Loud and proud

More often than not, homosexuality within the South Asian community is frowned upon....

 Wed. July 23 2008 - More often than not, homosexuality within the South Asian community is frowned upon. But slowly, that's starting to change says a support group for gay and lesbian Sikhs in Metro Vancouver.

This year, Sher Vancouver is coming out loud and proud with its first ever float in Vancouver's annual Gay Pride Parade.

"Even we don't know what the float looks like yet," says Sher Vancouver founder, Amar Sangha.

"The woman in charge of decorating it has kept it a secret so I guess we'll all have to wait until the day of the parade to find out.

But we do know that it's not just going to be a Sikh float — it's going to be a South Asian float."

Sangha, 36, started Sher Vancouver in April after realizing that the South Asian gay community had no support group that fully understood the cultural challenges it was up against. Sher, which now has over 50 members, acts as a beacon of compassion for those struggling to come out to their families and friends.

"There is a generational difference for how Sikhs look at homosexuality," says Sangha, who lives in North Delta.

"Most younger and educated people who are familiar with Western culture are supportive. But in the end, the more people who come out of the closet, the easier I think it will be for South Asian gays to come out."

Sangha, a proud Sikh, says it was difficult to tell his family he is gay. To this day, his sexuality raises a gambit of issues, including how the family presents itself to the rest of the Sikh community, including its more traditional elements.

"My mom was supportive but my dad and his family still feel being gay is a choice," he says.

"They don't want me to be out in the media as they suffer a backlash every time I do an interview so I'm trying to tone it down."

Despite a culture that largely condemns homosexuality, there is nothing about the Sikh faith itself that takes a definitive stand on homosexuality one way or the other, says Sangha.

"The Sikh holy text isn't really solid on the issue," he explains. "It espouses tolerance and acceptance so even though it doesn't say anything about homosexuality, many people feel these values can be applied to all aspects of the human race.

"These are universal rights. They should include all gays and lesbians."

By founding Sher Vancouver and creating a strong presence in the media and in the community, Sangha hopes more gay Sikhs will be encouraged to come out.

So far, his group has raised $1,200 toward the construction of its $1,800 parade float.

"We're in a bit of a cash crunch," he admits. "Anyone interested in making a donation can e-mail me at [email protected]

-By Lucy-Claire Saunders | The South Asia Post


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