The LBGTQ (Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender, and Queer) community was regularly in the news in 2016 – with the Orlando mass shooting incident and other similar attacks on members of the community around the world. In Vancouver, one member of the community has been strongly promoting and advocating for LBGTQ rights through various mediums. He is Alex Sangha, popularly known as a social worker and founder of Sher Vancouver – a social, cultural, and support group for LGBTQ South Asians. His contributions to the LBGTQ community and determination to create a dignified space for its members in the world has earned him a new title – that of ‘DARPAN’s Newsmaker of 2016.’
With academic qualifications like MSc in Public Administration and Public Policy from the Department of Government from the London School of Economics, and a Master of Social Work from Dalhousie University, Sangha has worked as an instructor, counsellor, clinician, social worker, case manager, and youth counsellor. He currently works as a team leader for a mental health team with a health authority.
Sangha’s Sher Vancouver provides advocacy, counselling, information, referral, peer support, social activities, volunteer opportunities, and outreach presentations to combat racism, bullying, and other forms of discrimination. “The mandate of Sher is to reduce the alienation, isolation, loneliness, depression, and suicidal ideation of our members. We want to create safe spaces where people can seek support and help to deal with sexuality and gender issues,” said the proud founder in a previous interview.
A well-known individual in BC’s South Asian community, Sangha’s past year was a fruitful one; in a single word he describes it as “Amazing!” Two events top his list of 2016 milestones – being the Grand Marshal of the Vancouver Pride Parade, and the success of Support Sukh Campaign.
At the 38th annual Vancouver Pride Parade held on July 31, Sangha was appointed as the Grand Marshall in the Role Model category. The yearly event, one of the largest in North America, has hundreds of thousands of people come out to show their solidarity. “This is the highest honour of the parade and I was the first Sikh to ever be the Grand Marshal,” Sangha shared, expressing his happiness on seeing South Asians represented in important roles and positions in society.
Reminiscing the day, the social worker believes that everyone has a duty to advocate for equality and fundamental human rights for everyone everywhere. “Our beautiful corner of the world can provide support and strength and a blue print to implement improved laws for LGBTQ people around the globe.”
Talking about the other milestone – the success of Support Sukh Campaign, Sangha narrates how the campaign helped fundraise for a young man disowned by his family: “Sukh is a 21-year-old international student who was disowned by his family for being gay. I turned to the Sher Vancouver and the broader community and we fund raised $11,000 for his tuition and school fees, found Sukh permanent food and shelter, and also a major credit union in Vancouver expressed interest in hiring him.”
While still basking in the glory of a splendid 2016, Sangha has interesting plans for 2017. “I will host the World Premiere of my documentary film My Name Was January at Kwantlen Polytechnic University at the Surrey Campus in Newton,” he reveals.
My Name Was January is a film on January Marie Lapuz, a transgender women of colour who tragically lost her life in 2012. She was an advocate for trans rights and was known as the “bright light” among Vancouver’s LGBTQ community. The documentary film is about uplifting the narratives and lived experiences of trans women of colour and collectively liberating all marginalized and oppressed people.
Before I conclude this inspiring story, I ask Sangha his definition of success. In a few lines, he says, “Success to me means how you have helped people in this world; how have you made a difference to people. Have you created lasting good memories and a legacy with people around you? Have you had an impact on this world in a positive way? Are you a good person of good character who has integrity and can justify his day to day actions before God?”
What was your biggest highlight in 2016, personally and professionally?
Professionally my biggest highlight was to be a Team Leader with a mental health team in Langley for a brief stint. It was a challenging learning experience. My biggest personal accomplishment was to swim and walk regularly and move towards a healthy lifestyle.
What inspires you to do better each day? What is your success mantra?
My mother inspires me. She is so devoted to her Sikh faith and is such a good person. She loves and accepts everyone; she never judges anyone. She feels everyone including gay and lesbian people are God’s children. My success mantra is “Don’t worry, be happy, life is short, get out there and enjoy it while you still can.”
What’s your advice for those who wish to follow your path?
Follow your passion and if you work hard then success will follow. It does not matter what field you choose. You will move towards the top 5 per cent of your field if you are passionate about your work and the job you do.