The City of Vancouver hosted its annual Vaisakhi parade Saturday, and amid the colours, sounds, smells, and tastes there was a little something new this year.
For the first time, a South Asian LGBTQ group participated in the event – an action that drew attention around the world.
LISTEN: CKNW’s Charmaine de Silva speaks with Sher Vancouver founder Alex Sangha about the Vaisakhi Parade
Alex Sangha is the founder of Sher Vancouver, a South Asian LGBTQ support group, and says he believes this marks the first time such an organization has officially participated in a Vaisakhi event anywhere in the world.
“This has really gone global and people are looking us and wondering how this happened,” says Sangha, adding that congratulations have been coming in from India, England, and around the world.
Sangha says it was an emotional experience for the participants, many of whom didn’t feel safe sharing that aspect of their life with the community in the past.
“Some people were crying part way through, because you have to realize a lot of people, when they’re growing up and they’re coming out of the closet, they’re afraid of rejection, they’re afraid of being rejected by their own communities and their own families and their own people. And now we are marching with them as one, as equals.”
Sangha says about 25 people came out to march, but the group kept their contingent low key.
“You know it is a religious and cultural parade, we want to be respectful. They are literally singing hymns along the streetway.”
He says the group hopes to participate again next year, and adds he’s hopeful it’s a sign of how things are changing in a positive way for queer South Asians.
“People are starting to recognize that we’re just human beings and we just want to be treated with dignity and respect and as equals as human beings like everyone else.”
Sangha also went out of his way to thank the parade organizers, particularly outreach coordinator Pall Singh Beesla who he acknowledged took a risk by including the group.
“He really believed in the tenants of Sikhism. By supporting us, a marginalized group, a relatively oppressed group that didn’t have a lot of support historically… he really stood behind us. And this is what Sikhism is really all about.”
Vancouver’s Vaisakhi parade regularly draws upwards of 100,000 people, and together with a sister event in Surrey is believed to be the largest Vaisakhi celebration outside of India.
Surrey holds its own parade and festival next Saturday.