Alex Sangha has clashing memories about his first Pride. On the one hand, he was incredibly excited:
“I was a member of UBC Pride and I was young and I was fit and I was getting a lot of attention and I was surrounded by a flood of gorgeous guys with their shirts off,” he says, laughing.
“I remember thinking . . . ‘Wow, there’s so many people that are gay in Vancouver!’ I remember I was a little bit naive.”
His enjoyment was still cut with a feeling of otherness, though.
“Back then there wasn’t that many coloured people in the parade and they obviously stood out. I remember feeling noticeable as a person of colour marching.”
It was a familiar feeling. Coming out into a predominantly white queer community, he says he felt a lot of rejection, leading to feelings of alienation for many years as a minority within a minority.
In 2008, Sangha founded Sher Vancouver, a social, cultural and support group for LGBT South Asians and their friends, families and allies.
In the beginning, he says, he faced some backlash. The president of one Sikh temple said there were no gay Sikhs, and a South Asian radio station in Surrey ran a poll asking if people would support a gay Sikh group. Over 85 percent said they wouldn’t.
But in the last eight years, Sangha says, there has been a noticeable social change.
“The fact that I’m a grand marshal, and Surrey is having their own Pride parade, and raising the rainbow flag, and Surrey has its first queer prom — I think it sends a strong message to the community,” he says.
“Queer POC [people of colour] are being more and more welcomed and accepted in the wider queer community, and it’s also making the South Asian community at large realize that we do exist and we deserve to be treated with respect and equality,” he says.
Sangha is the role model marshal this year, something he sees as a great opportunity.
“Vancouver, British Columbia, even Canada — we can all be role models for places like India, where its illegal to practice homosexuality, or places around the world where you can be killed,” he says. “I think, if we can do absolutely nothing else, we can role model what is good for our community in this country and set a precedent for others.”
(Hannah Ackeral/Daily Xtra)
Morgane Oger can’t stop smiling when she thinks about being named national hero marshal of this year’s Pride parade. The trans activist is being recognized for her work on the municipal, provincial and federal levels.
She hopes this kind of recognition can offer a positive role model for other trans people who are fearful about coming out or transitioning. She wants them to see there are trans women who are not cautionary tales.
“Morgane, the hero, lives the life I want to live,” she muses. “I didn’t think it was going to attainable. The first job I lost because I was trans — I thought that was going to be it.”
She hasn’t always been ready for the spotlight. She remembers feeling nervous at her first Pride.
“I went and hid with PFLAG. I really wanted to go, and I was in early transition and I just injected myself in with them and I was so relieved. I know who these people are, they make me feel safe!”
She stood front and centre, helped carry a banner. It put her at the start of the parade, right behind the marshals. At the time, she was horrified to be so visible. Now, she embraces it.
“The response from people in the crowd was so incredibly positive, with so much cheer. You could see the gratitude and the reverence on people’s faces and that really gave me confidence,” says Oger, who credits her subsequent success as an activist to her experience marching that day with PFLAG.
“People are often telling me that I’m so brave, or that I’m a hero, all of these wonderful things, but a lot of that doesn’t have to do with me. I was able to step on the shoulders of people who came before me,” she says. “They did years of advocacy and they paid in blood or their mental health or their lives — all the thriving they didn’t get to do and they didn’t get the easy ride, that I get by being recognized and elevated.”
(Hannah Ackeral/Daily Xtra)
For Danny Ramadan, being a grand marshal of the Pride parade is both an honour and a responsibility.
“I’m one of two Syrians to ever be a grand marshal of any Pride parade around the world,” he explains. “It allows me to represent the culture that people see in a totally different way.”
This year will mark the third Pride celebration he’s ever attended. He credits his first, in Istanbul in 2011, with awakening the politically-driven activist side of himself.
“It was about the people. There wasn’t people sitting on the side watching,” he says. “Everybody was marching and carrying their flags and walking around and screaming and shouting and demanding their rights.
“It wasn’t about naked dancing boys on floats, you see what I mean?”
Last year, Ramadan experienced a very different Pride parade in Vancouver, where he marched with Qmunity.
“It was a celebration. A celebration of enjoying those rights. It felt like a jump into the future, like I had got in a time machine and I just jumped all the struggles and suddenly I am in the celebration part,” he says.
This year, Ramadan (who also writes a column for Daily Xtra) is being honoured as Vancouver’s local hero marshal.
He works tirelessly to give back support to the LGBT community in Vancouver, from his day job as Qmunity’s volunteer coordinator, to the countless hours he spends reaching out to LGBT refugees internationally. He has so far helped sponsor 11 LGBT Syrian refugees to Canada, two of whom he personally sponsored.
“Allowing someone like me — a new person to Canada, who arrived a year and a half ago, a refugee — allowing me to be visible, at the frontline of the parade, shows that diversity is incredibly important,” he says.
It’s the diversity and complexity of Vancouver’s queer community that Ramadan hopes to see acknowledged and celebrated.
He also sees this as an opportunity to show a different face of Syria — one that captures the complexities and the diversity there, including a subculture of people who are proud to be who they are.
“I hope people see me as not just a token brown person, a token refugee. I hope people see the cause behind the face. I don’t want to march to represent myself, but to represent my cause,” he says.