By M. Singh
On August 5, 2012, I was returning home from Vancouver’s Pride parade when I received the terrible news. A neo-Nazi had attacked a Gurdwara Sahib in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, killing six worshippers and injuring four.
As a queer Sikh, my days following the Oak Creek Sikh Temple shooting were filled with rage, disbelief, and grief. A large number of Sikh youth took to social media to talk about the lack of coverage the event received, as well as the lack of support systems present for those who were impacted by this tragedy.
However, many of these same voices fell silent on June 12, 2016, when a man went into Pulse nightclub in Orlando and opened fire, killing 49 individuals and injuring 58. The pain and sorrow I felt that day was the same pain I felt when in 2012, but I didn’t see my faith community reacting the same way.
A small group of Sikh youth spoke out about the event, denouncing homophobia and homophobic violence, but a large group of people decided to be silent about the event, not wanting the word “gay” to cross their lips.
LGBT issues are seldom talked about in the Sikh community, and queer Sikhs like me often find ourselves at a crossroads. Many have to closet themselves to live their faith, while others feel they have to abandon their faith to live in a homonationalist gay culture that ostracizes people who are visibly of faith.
When I saw Jagmeet Singh come out in support of queer rights and queer dignity multiple times, I was overwhelmed with joy. Here was a person who not only looked like me and represented my faith community in the media, but also presented himself as an unapologetic ally to my LGBT community. I enthusiastically jumped to support Jagmeet when he announced his leadership bid for Canada’s New Democratic Party.
Jagmeet’s campaign has been a trailblazer, and it has opened up a space for dialogue.
During a recent event on his tour, a young Sikh poet by the name of Harman Kaur took to the podium to talk about Jagmeet’s campaign. In a room full of Sikh leaders and community members, she called for better allyship with the LGBT community. On the other side, however, this campaign has also opened up deeply entrenched prejudices and stereotypes against communities of colour. Such is the case in many queer circles.
Both online, and on the debate stage, there have been baseless claims that Jagmeet Singh opposes queer rights. The people making these claims point to 2015, when the Liberal government of Ontario introduced their new sexual education curriculum.
While this could have been a great step forward, the Liberal government failed to consider diverse communities in unveiling their policy. Despite repeated requests, they didn’t provide information about what was in the curriculum to these communities in their languages. Because of this failure to consider or communicate with them, it was very unclear to these communities what the policy actually contained.
Right-wing organizations in the province seized this opportunity to spread misinformation, and mobilize people based on misconceptions. Jagmeet was invited to speak to a large group of these people, and he had the courage to confront them head-on.
For non-Punjabi eyes and ears, Jagmeet went to an anti-sex ed rally and said something in Punjabi, so that must mean he’s anti-sex ed. This could not be further from the truth.
At the rally, Jagmeet said two very simple things. First, parents need to gather all their facts before making up their minds. Second, the government has a responsibility to consult and communicate with parents in a way that they can understand.
When the government fails to adequately educate the citizenry on progressive policy, it leaves a vacuum which ultra-right groups will be happy to fill with lies and fear-mongering.
Jagmeet showed courage by standing up to members of his own community and insisting that they do their own research instead of listening to right-wing groups. He has showed this same courage to me many times by being a public ally to the LGBT community.
When his opponents accuse Jagmeet of being anti-queer, they expose themselves as riddled with racial prejudice. Racialized men are often demonized and painted as brutish and backwards, and sadly the gay community contributes to that too.
Here in Vancouver, there were two separate incidents involving South Asian men who would come into the city’s gay village and assault couples. That incident sparked a wave of racial profiling by the white LGBT community. One of my Punjabi friends was even denied entry to a local gay bar, because the security “didn’t want any trouble.” If we want to move forward together, we must address the elephant in the room.
Jagmeet Singh is an unapologetic and outspoken ally for the LGBT community. He embodies what allyship truly is with his multiple stances for queer rights, such as his support for trans-inclusive washrooms in Ontario, and his statement on International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
Just seeing someone in the public eye who looks like me, and who is coming out in support of my queer people is a revolutionary act. Where other leaders have failed to bring such awareness to racialized communities and mainstream communities at large, Jagmeet is a trailblazing candidate.
He is unafraid to have difficult conversations. He is willing to take steps to break the systemic oppression many people face in this country. He is a leader that will pave the way for a better future in which all of Canada’s residents can prosper. No amount of slander can change that reality.