White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin cuts a rainbow-coloured ribbon at the official unveiling of White Rock’s rainbow crosswalk in the Five Corners neighbourhood. Adding symbols of inclusion like this to Delta’s urban landscape is just the first step in supporting the community’s LGBTQ population, says Sher Vancouver founder Alex Sangha. (Bob Bezubiak/Twitter photo)

Delta to address inclusion and services for LGBTQ community

LGBTQ advocate’s proposed initiatives referred to city’s new liveability committee

City council will further explore how Delta can support the inclusion of its LGBTQ community with the help of its new liveability committee.

At last week’s council meeting on Monday, Feb. 11, Mayor George Harvie referred a letter by Alex Sangha, founder of Sher Vancouver LGBTQ Friends Society, to the city’s new community liveability advisory committee. In his letter, Sangha suggested a number of initiatives the city can undertake to show its inclusiveness for the LGBTQ community and to celebrate diversity in Delta.

Though the committee has yet to be staffed, Harvie tasked it with coming back with recommendations based on the suggestions in Sangha’s letter, which include painting rainbow crosswalks and park benches, flying pride flags from street lights, and creating a strategic plan to support LGBTQ people in Delta.

At the moment, Delta has no services specifically geared for that community, something the city hopes will change by the summer following the liveability committee’s first meetings.

In an interview with the Reporter last month, Sangha said he wants to work together with the city and give them ideas on programs, services and supports he sees as necessary for the LGBTQ community in Delta. As a start and token of good faith, he would like to see rainbow crosswalks on 112th Street and 84th Avenue, which he calls the “heart of North Delta.”

“To me, it’s more than just painting a road. To me it means that the city values inclusiveness, it values diversity,” Sangha said. “This sends a message to the queer population of Delta … that they are also welcome, included and embraced in the city. I think it’s very important when you have a group that’s very vulnerable and very marginalized to feel that way.”

Alex Sangha, left, with friend January Marie Lapuz in an undated photo. Sangha has produced a short documentary film about Lapuz, who was killed in 2012 at her New Westminster home. (Submitted photo)

He wants the city to follow that up with a strategy to include the LGBTQ community in its future operational plans because, he said, oftentimes transgender, gay and lesbian people from Delta have to go to Vancouver to get the services they need. He added the city can work together with other levels of government to create and fund said services.

“There’s really not much programming from any level of government, not just the city,” he said. “Fraser Health could do something, [but also] the federal government can create programs. There’s only so much that grassroots organization like ourselves can do.”

Sangha was inspired to pen letter his letter after reaching out to the city to find funding for the documentary My Name Was January. The film, which is making the rounds of the festival circuit, eulogizes 26-year-old trans woman January Marie Lapuz, who was stabbed to death at her home in New Westminster in September of 2012.

RELATED: Surrey-raised murder victim remembered in new documentary film

SEE ALSO: Free screening of ‘January’ doc movie about Surrey murder victim

After learning that Delta has no programs to financially support the arts, Sangha secured funding from the City of Surrey and the City of New Westminster, among other sponsors.

“How many applications for funding from a queer organization has the City of Delta gotten in the last hundred years of its existence? I would be surprised if it was a handful,” he said, adding that he’s not upset and that it’s simply the current situation in the city.

“We managed to get the money from other places and I am willing to work together with the city to show [the documentary] to the community and find different ways to support the community.”

Ken Kuntz, Delta’s director of parks, recreation and culture, told the Reporter in an emailed statement that the city has “no direct program of grants for arts.” The city does, however, provide spaces for local arts organizations at little cost.

Beyond that, Sangha would like for the Delta school board to collaborate with the city to provide direct funding and support for gay-straight alliances in secondary schools.

“People might say, why should we single out that group and support them and not others?” Sangha went on. “The reason is, queer youth are very much at risk of substance use, of depression, suicide, anxiety, being bullied — basically having a hard time coming out. ”

Sangha, who works as a counselor in North Delta, also wants the city to utilize its seniors services infrastructure to implement programs for LGBTQ seniors.

“A lot of seniors are isolated, they’re lonely and they’re depressed,” he said. “Alienation and isolation is a problem for all seniors, and if you belong to a queer group within that, it’s an intersectional effect.”

Kutrina Mosch, one of the organizers of last summer’s inaugural Delta Pride Picnic, told the Reporter service needs vary from person to person, and though she can’t speak for everyone in Delta, she thinks there is definitely a need for support service for LGBTQ youth.

RELATED: Delta celebrates pride with inaugural picnic

“I’d like to see drop-in counselling [and] a non-judgmental support group where youth can get together,” Mosch said. “I’d like to see some LGBTQ-specific sex ed resources put in because currently in the school system, it’s still heteronormal.”

(from left) Simran Walia, Kutrina Mosch, John Darras and Lydia Elder coordinated last summer inaugural Delta Pride Picnic. (Sandy Drover photo)

She also wants to see more support available locally. Currently, the only support group in the Lower Mainland for her 10-year-old son to attend is in Surrey’s Newton neighbourhood, and at “a not very good time at night.”

“Especially for LGBTQ people, they may not have access to cars or be able to take transit for long periods of time,” she said.

Mosch also pointed to a need for health-care services, specifically for referrals to available physicians, as well as counsellors and endocrinologists.

“I also know that a lot of LGBTQ youth don’t feel comfortable talking to their family doctors — if they have a family doctor because we have such a shortage out here — [about] getting tested for [sexually transmitted diseases] or talking about their sex life and learning how to protect themselves,” Mosch added.

The roster for Delta’s community liveability advisory committee will be finalized in March and is scheduled to meet 12 times throughout the year. It’s too soon to known when it will address Sangha’s recommendations.

— with files from Melissa Shaw and Tom Zillich



sasha.lakic@northdeltareporter.com

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