Surrey needs to create a civic committee that would develop a strategic plan to address the needs of the city’s growing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer population.
There are at least 25,000 to 50,000 LGBTQ people living in Surrey. There are very limited or no targeted services and supports for this population group in a city of almost half a million and soon to be the largest city in the province.
LGBTQ people, especially youth, are at very high risk of alienation, isolation, loneliness, depression, and suicidal ideation. LGBTQ youth, in turn, from South Asian and various cultural and racial groups may experience dual stigma from society at-large and their own community which may have more traditional values and expectations.
Vancouver has a LGBTQ Advisory Committee which reports directly to city council and has members of city council, the school board, and the park board. This has led to a lot of benefits. Vancouver is seen and promoted worldwide as a gay-friendly tourist destination; it has an established gay village with various LGBTQ friendly businesses, restaurants, and gathering places; and it even has a popular annual queer film festival. A new plaza named after gay activist Jim Deva is in the works and the city has even allocated seven million dollars to be used towards the development of a new queer community centre. This year, Vancouver adopted a new inclusive transgender policy and even flew the trans flag at city hall for the first time, alongside the Pride flag it flies every year during Pride Week, not to mention it has Canada's first permanent rainbow crosswalks.
A strategic plan for the LGBTQ community in Surrey will identify and prioritize which programs, supports, and services are necessary for the city to make it a safe and welcoming city for all. The city can sponsor and promote and also fund local LGBTQ friendly organizations that operate on little or no budget, such as Surrey Pride, Surrey Youth Alliance, Sher Vancouver, and the new Health Initiative for Men clinic in Surrey City Centre.
There is a lot the city can do within its current operations and structure. For example, the youth centres, seniors programming, recreation centres, and gay-straight alliances in various high schools can all benefit from specialized programs and supports. The city can also liaise with the Surrey RCMP to ensure hate crimes and homophobia related discrimination and harassment are effectively identified and prosecuted.
The political leaders in Surrey are elected to represent everyone. They have a civic duty and responsibility to ensure that everyone has equal access to the services and supports they need. If a city is to develop and flourish it needs to respond to and accommodate the diversity of its demographic, which is what the city is now doing with the South Asian population by developing the Little India shopping district for example.
The bottom line is that embracing diversity is good for business, health, wellness, and social welfare. Every segment of our society can develop, grow, and reach their potential in a healthy way with this approach. Everyone can feel safe and welcomed.
One of the first steps is education, awareness, and outreach which can lead to acceptance, tolerance, and support for some of the most marginalized and vulnerable among us.
It is long overdue for the City of Surrey to act on and develop a strategic plan on how to move forward to support the thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people living in our beautiful city.
Surrey can become a desirable location for everyone, but it must make the effort to reach out and welcome those that otherwise might choose to live, work, invest, or start a business in another city that is more accommodating, friendly, and supportive of its minority populations including the LGBTQ community.
Alex Sangha is a registered clinical social worker and author. He is the founder of Sher Vancouver which is a social, cultural, and support organization for LGBTQ South Asians and their friends, families, and allies. For more information on Sher, visit shervancouver.com. For more information on Alex, check out his blog at alexsangha.com.