Lebanese journalist and activist Norma Lize of Vancouver has won the January Marie Lapuz Youth Leadership Award top prize for 2019.
For these fifth annual awards, there were applicants from Metro Vancouver, Ontario, Newfoundland and even as far as India. Twenty-seven-year-old Norma Lize was selected as the top prize winner ($1,000 award) by a diverse eight-member jury.
The January Marie Lapuz Youth Leadership Award was created by Sher Vancouver in 2015 to recognize young leaders who are advocates for the LGBTQ+ community. It is named after Sher Vancouver’s late social coordinator, January Marie Lapuz, a transgender Filipina woman who was tragically murdered in New Westminster, BC, in September 2012.
“January would be so proud that Norma, who also identifies as transgender, is this year’s winner! This is not surprising as Norma was also recognized at the prestigious Paris Prize for LGBTQ+ rights in 2018. We are fortunate to have Norma living in Vancouver now, and continuing her advocacy to benefit the people of Metro Vancouver and British Columbia,” says Alex Sangha, Sher Vancouver Founder and Award Coordinator.
In addition to the top prize, several other nominees were recognized at a ceremony today held at DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society of Surrey, a non-profit organization that came on board as the exclusive sponsor of the award this year.
“We are proud to provide support to Sher Vancouver and its January Marie Lapuz Youth Leadership Award,” says Neelam Sahota, Chief Executive Officer, DIVERSEcity. “As a champion of diversity and inclusion, we at DIVERSEcity work to empower newcomers and other diverse or vulnerable communities, including LGBTQ+ members. We have a program called Together Now, a free peer support group for LGBTQ+ newcomers who face many challenges and cultural stigma. Our hope is to encourage acceptance and belonging for all, regardless of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.”
The full list of winners is as follows:
Norma Lize, Winner ($1,000 prize)
27 years old | Vancouver, BC
Andy Holmes, First Runner Up ($600 prize)
23 years old | Vancouver, BC
Jackson Wai Chung Tse, Second Runner Up ($400 prize)
29 years old | Vancouver, BC
Sonali Patel, Honourable Mention ($200 prize)
23 years old | Oakville, Ontario
Emerging Youth Advocates Prizes
In addition to the top four winners above, this year Sher Vancouver decided to award seven Emerging Youth Advocates $100 prizes to encourage youth who are starting to do great work with their advocacy and contributions to the LGBTQ+ community. The winners are:
Aidan Andrew Pau of Delta, 17
Candy of New Westminster, 23
Gracie Reid of Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, 17
Guildford Park Gender and Sexuality Alliance of Surrey, under 18 years old
Moe Yang of Richmond, 19
Nel Jayson Cruz Santos of Vancouver, 21
Nyx MacKinnon of Surrey, 16
NORMA LIZE, WINNER
Norma Lize is a Lebanese-born journalist and activist living in Vancouver. Before coming to Canada, Norma used radio and TV platforms to raise awareness on LGBTQ+ topics in Lebanon and the Middle East and worked at the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality, where Norma focused on the trans community. “I don’t see my involvement with my community as work that I do every day, as much as I see it a necessity for me to be alive, survive and give a chance to someone around me to feel safe, respected and included. I moved to Vancouver a year ago and I have been involved with organizations working with refugees and with the LGBTQ+ community, with a focus more on trans newcomers.”
ANDY HOLMES, FIRST RUNNER UP
Andy Holmes is queer biracial Canadian with both Chinese and British/Scottish heritage. Currently, a master’s student at the University of Toronto, researching LGBTQ+ issues, Andy intends on starting a Ph.D. next year with the goal of eventually becoming a professor. “Knowing that January Marie Lapuz was not only a transgender woman living in poverty, but also an immigrant of colour, matters in understanding patterned forms of violence, and in turn, her irreplaceable memory. In my research, I study ways to ensure that our world becomes a safer place for those who are most marginalized.” Andy was the youngest person appointed to the City of Vancouver’s LGBTQ2+ Advisory Committee between 2017–2018.
JACKSON WAI CHUNG TSE, SECOND RUNNER UP
Jackson Wai Chung Tse (he/she/they) is a media artist and creative facilitator originally from Hong Kong. He facilitates workshops at institutions across the globe, and, in 2018, Jackson created the award-winning mini-documentary, Paul Wong: Breaking the Silence, to highlight the discrimination felt by generations of queer Chinese migrants in Canada. The same year, Jackson was selected as Western Canada’s MEC Outdoor Nation Ambassador, taking over the co-operative’s social media. He says he “dedicates his life to building relationships, giving voice to the silenced, and reclaiming joy, magic, and self-worth back from colonized ideas.”
SONALI PATEL, HONOURABLE MENTION
Sonali (Alyy) Patel is a graduate student in Ontario, LGBTQ+ rights activist and co-founder of a national non-profit organization, the Queer South Asian Women’s Network. Sonali states she strives to bring visibility to “issues and experiences of queer South Asian women in the LGBTQ+ community through research and advocacy work.” Notably, she organized Halton Region’s first LGBTQ+ Pride Festival in 2015, was invited to speak at Rainbow Health Ontario’s National LGBTQ+ Health Conference, and recently published a peer-reviewed article on the culturally specific ways in which queer South Asian women experience racism in Western LGBTQ+ communities.
My Name Was January entered the Canadian Screen Awards in the Best Short Documentary category in 2020.
My Name Was January was an Official Selection at the following Academy approved film festivals in Canada.
- Emerging Lens Cultural Film Festival, Halifax, Nova Scotia (My Name Was January picked up Best Short Documentary)
- Vancouver International South Asian Film Festival, Surrey, British Columbia
Sher Vancouver is pleased to announce the winners of the January Marie Lapuz Youth Leadership Award for 2018.
The January Marie Lapuz Youth Leadership Award is an annual award bestowed upon a deserving youth who is 16 to 30 years of age and who has demonstrated involvement, commitment, and leadership in the LGBTQ community.
Hunter Levi Hastings
“There were many strong applicants this year and it was difficult to select a winner. I am just amazed by the quality of the applicants and the wonderful work they do in the community. We wish we could have recognized and supported everyone,” states Sher Vancouver Founder Alex Sangha.
A 12 member jury independently ranked the Top 4 applicants. Each judge allocated points from 4 for the winner, then 3, 2, and 1 for honourable mention. The jury consisted of community members such as a university professor, social justice high school instructor, and engineer, as well as board members from Sher Vancouver.
Sher Vancouver acknowledges the generous financial support of Ofir Vaisman of No Fear Counselling for funding the January Marie Lapuz Youth Leadership Award. “We must recognize and support youth in the community who are making a difference for those who are suffering and at-risk. This award provides a platform for emerging human rights leaders to be celebrated for their activism and allow them to continue to break down barriers for those who cannot speak or defend themselves due to the cultural or social stigma of gender or sexuality issues,” says Ofir Vaisman of No Fear Counselling.
Here are the bios of the winners written by the winners themselves:
Shilpa Narayan is a 23-year-old award winning mental health and social justice activist as well as a Gender, Sexuality, Women Studies student at Simon Fraser University. At the age of 12, she was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, facing tremendous adversity and struggling with self-harm and suicidal ideation. However, she then realized that stigma should not get in the way of taking care of our mental health. Instead of calling her depression and anxiety a “struggle”, she began to call it “her journey.” She became an active voice to support others. Shilpa creates workshop locally and globally for students, teachers, parents and social service providers to connect with resources and educate on mental health literacy and the importance of creating safe spaces for those struggling and needing ways to cope with societal challenges. Currently, Shilpa’s work focuses on the intersections between mental health and social justice including supporting marginalized communities. As she continues her work and her journey, she is honoured to present various mental health and social justice workshops, speak at community events, and facilitate conversations around mental health and social justice advocacy worldwide. In April 2018, Shilpa was awarded the Surrey Board of Trade’s Top 25 under 25 award for her mental health and social justice work in the Surrey community. In November 2018, Shilpa was a speaker at WE Day sharing her story with 20,000 youth at Rogers Arena. Shilpa believes that no youth should face their challenges alone, therefore, she dedicates her life to ensuring that youth voices, specifically of those marginalized are heard and honoured.
My name is Mike and I currently lead a volunteer-run non-profit organization called Race Force. Race Force was founded 13 years ago when I was 12 years old and its mission is to support charitable athletic events. Since inception, Race Force has organized, managed, and led thousands of volunteers for over 300 events in Vancouver and beyond. As a result, millions of dollars were raised from the events we supported. Many of the events Race Force supports are grassroots and benefit many communities. In the LGBTQ community, Race Force is the organizing partner of the Vancouver Pride Run since 2015 and has also provided volunteers for the Seattle Walk and Run with Pride. I am an avid volunteer and have also held a few volunteer leadership and ambassador positions for many non-profit organizations. Currently, I am one of the ambassadors for the BMO Vancouver Marathon. My passion is working with people and making the world a better place. I graduated in 2017 from UBC with a Bachelor’s of Electrical Engineering Degree and I currently work at Ronald McDonald House BC/Yukon as the Volunteer Manager.
HUNTER LEVI HASTINGS
I am a 23-year-old aspiring high school teacher whose passion is making an inclusive and bully-free community for future generations. I came out as transgender when I was fourteen and faced many challenges, including being disconnected from my peers and being socially stigmatized for not conforming to gender expectations. It was scary, and sometimes frustrating, to have to be the first transgender student accommodated in many of the schools I’ve attended, especially when my gender identity was seen as a “problem.” My experiences during my transition and the emotional roller-coaster I was subjected to ignited a fire inside me to pursue a socially just and supportive community for future youth, so that they may never have to experience being bullied for who they are or be forced to hide their true selves away to fit an image society expects of them. This led me to volunteering in my college’s Pride Community, spending time helping to not only provide a safe space for LGBTQ+ students but serve as a resource of education on various LGBTQ+ topics, a peer-support network, an advocate for LGBTQ+ services on-campus, and planning and leading Pride events for LGBTQ+ students to explore their sense of identity without feeling ashamed or afraid of being bullied. My focus is to bring attention to the non-binary and overlooked gender identities, such as ‘they/them’ pronouns and gender-neutral facilities. My ideology is that difference is a strength, and with understanding comes change. I am thankful to have been awarded the January Marie Lapuz Youth Leadership Award and I am excited to help shape a brighter and more inclusive future.
Hanna Jacobsen is a 2nd-year student at the University of Victoria, where she studies Sociology and Social Justice Studies. She has been involved in LGBTQ/2S+ activism since she joined her high school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance at fifteen, within which she has fundraised for the Catherine White Holman Wellness Centre and co-emceed a school assembly on anti-homophobia and transphobia. Since then, Hanna has also facilitated workshops for QMUNITY’s PrideSpeaks Program, helped plan a Day of Pink event for youth, organized and presented historical diversity bus tours of Vancouver with PeerNetBC, written on social, economic, and environmental justice issues for Check Your Head’s youth blog, and more. Last summer, she worked as the Pride and Outreach Co-ordinator at QMUNITY—you may have spotted her tabling at one of Vancouver’s many summer Pride festivities. While Hanna grew up in Vancouver, she now lives in Victoria and remains involved in the LGBTQ/2S+ and activist communities there. She hopes to use her education to create a more equitable world and is constantly learning from her peers how to do so. Hanna is honoured to be a recipient of the 2018 January Marie Lapuz Youth Leadership Award.
My Name Was January has garnered 13 award winners, 13 finalists, 6 semi-finalists, and 56 official selections to date.
- Award of Recognition – LGBT, Best Shorts Competition, La Jolla, California
- Best Documentary Short Film, Aphrodite Film Awards, New York City
- Best LGBTQ Film, Los Angeles Film Awards, Los Angeles
- Best Documentary – Gold Award, LA Shorts Awards, Los Angeles
- Best Picture – Short Film – Gold Award, Los Angeles Motion Picture Festival, Malibu, California
- Best Poster Art – Silver Award, Los Angeles Motion Picture Festival, Malibu, California
- Best LGBTQ Short, Global Film Festival Awards, Los Angeles
- Best GLBT Short, Directors Circle Festival of Shorts, Erie, Pennsylvania
- Award of Exceptional Merit – LGBT Category, Depth of Field International Film Festival, Nassau, Delaware, USA
- Documentary Short Competition, 2019 Royal Reel Winner, Canada International Film Festival, Vancouver, B.C.
- Best Short Documentary, Emerging Lens Cultural Film Festival, Halifax, Nova Scotia
- Best Foreign Short, Hollywood Blvd Film Festival, Hollywood, California
- Best LGBTQ Short, Platonic Film Competition, Chandigarh, India
- Finalist (Gold) in the Canadian Shorts Category, Canada Shorts – Canadian and International Short Film Fest, Saint John, New Brunswick
- Finalist, Women’s Short, Model N Movie International Short Film Festival, Shibpur, Near Kolkata, Howrah, West Bengal, India
- Best Featurette, Southern States Indie FanFilmFest, Biloxi, Mississippi, USA
- Best Film Poster, The Norwegian International Seagull Short Film Festival, Sveio, Hordaland, Norway
- LGBTQ Award, North Europe International Film Festival, London, UK
- Best Director of a Short Documentary, North Europe International Film Festival, London, UK
- LGBTQ Award, South Europe International Film Festival, Valencia, Spain
- Best Director of a Short Documentary, South Europe International Film Festival, Valencia Spain
- Finalist, San Francisco Sex Worker Film and Arts Festival, San Francisco, California
- All My Relations Inclusion in Film Award, Central States Indie FanFilmFest, Rock Island, Illinois
- Best Documentary, European International Film Festival, St. Petersburg, Russia
- Best International Short Film, The Norwegian International Seagull Short Film Festival, Sveio, Hordaland, Norway
- Best LGBT Short Film, Asian Cinematography Awards, Manila, Philippines
- Best North American Documentary, Alternative Film Festival, Toronto
- Best Foreign Short, Hollywood Moving Pictures Film Festival, Los Angeles
- Best Woman Filmmaker, Hollywood Moving Pictures Film Festival, Los Angeles
- Best Short Documentary, Central States Indie FanFilmFest, Rock Island, Illinois
- Best Short Film (Narrative), Toronto Beaches Film Festival, Toronto, Ontario
- Best Long Shorts, Edmonton Short Film Festival, Edmonton, Alberta
“My Name Was January is a poignant, gentle exploration of the joy January brought to her friends and community. A gentleness that is all the starker given the violence of her death. This is a nuanced detailing of the life of a trans woman of colour and the journeys of grief for those she left behind. A compelling memoir of a life taken too soon.”
Jen Marchbank, Professor, Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, Simon Fraser University
“My Name Was January is a moving, authentic tribute to January Marie Lapuz, a transgender Filipino woman who was brutally murdered in British Columbia, Canada. The focus of the film is not the crime but the much-loved human being that January was. This is a valuable addition to the small but growing number of publicized stories about visible minority LGBTQ+, a community that’s often marginalized and neglected on many counts. Surrey Libraries is proud to continue its support of Sher Vancouver’s LGBTQ+ initiatives, including a public screening of My Name Was January at our location.”
Surinder Bhogal, Chief Librarian, Surrey Libraries
“When I watched ‘My Name Was January’, I could tell that the film was made from a community of love, who deeply cares about not only the memory of January but for the betterment of the community to be more inclusive of trans folks. The film shares the beauty of community support and love, and gives a home for a better future for LGBTQ folks living in the margins.”
David Ng, Co-Founder, Love Intersections
“I was so moved by the interviews – I found myself tearing up and then smiling and then tearing up again – at different points, all throughout the film. And I feel lucky and privileged to – through the film – have gotten to know January just a little bit.”
Christopher Cook, Registered Clinical Counsellor, Vancouver, B.C.
“My Name Was January is an emotional journey that takes us to the very core of who January was, a joie de vivre that brought happiness to all. As a critical social justice educator, at the school where January once attended, LA Matheson Secondary in Surrey, it will be an honour to use this film in my Social Justice classes to explore humanity and the beauty of all LGBTQ folk.”
Annie Ohana, Indigenous Department Head, Social Justice Curriculum Specialist, LA Matheson Secondary, Surrey, B.C.
“My Name Was January is a touching testament that honours the life of an incredible individual – January Marie Lapuz. The filmmakers have provided a platform to keep January’s legacy alive. Further, the film highlights the strength and resilience of community and family as they grapple with an unspeakable tragedy. This film is an important achievement and a must-see for students and scholars of gender studies, but also for all Canadians!”
Lisa Smith, Department of Sociology, Douglas College, New Westminster, B.C.
“The vision of the Snakebite Film Festival is “uncovering cultures, connecting communities.” My Name Was January captures the essence of the festival where it highlights the intersections between mainstream heteronormative culture and marginalized sub-cultures. The common theme is that they all have families and friends who equally love and care for one another. This film captures the emotion of love in all of its beauty and the grief that comes with the loss of a child and friend”
Carl Meadows, Snakebite Film Festival, Penticton, B.C.
The BC Premiere of My Name Was January will be held at the Snakebite Film Festival in Penticton on January 31, 2019, on “opening night.”
Photo of Prachi Khanna – 2017 Winner
“Congratulations to all the winners . . . may the legacy of January Marie Lapuz shine on all the applicants” stated Sher Vancouver President and January’s best friend Ash Brar.
“The strength and quality and diversity of all the applicants was very impressive and it was very difficult for the selection committee to decide on an overall winner” stated Sher Vancouver Founder Alex Sangha.
18 years old from Surrey, B.C.
$500 cash prize donated by Sher Vancouver
After initiating the formation of my school’s Queer Straight Alliance in September 2016, I served as the driving force— and advocate— facilitating consultations in my school’s community—with students, staff, parents, and administration, to reach an agreement for the school’s first “All-student washroom”. Having witnessed first-hand, the struggles of LGBTQI++ students, who felt incommoded and unwelcomed by the system they found themselves in, I, as an ally, felt a strong need to publicly acknowledge and address the fundamental issues at hand, to provide real solutions. Fueled by my determination and persistence, I set a strong foundation to assure that the school was inclusive and welcoming for all students. Through my work, I became strongly aware of my passion to drive change for making classrooms inclusive spaces to all students. This was bolstered by my involvement in the making of SOGI 123 videos for educators across our province. Although, I have graduated from high school, I know I have just begun to advocate for the LGBTQI++ community. Currently, I do so in my work with the President’s Diversity and Equity Council at my university and local organizations like QMUNITY. I will continue to advocate for better practices geared toward inclusion, and awareness of SOGI issues in our society. Ultimately, I intend to address issues regarding the inclusion of LGBTQI++ people in scientific research, especially in the biomedical sciences.
Some details from the Personal Statement of Prachi Khanna
Seaquam Queer Straight Alliance
- Initiated the formation of the QSA and established it in the school community: designed and prepared promotional materials (posters, buttons etc.), made PA announcements
- Facilitating weekly meetings (and sometimes multiple meetings a week)
- Facilitating consultations for the school’s first gender-neutral washroom while serving as a communication link between administration and students to reach an agreement
- Speaking at staff meetings and Parent Advisory Council meetings regarding concerns of LGQBTI++ students, especially the gender-neutral washroom
- Organising events that took place at the school (like assemblies, lunch trivia etc.) throughout the School District’s first Pride Week
- Organizing SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) awareness campaigns
- SOGI 123: Interviewed for videos for BC’s educators in which I discussed the work I did with the QSA and also spoke about the change that needs to take place to create inclusive classrooms in our province.
President’s Diversity and Equity Council (PDEC) at Kwantlen Polytechnic University
- Contributing in my capacity as a student in discussions about university matters (for e.g.: best practices for inclusion in classrooms, accessibility of campus facilities, student surveys)
- Advisory Committee for Vancouver Food Summit 2017
- Advising on forum structure and format to make the event accessible and inclusive to high school and post-secondary students
- Advising on effective youth-engagement practices which were integrated to engage local youth in the conversation about Food Systems in the lower mainland
- Volunteering at the annual QMUNITY Pride Parade fundraising brunch
- Attending Queer Competency and Inclusion workshops
- Attending Anti-oppression training, facilitation and youth-engagement workshops
27 year old from Surrey, B.C.
(Gay activist recently moved from Albania)
$250 cash prize donated by Sher Vancouver
I have started my activism in 2010 in Albania. I started with some graffiti’s in the streets of Tirana saying “I am a boy, I love a boy” and “I am a girl, I love a girl”. I took pictures during the action and shared that with the local media. In 2012 I have been one of the organizers of the first Gay Pride in Albania. During the Pride, we were attacked with homemade tube bombs. That didn’t stop us from holding the Pride every year after that. From 2014 to 2016 I have been an organizer and trainer about LGBT issues in all the Police Stations in Albania and trained the elite group the “Special Forces Shqiponja.” In 2017 I trained the students of the Police Academy. In 2014 I was an Assistant Producer of the first documentary made for the LGBT movement in Albania. In 2014 I was one of the founders of the first Residential Shelter for the LGBT community in Albania. In 2016 I started working for the first online helpline for LGBT people that was launched in December 2017.
18 years old from Burnaby, B.C.
$250 cash prize donated by Sher Vancouver
Serene is a student and a youth educator who commits herself to anti-oppression work on Coast Salish Territories through involvement, education, and organization. She is the youngest youth educator with Out in Schools, a student organizer with the Douglas College Student Union, a board member of the Burnaby SOGI committee, President of her high school’s GSA, Student Trustee in 2016, and she organized charity events that fundraised over $5000 for Queer Youth in Burnaby.
25 years old from North Vancouver, B.C.
$250 cash prize donated by Sher Vancouver
I am a 25-year-old, openly gay, proudly feminist, law student, currently studying at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. I serve as the President of the school’s LGBTQ advocacy group, sit on the equity committee, and as an executive on the Women & Law Society. Most recently, I was part of a coalition that intervened at the Supreme Court of Canada for the Trinity Western case – a case that continues the fight for LGBTQ rights. I completed my Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy at the University of Toronto. I also completed a summer program at the University of Chicago in Academic & Professional Writing and Ethics. I received the Gordon Cressy Leadership Award and was voted as the member of the graduating class who contributed the most to the school and was considered to best represent the Class at Convocation during my undergrad.
Ran Ya Chib
27 years old from Surrey, B.C.
$250 cash prize donated by Sher Vancouver
Ran Ya Chib was born and raised in Vancouver, B.C. He is first generation Cambodian Canadian. He is a student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and taking up a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. As a business student, he has trained to perform highly in different fields such as communications, accounting, operations management, and business entrepreneurship. His dedication is what sets him apart from anybody else. With a passion for people, he understands the importance of building strong relationships with his peers and the community, based on honesty, integrity, and mutual respect. Ranya is passionate about his community involvement and has volunteered at various organizations, such as Health Initiative for Men and the Kids Help Phone. In May of 2017, He completed Totally Outright a leadership workshop for young gay, bisexual, trans, and queer guys interested in being healthy, sex-savvy change makers. He is a well-rounded individual who lives with passion, dedication, and grace.
Sukhdeep Singh is the founder and editor-in-chief of Gaylaxy Magazine, India’s No. 1 LGBTQ+ Magazine.
He is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology (Indian School of Mines) (IIT-ISM) Dhanbad, India.
Sukhdeep started the magazine in the final semester of his Bachelor of Technology Programme in 2010 to provide a platform to the LGBTQ+ community to express themselves and highlight their stories and issues.
He works in a multinational corporation as a software professional and today the magazine consists of a team of 10 people, with over 150 contributors and 1500 posts, with an exclusive section in Hindi that remains the only one of its kind online LGBTQ+ resource in Hindi.
His writings have appeared in Huffington Post India, Trikone Magazine (USA), Varta, and Germany based travel portal Ebab.
His articles on Sikhism and homosexuality have challenged the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and Akal Takht’s stand that Sikhism is against homosexuality and forbids it.
Sukhdeep received a $500 cash prize in Canadian funds from Sher Vancouver founder, Alex Sangha.
Sukhdeep was selected to receive the award in 2016 “because of the significant influence and impact he is having on advancing LGBTQ+ rights in India and South Asia and abroad, not to mention his innovative use of technology on various platforms to create more awareness of LGBTQ+ issues. The selection committee was also very much aware of the fact that it takes considerable courage to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights in India where homosexuality is still very much a taboo in society.”
Personal Statement of Sukhdeep Singh
- I launched Gaylaxy (www.gaylaxymag.com) as an online magazine at the age of 21 in Jan 2010, while still studying my Engineering. India back then lacked a magazine that catered to the needs and demands of the LGBTQ+ community. The first issue itself had over 1000 readers. In these 7 years, Gaylaxy has grown as a platform that connects the LGBTQ+ community and provides them information as well as entertainment. Gaylaxy as a medium has published many personal, powerful and heart touching stories of LGBTQ+ individuals, including coming out stories, stories of gay men trapped in straight marriages. Gaylaxy is also an important LGBTQ+ news source, extensively covering and documenting not just pride marches happening in various cities and towns across India, but also any news of violence faced by LGBTQ+ individuals as well as Govt. policies that benefit/affect the community. It has also provided a platform to many budding writers and poets, whose short stories and poems have been published. Gaylaxy is also emerging as a strong LGBTQ+ voice in South Asia, with a number of Pakistani LGBTQ+ activists and writers joining the magazine and writing about the happenings in their country as well.
- With the aim to reach out to more people, a Hindi edition of Gaylaxy was started in 2014, with Sachin Jain as its editor. A majority of Indians do not speak English. 41.1% of Indians, or more than a million Indian, speak/understand Hindi. However, most of the resources or websites related to LGBTQ+ are in English, meaning that a vast majority of Indians do not have access to LGBTQ+ literature/information. Gaylaxy Hindi was launched with the aim to fill this void and in these 3 years, has published many articles in Hindi and acts as a resource guide for many Hindi speaking Indians.
- Gaylaxy has also been conducting on-ground events and engaging with college students to bring in more awareness about LGBTQ+ issues among the youth, as well as conduct events to provide a social space to the community. We held a workshop in Presidency University, Kolkata on Gender, Sexuality, and Power; LGBTQ+ movies were screened too at the same university and was followed by panel discussion. I was the speaker at a march organised by IIT Delhi and other Delhi University students in October 2016, where I spoke on Coming Out. We also went to IIT Delhi during their cultural fest Rendezevous and interacted with students from different colleges who had come there and raised awareness on LGBTQ+ issues through situational games etc. Apart from that, Gaylaxy organized an Open Mic session in Oct 2016 on Coming Out where issues related to coming out were discussed. A Queer Carnival was held in November 2016 which provided a platform for various LGBTQ+ people to showcase their talent.
- With mobile penetration increasing in India, a Gaylaxy app was also launched on android platform in 2014 so that all the information could be easily accessed by people.
Sher Vancouver is pleased to announce that Jaspreet Chahal is the winner of the January Marie Lapuz Youth Leadership Award for 2016. This award recognizes a youth between 16 and 30 years of age who has demonstrated leadership, commitment, and volunteer work within the LGBTQ community whether locally, nationally, or internationally.
Jaspreet receives a Certificate and a $250.00 cash prize which was graciously donated by New West Pride. January, as many people know, lived in New Westminster and a grassroots “Justice for January” march took place in New Westminster shortly after her death.
Below is a brief listing of some of Jaspreet’s volunteer work in the LGBTQ and the broader community, as well as his coming out story:
- Volunteered at the Pride Dance Party in the year 2010 through Vancouver Pride Society.
- Lounge Care Volunteer at Simon Fraser University specifically Out on Campus from September 2014 to August 2015 which is a place where queer people can socialize and hang out.
- Volunteered at events held by Out on Campus such as Transgender Remembrance Day, Clubs Days, Queer Awareness Week, Weekly Socials, and Student Orientations.
- Guest Speaker to a Sociology class to talk about all forms of Diversity at Douglas College.
- Member of Sher Vancouver.
- Participated in the Sher Vancouver Pride of Bollywood Float in 2013 to promote diversity and inclusion especially in the South Asian community.
- Featured in the Sher Vancouver Out and Proud Project.
- Volunteer at Out on Campus at Simon Fraser University.
- Volunteer at the Sikh Temple to give out food and drink to people.
- Personally met and was a known friend of January Marie Lapuz.
Jaspreet’s comment’s upon receiving the award was “I am so honoured and thrilled to receive this award and to carry on January’s legacy. Thank you to January and to Sher Vancouver and to New West Pride.”
COMING OUT STORY
What was it like growing up?
I was born and raised in Manila, Philippines to a Sikh family. Growing up, I often asked myself What is love? What is sex? What is abuse? I did not fit in into a societal norm that media tries to convey. I always knew I was gay, but I had to suppress it because it is not accepted in the hetero-mainstream society. Overcoming bullying as a child, sexually abused by a family member, introduced to sex in my childhood years, and confusion on the concept of religion, at home (Sikhism) and at school (Catholic) was also part of my growing up. I had to define religion myself along the way in that everybody is treated with respect and equality,
How did you come out? What does that mean to you?
I came out to my parents who were visiting me in Canada at that time and my parents tried to push the marriage thing on me in order to get permanent residence as fast and efficient as possible. After I came out, statements from my parent’s were like “This is abnormal, you need a psychiatrist,” ” why are you choosing this path?”, “That’s a sin in the eyes of Guru Nanak,” “Medicine will cure you,” Until today, I’m 24. They are still silent on this topic and don’t want to discuss it. That’s fine with me, I have to live my life without regrets. Coming out to me means freedom from the lies of media, coming out means to be proud as a person and create my own path by loving myself and fully understand the depth of life and my existence in this world.
What has been your inspiration in life?
My inspiration in life is the pain, struggle, and growth that I endured in my life. I am a spiritual person and always connected to God and the universe whether its sadness or happiness. I am inspired by myself and the experiences of other queer South Asians. The fight for existence, the fight for immigrant status in Canada, fight for being queer South Asian, and fight for independence is very inspiring for me and for others. Our life is not limited to one thought or one view what media tells us to believe. We just expect that we have to accept and love ourselves in order to attain full happiness and be able to love and appreciate others.
What have been some of your greatest achievements?
The greatest achievement is to love me and to love God, the universe, and higher power. To achieve permanent resident status in Canada despite being taken advantage of in the workplace. The perseverance and patience that I have achieved through conflicts and struggles in life. The love and support that I achieved from friends and acquaintances.
What is your message to the world?
I would like to share to the world that always do what you love most and appreciate your life as a wonderful journey. There will be obstacles, but we just have to deal with it along the way and challenge ourselves so that we can strive and succeed in this world.
Everyone should identify what they are good at, not just blindly following others. Be unique and awesome and try to make a difference in the world. Hard work will pay off in the end.
You’ve got one life and mind as well … make the most of it and bring Change and Empowerment to the world.
Jaspreet Singh Chahal is a gay activist and Sikh immigrant based in Surrey, B.C. He is proud to officially become a permanent resident after seven and a half years of living in Canada. Jaspreet is currently employed as a sales representative. Jaspreet will be moving to New Zealand shortly to spend some time with his family.