Upon approaching Vancouver, I was told about the richness of its South Asian and Asian communities. I saw this in full force during the Canada Day celebration, where I watched fireworks amongst a crowd of Indians. While in town, I did a little internet research and found out about an organization for queer South Asians in Vancouver, called Sher Vancouver. I was able to send some interview questions over to the founder, Alex; here is our little informal Q & A!
What is your role in Sher Vancouver? How much time and energy do you put into this organization?
I am the Founder of Sher Vancouver. My best friend, Ash, runs the day to day affairs of the organization and I am still the spokesperson. I also help out with social work related services such as information, referral, outreach presentations to combat bullying, racism, and homophobia, as well as referring members to counselling and immigrant and settlement and other support services. Sher used to be a full time job for me when we first started in April 2008. Over the years my involvement has reduced as new volunteers and members have come on board. Sher is currently in hiatus since the murder of our Social Coordinator, Ms January Marie Lapuz, in September 2012. January was transgender and the sentencing is coming up soon and we are all very anxious about this at this time.
How do you describe yourself, to yourself? (Or, what identifiers do you use and why?)
I define myself as a gay South Asian male. I do not use Punjabi or Sikh because I was born in England and raised in Canada. I have an inter generational connection to my homeland of Punjab and India which I feel is different for people who directly immigrate to this country from the Indian subcontinent. I consider myself priviledged in many ways even though I was raised by a single mother and I am a visible minority and gay. The fact is I am a male and have been socialized in a western environment and can easily fit in to the larger world surrounding me.
When, and how, did you get involved with queer organizing?
I was elected Co-Chair and Outreach Coordinator of Pride UBC during my time at campus at the University of British Columbia. I felt so good to be accepted, acknowledged, and respected for who I am and how I was created. It was a form of cultural, social, emotional, and peer support. This planted the seed of queer organizing for me.
For me, it was eye opening to find the Sher Vancouver site because there seems to be little visibility for queer South Asians. What do you think are barriers for queer South Asian visibility?
It is very difficult for queer South Asian to come out of the closet. There is a lot of pressure from their families to get married and have children. The South Asian culture places more emphasis on family and respect and not to shame your parents. There are still colonial laws on the books in India which make it illegal to practice homosexuality and homosexuality is punishable by death in some Muslim countries. The society and social environment, therefore, is not supportive of South Asian queers to come out of the closet by and large.
How has it been challenging or rewarding to work within a queer South Asian community?
Its been challenging at first. I had to approach human rights advocacy from a health care angle to build allies first. I explained how queer youth including South Asian queer youth were at high risk of suicidal ideation, depression, and substance use. How many gay people are forced into marriages and cheating on their wives. Potentially bringing home STD’s. I explained that anyone can be a victim of homophobia including straight kids and we all need to work together to create healthy environments for all our kids including gay kids.
How do you incorporate self-care into your life?
I balance my work, volunteer, and personal life. I swim and walk and socialize with my friends regularly. Anything in its extremes is risky I believe.
What communities do you participate in?
Sher Vancouver – LGBT South Asians and Friends
Dignity House – LGBT Seniors and Allies – Affordable Housing
Social Work – Upgrading to become a Registered Clinical Social Worker
Caregiver – Support my mother, grandmother, and family to a certain extent
Positive people. I feel the people you surround yourself with can play a huge role in how you feel, react, behave, and even think.
What do you think is in store for you in the coming months? (Personally, professionally, creatively?)
I just started a teaching gig at a local college in addition to my full time clinician job with a health authority.
If you want to check out Sher Vancouver, you can go to their website or check out their blog, where they post “Five Questions” with many different queer South Asians. You can also visit Alex’s blog.