011 at 1:02pm

      I'm playing a Violin for you...

      Meanwhile in Africa Millions are dying...

      Everybody faces some form of discrimination, some more than others, don't worry about what other people are thinking , stand up for your rights via the legal process if need be.

      But there are simply more important things to worry about than a bit of discrimination which has mostly been relegated to the nut fringe, mainstream Media, Work Places etc no longer overtly discriminate and if they do there are well established legal process to take care of those very few that do.

      Alex S

      Aug 26, 2011 at 2:15pm

      The purpose of this article is to reduce racism, sexism, and homophobia and reduce suicidal ideation. If you feel this still does not exist then you are living in a fantasy world NoNeoConRightWingNuts. Recently there was a string of suicides throughout North America related to homophobia and bullying. I feel more education and awareness is the way to change social attitudes and this message is still very relevant today.


      Aug 26, 2011 at 2:50pm

      @Alex S

      I guess you did not comprehend my statement.

      Let me be very clear,

      - I NEVER said discrimination does not exist.

      - Further I point out that Discrimination has certainly in all it's forms been reduced in the main stream to the point where it is not a huge problem like it was before,

      - Suicides do happen I NEVER said they don't happen or that discrimination does not either,

      - However the statistical rate is very low compared to say Suicides on Indian Reserves of Aboriginal youth in particular again not huge problem compared to the general population or other at risk groups,

      - All education is good, however for someone or one group to claim persecution simply does no justice to the Mass Murders of Innocents elsewhere.

      My point being that if you are concerned about a few suicides how concerned are you about the Millions dying of starvation, that is in fact Genocide, what about the astronomically high Suicide rates with Aboriginal Youth?

      And lastly I know I have as a person of color like this guy walked a mile in his shoes and my brother is Gay whom I had to protect from Primary to University. Have you walked in my shoes?

      Alex S

      Aug 26, 2011 at 3:23pm

      The article ends by stating:

      "We need to help send a message to people that they need to help stop discrimination of all sorts including racism, sexism, and homophobia. We can learn to accept each other unconditionally in all our diversity."

      The writer is simply describing his life experience and is not claiming anything but states that we need to end ALL discrimination.

      This is a positive message with good intentions. There will always be someone or some group that is worse off. This does not mean we should stop writing and creating awareness about various issues.

      NeoCons objections are really not grasping the intent and substance of the article.


      Aug 26, 2011 at 10:44pm

      It is neither constructive nor helpful to demean one person's experience by intimating that it is less important that "millions dying" elsewhere. Rather, this attitude demonstrates a callousness towards human suffering which is quite disturbing.The defensive attitude of NeoCons is equally disappointing . . .

      By telling his personal story, Mr. Sanga seeks to promote greater understanding and compassion. Bravo! It is important to set aside the callousness in the first comment and focus on moving forward.

      Bernadette Keenan

      Aug 27, 2011 at 2:40am

      An adult, well older person with life experience may judge harshly or perhaps try to help a situation, by saying that there are "... more important things to worry about than a bit of discrimination..." and it maybe, that there are, but a teenager, adolescent doesn't have that perspective and for them that "... bit of discrimination..." can be life threatening and result in suicidal thoughts, tendencies, even actions and worst of all ultimately carrying through leading to a huge tragic loss.

      Life is priceless, whether one life or millions and if this article can speak to one hurting, confused, bullied young person in similar circumstances and help them see their way clear to getting help it will be more than justified. If it can help one person who might otherwise condemn or ridicule a gay teen to think more compassionately it will also be a success.

      This is not to downplay the tragic significance of millions starving, or of the numbers of First Nations suicides or of all the other needless senseless deaths or harm done by violence, but just because some of that is more or less physically damaging or involves greater or fewer numbers, the story shared here is still extremely important, as are each one of us on this good earth.

      If we numb ourselves to the suffering or ordeal of anyone person by saying that there are many others worse off at some point we could lose our capacity to feel or empathize with any even greater pain or need.

      There is no volume control on sympathy, or the milk of human kindness, caring and sharing for others. It just doesn't work that way. Some of us might pretend so with outwardly scoffing, or cynical comments, but it only usually covers up more deeply felt convictions.

      My thoughts here are that the person who wrote the article is most likely sympathetic to the plight of all who suffer from injustices like starvation in a world of plenty because a sincere tone of caring is conveyed.

      The person commenting and criticizing so harshly conveys some deep inner pain but a sense of compassion as well. Seems to me there are two caring, sharing people conversing here, but not managing to see that in each other or to communicate it to each other.

      Work together. I think there maybe much common ground here if we look for it and some important work to be done together to make the world a better place one person at a time maybe. If we can do that then maybe one day there will be no more teen suicides for any reasons and no starving people anywhere in the world either. That is something to look forward to.



      Aug 27, 2011 at 10:41am

      Empathy, a beautiful seven letter word. For some it's more innate, for others it is learned, and for others it might be a lost cause. Neocon's commentary does not surprise me, as there are many people who think the same but are less vocal. The World is a beautiful place but not perfect. There are millions starving in Somalia, and with his line of reasoning everyone who is better of than these people have nothing to complain about. If this is the case, why don't we shut down all of the psychiatric wards, counselling services, social services and North American charitable causes. because after all we don't have it as bad as them, thirteen year old girl with Anorexia does not want to eat? Great there are millions who would die for that meal. Why don't we shut up about the recession and gas prices because after all, we have food on our plates and they do not. That would be a little extreme, no? Okay I get it, it's the gay ethnic who needs to shut up. I find it unfortunate that from the sounds of it, you have had a rough time dealing with your brother's homosexuality, since society has not been good to him since a tender age, but you cannot extend that empathy to someone else because you perceive their situation to be different from your own? From the sounds of it, we are all in the same boat, but you want your flag to fly higher. I am not going to start talking about what it means to be a gay person from an eastern culture. People seem capable of hearing what it means to be a minority, and what it means to be gay. The two combined do not make things easier, they make it more difficult, as you are alienated within within your culture and within the mainstream- not everyone has experienced this. I love how when a brown man has the courage to talk about these things, which very few in our community are able to do at this point, he is a target. When another possibly closeted brown man assaults an innocent gay in the west end, there is no shortage of seemingly sanctioned hate and racist rants about that guy. Are we unable to connect the dots here?