Hot Takes on Toronto & Vancouver Pride 2023
By Rina Daya, Communications Coordinator | August 2023
Queer South Asian people exist all over the world, and there are varying degrees of organized communities in major cities. Toronto and Vancouver, two of the largest cities in Canada, both have a significant queer community and large South Asian populations. We recently had an opportunity to interview Alyy Patel, founder and executive director of QSAW Network, about their experiences attending Pride events this year, and their personal reflections of the communities in Toronto and Vancouver.
What was something that stood out to you about the Pride festivals this year?
Something I found really interesting was the representation of queer South Asian women among the vendors and organizations on the community street in Toronto. My research has found that this representation is very meaningful, for queer South Asian women to see brown women on posters. That was really great to see with some vendors in Toronto. Vancouver Pride had event volunteers that would announce the name of each group as they passed by during the parade, so the crowd was able to know we were there even if they couldn't see our banner. In both cities, I found that the Dyke March and lesbian scenes- the parties, the actual parade, etc.- were very white-dominated. Toronto was definitely more politically open, and QSAW was able to chant, 'Stop erasing queer South Asians!'. Toronto also had multiple stages featuring South Asian artists, and the fact that most Pride events in Toronto happen in or near the gay village, made it easy to attend multiple events. In Vancouver, events are much more geographically spread out and it is hard to know where to go unless you have a personal connection, and hard to feel a sense of belonging in a community. The set up Vancouver Pride had made it difficult to feel as comfortable attending alone as one would in Toronto, but that's just my personal observation. Were there other South Asian groups you connected with during Pride? In Toronto, we marched with ASAAP, the Alliance for South Asian Aids Prevention. We marched with SHER Vancouver, an organization for queer South Asians and allies. We appreciate these groups for letting us march with them and love the queer brown solidarity it brings. What are some challenges you see queer South Asians facing in each city? Vancouver has a reputation for being a 'no new friends' city. so it can be a bit isolating and lonely if you don't already know someone in the community. People are also geographically spread out, and accessibility is an issue, so it's hard to find a central safe location to get together. We aim to host our in-person events in somewhat discreet locations where brown aunties/uncles are less likely to frequent so people don't have to worry about being seen. In Toronto and Vancouver, it seems like queer brown people are somewhat fragmented into subgroups based on specific ethnicities (ie., Tamil, Punjabi, Gujarati, etc.) and even age, so we have been working to find a way to bring cohesiveness and become a larger, more diverse group. Why is it important for queer South Asians be actively involved in the community? Seeing the sense of belonging and community that QSAW provides for folks, and seeing the beautiful friendships that have emerged, motivates me personally. Queer South Asians have challenges unique to them than the broader LGBTQIA+ community, and these challenges can cause isolation and loneliness. I remember being in that position myself and how damaging it was to my mental health, so I try to make sure that QSAW events are inclusive and that folks feel welcome and safe for every person who walks through our door- virtual and literal. It is always great to see people feel that sense of belonging, and incredible when they try to share it with others so that our community can grow and become more visible and make an impact in Canada.
Photo of QSAW member at PrideTO 2023. Photography by Alyy Patel. This image belongs to QSAW Network. Please credit @QSAWnetwork if circulated.