Dozens of members of Surrey, B.C.'s LBGTQ community lifted their voices Saturday night at a unique social event that aims to help improve social support and social inclusion in the city.
Viplav Bheskar was just one of several attendees at the open mic event at Surrey Central where people sang and danced as a way to connect with other LGBTQ people in the city.
"I'm able to be around South Asians, but also be able to be queer and to be happy about that," he said.
The event was organized by Sher Vancouver, a registered charity for queer South Asians and their friends, families and allies in the Lower Mainland.
Its goal is to reduce the alienation and discrimination of people dealing with issues regarding their sexuality or gender, as well as those having trouble coming out to their loved ones.
Alex Sangha, the founder of Sher Vancouver, said there needs to be more places in Surrey where people can feel comfortable in their sexuality, be supported and be able to share their experiences with others.
Sangha said coming out in the city can be difficult, especially for those of South Asian heritage.
"If you have a gay child or a queer child … there's a lot of pressure on that child to live a traditional heteronormative life. There's a lot of pressure to get married, to have children, to not shame your family."
Sangha said he struggled with his sexuality, especially fearing how his family would react to telling them he was gay.
"Even to this day, my dad says, 'you know, I love you as a son, but I don't approve of your lifestyle,'" he said. "I'm rebuilding my relationship with my father. But you know, a lot of people in the community feel that way. There's a lot of homophobia."
Sangha hopes monthly events, like the one on Saturday, will allow more people to feel comfortable and accepted for who they are.
"It's mostly peer support, so people don't feel alienated and they can make some friends, especially in the suburbs," said Sangha. "There's not a lot of safe spaces for queer people in Surrey and Delta and south of the Fraser River, and we're a growing city."
In January, Sher Vancouver will launch a peer support group for South Asian LGBTQ people, aged 19 to 30, in Surrey called "Pyar is Pyar", which means "Love is Love" in Hindi.
The first meeting for the group will be on Jan. 8 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. More details can be found on the Sher Vancouver website.