A North Delta social worker has started a support group called Sher for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex Sikhs and their families.
In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, Alex Sangha said that sher means “lion” in Persian. “It’s a little bit of a play on share,” he said. Sangha noted that all Sikh males adopt the middle name Singh, which means lion in Sanskrit, and women adopt the middle name Kaur, which means lioness or princess in Sanskrit.
Since the group began in early April, it has attracted 29 members, he said. Sangha acknowledged that there are already other groups for gay and lesbians in the South Asian community. “There was a group in Vancouver for Muslims and there was a group in Vancouver for Hindus, but there was no group for Sikhs,” he said.
Sangha said that many Sikh families don’t discuss sexuality and gender issues, which is why he has created a group specifically for members of his religion. “We want to reach out to the Sikh community and to the larger South Asian community and reduce homophobia and heterosexism,” he said.
Sangha added that he is also a member of Trikone, which is a group for LGBTI South Asians of different religions. He noted that his group will accept members who are not Sikh. In addition, Sangha said his group wants to work with the broader Sikh community.
“We both have common interests,” he said. “Gay people have a higher suicide rate than the general population. If you’re a minority within a minority, it’s that much more difficult. Sikhs are already discriminated against in the population. But if you’re gay and Sikh, it’s that much more difficult.”
Imtiaz Popat is the general coordinator with Salaam, a LGBTI group that caters to Muslims. Popat told the Straight in a phone interview that he’s very supportive of a new group in the Sikh community. Popat, who hosts a program on Co-op Radio, noted that there is another group called Namaste for gay and lesbian Hindus.
“For some reason, people feel it’s important to meet people on the basis of their belief or faith,” he said. “Trikone is for people who want to get together on the basis of their cultural identity.”
Popat noted that trikone means “triangle” in Sanskrit. “It’s not religious specific,” he said.
Salaam, on the other hand, is for queer Muslims. “That crosses cultures,” Popat added, “because we’ve got Muslims from Persia, from Arabia, from Africa, and so on.”
Sangha said that he prayed at a Sikh gurdwara before starting his group. He said that he is not a religious scholar, but noted that the founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak, believed in universal brotherhood and equality. “I feel that also includes the human race of gays and lesbians,” Sangha said.
He added that he hopes to build bridges with religious leaders in the community. Balwant Singh Gill, chair of the Hindu Sikh Unity Committee, told the Straight in a telephone interview that he hadn’t heard of Sher. Gill added that he is willing to talk to members of Sangha’s group. “Why not?” Gill said. “Anybody comes to talk to us, we’ll hear.”
Last December, Gill provoked a torrent of criticism in the LGBT community after he was quoted in the Vancouver Sun saying, “I hate homosexuality.” Gill was also quoted saying, “Most Sikhs believe homosexuality is unnatural and you can’t produce kids through it.”
Gill, the long-time president of the Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Surrey, said he didn’t want to discuss that interview with the Straight. “What people do in their bedrooms, I don’t care,” he said.