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Meet the Gay Syrian Refugee Who’s Leading Vancouver’s Pride Parade

July 25, 2016

VICE |  Danny Ramadan knows that a lot can change in a year.

Back in 2011 he was living in Damascus, working to support other queer Syrians, sometimes housing them in his own apartment. “Of course that was all underground and secretive,” Ramadan told VICE. (Being gay is illegal in Syria, and Danny would face at least three years in prison if he was ever prosecuted in his home country). “I ended up being arrested, and I had to leave the country to avoid remaining in prison.”

A year later he found himself in Beirut—out of the hands of Syrian authorities and removed from the country’s escalating civil war, but facing a different set of struggles as a suddenly-displaced refugee. “I didn’t know I was going to leave Syria; I wasn’t planning on leaving Syria,” he said. “Nobody plans on becoming a refugee, ever.”

And then there was the leap between 2013 and 2014—a move to Canada, and a new life in Vancouver’s gay village. “I arrived here and it was completely different than what I expected—100 percent different,” he told VICE.

As a teenager, Ramadan had waved a rainbow flag in the streets of Syria and later Turkey, where he says Pride events were more like riots than parades. “Pride Istanbul was about demanding rights, was about folks coming down to the streets and protesting while police threw tear gas and water cannons at us,” Ramadan told VICE. “It was challenging and difficult… I chanted slogans in languages I don’t even speak… I kissed tons of boys in the Pride over there.”

In contrast, Vancouver’s week-long party was a new kind of trip. “Gay marriage has been around for ten or 11 years, rights for LGBTQ2 folks are more acknowledged by the public here, and it’s beautiful to see how folks are coming out and celebrating their life,” he said. “To me it felt like a jump 20 years into the future.”

Next week will be Ramadan’s second time joining Vancouver’s Pride celebrations, and a lot has changed, even since his first time around the parade route. For one thing, Ramadan says this year he’ll be sitting up front with Justin Trudeau in a fancy car, waving like a queen. But this year also marks the first time queer Muslim and South Asian groups are pulling out of the parade to protest police presence and the exclusion of people of colour from the Pride community—issues Ramadan cares deeply about.

In an open letter posted earlier this month, Black Lives Matter Vancouver asked that police not participate in the parade this year, echoing the demands of the group’s Toronto chapter earlier this month. When they didn’t get a response, the group said they would not be marching in the parade on Sunday. The queer Muslim group Salaam and the queer South Asian group Trikone are joining BLMV an alternative march the following day, dubbed the Two-Spirit Queers, Trans, Intersexed and Bisexual People of Colour Pride March.

Though Ramadan will be part of the main event, he understands why racialized queer people would feel the need to protest and create their own space. “I think it’s really important to bring politics back to Pride,” Ramadan told VICE. “There’s a lot of issues still faced by people of colour, by black folks, by queer black folks, by trans folks, who we should support right now.”

Ramadan is getting the “local hero” treatment as a parade grand marshall for his volunteer work helping sponsoring queer refugees in Canada. Just last weekend he hosted a fundraiser for a Syrian lesbian couple—the latest of more than a dozen people he’s helped relocate to Vancouver and other parts of the country.

Ramadan tells me he’s personally heard all kinds of weird assumptions about his identity and home country within Vancouver’s gay scene, which he sees as another hurdle for the new immigrants and refugees he works with. “I faced struggles when I came to Canada finding a job, finding my place here, finding a circle of friends I feel close to, overcoming post-traumatic stress disorder. All of those struggles I faced so many times on my own, and some other times with friends who were there to support me,” Ramadan told VICE. “It’s really important for me to make this experience much easier for the folks who come after me.”

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