I’m gay and I’m a person of colour, from a South Asian community. I am a Punjabi Sikh male. I belong to a cultural community where most people do not accept homosexuality. But over the years I’ve found ways to overcome my challenges and focus on my strengths. I was a closeted young man. I was very sad about being gay—was suicidal throughout my teens.
I felt like a sick person for having sexual thoughts about men. I didn’t want to be different and was afraid of being rejected by my family—there’s a lot of pressure in the South Asian community to get married and have children. When I was 13 I secretly found my way to a counsellor, hoping to become straight. His approach was to support me in whatever I decided, and he did walk me through the process of coming out as part of exploring my options.
When I was 18, I had a brief but positive relationship with a man. I knew then that I couldn’t change my sexuality. But I wanted to escape to another country, where very few people knew me, to live a gay life. So in 1991, at 19, I went to live with my grandfather in Gravesend, Kent, England, to attend college. I felt lonely and missed my family in Canada.
Within a few months of arriving in Kent, my emotions started going up and down. I hated myself for being gay. I had “internalized homophobia.” A cousin who lived nearby visited and was shocked by my appearance. I was not taking care of myself. He took me to his house and tried to get me to eat and sleep. I couldn’t eat or drink much, but I did lie down, cover myself with a blanket and fall into a deep sleep on his bed.
All of a sudden I remember feeling a type of strange energy coming from deep within me. Then it felt like it was leaving me. The top part of my body lifted up, the blanket fell off my face and I saw this light right in front of me. It’s hard to describe it, but it was magnificent. Then I got scared, so covered myself again with the blanket. And when I took another peek, the light was gone.
I think the Creator was trying to send me a message in my dream.I didn’t know what to make of the light and struggled until into my 30s to understand what it was. I wasn’t a spiritual person at the time it happened. I’d say I was open to the idea of a Creator but didn’t think about it much. But somehow, through seeing the light, I had a sense of the Creator wanting me to pursue work in the helping professions.
I returned to Canada and decided to study social work. When I was in England, I did go to the hospital for help after seeing the light. There they thought I just needed food and sleep. In this period, my mother asked me if I was gay. I lied and said I was bisexual.
Later, when I was at the University of British Columbia, I volunteered with a student LGBTQ+ organization. I wanted to make gay friends, and I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. We did presentations to the campus community on homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of discrimination. We also organized a fun-filled “coming out” week when LGBTQ+ students could feel good about themselves and come out of the closet if they wished to. I was later elected Co-Chair of this queer campus organization.
I have since completed two master’s degrees. An MSc in Public Administration and Public Policy from the Department of Government at the London School of Economics where I received a partial entrance scholarship and a Master of Social Work from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
In addition, I managed to obtain my clinical social work designation and I have my own counselling practice currently where I help many South Asian LGBTQ+ people in crisis or distress. I also worked as a team leader, clinician, social worker, youth counsellor, and instructor.
I am most proud, however, of being the Founder of Sher Vancouver which is a growing and dynamic non-profit organization for LGBTQ+ South Asians and their friends and families.
Sher Vancouver produced a short documentary film, My Name Was January, about our late social coordinator, January Marie Lapuz, who was tragically murdered in September 2012. The film also touches on other transgender women of colour issues. The film has won 14 awards and garnered 63 official selections at film festivals around the world. It has screened in 11 countries and entered the Canadian Screen Awards for Best Short Documentary in 2020.
As Founder of Sher Vancouver, I received the Meritorious Service Medal from Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada. I almost cried at the ceremony. I could not believe that after such a long struggle coming to terms with my sexuality and being excluded and marginalized for much of my life, I was actually being recognized for my efforts in the LGBTQ+ community at the highest level.
Support of family and friends is very important when you’re a young gay kid trying to come out. Their support can help reduce stress, depression, and suicidal ideation. My mother has always been supportive. My father, who I felt anger at for abandoning me when I was younger, is now in my life. He doesn’t agree with my gay activism. But I’m grateful that my father supports me the best he can.
The other healing thing I have is my light experience. I’m now convinced that seeing the light was a spiritual experience. It took a long time for me to accept that because in North American society we’re not socialized to acknowledge spirituality. The western world is based on science and facts. I believe it was spiritual energy that everyone has within them; that the Creator is within everyone and is everywhere.
All that really matters is what I believe to be honest, and how it has impacted my life. When I think about the light, it feels like the Creator telling me it’s okay to be gay. It brings me peace and makes me feel like I am not alone in this journey of life.
Shahnaz Rahimtula serving as a Notary Public for over 29 years
By: Paarull Communications Ltd.
The road to genuine gender equality is a long and constantly shifting one, owing to women who have made non-contemporary choices in their professions and set an example for the rest of us.
Shahnaz Rahimtula is one such pioneer who has inspired and led the way towards a profession that not many women would have set foot in at the time when she opened her practice. Today, she is one of the oldest South Asian female notaries with over 29 years of experience. There has been a notable change of scenarios now, where women have outnumbered men in this profession. As of today, 55 percent of notaries in British Columbia are women.
With a mission to constantly evolve and stimulate her life experiences to enhance her chosen profession, Shahnaz enabled herself through learning and education. She was commissioned as a Notary Public in 1990 and has practised continuously since then. She has consistently demonstrated strong leadership capabilities and was on the dean’s list at Capilano College where she completed a two-year financial management course and later on, in 1986, graduated as a Certified General Accountant in B.C.
Mrs. Rahimtula completely credits all the wonderful people around her who she meets through her business; they have been the biggest inspiration driving her on the path to success. Being a business professional, keeping up with family commitments and raising a family has been one of her biggest challenges but she has successfully managed both.
Shahnaz Rahimtula chose this profession partly because it gave her an opportunity to help others, which is clear from the many pro-bono or minimal charge cases she takes on for people in need. She has greatly contributed to the community by participating as a member of the Surrey Board of Trade as well as volunteering on the Audit Committee and The Information and Privacy Committee with The Society of Notaries Public of B.C. She has been on the board of PICS where they dealt with the regional concerns of immigrants and made an enormous difference in the Surrey Community with fundraising for battered women, senior homes and other causes to aid the less fortunate. Her work has made a huge difference for women in our community. In addition to all this, she is a Charter Member of the Fraserview Rotary Club. She presently serves as a co-chairperson of the Fraser Valley Chapter of the Notaries.
She strives to maintain a balanced lifestyle through her hobbies which include playing sitar, swimming and energizing through regular meditation and prayer.
Shahnaz wishes to continue to take on leadership-like roles. She strongly believes that with some strong values such as compassion and integrity, one can do wonders in building a successful career and at the same time help those around us.
Surrey Based Novel – Hooped – Michael Bains
Michael Bains is a writer, originally from Surrey, BC. His first novel, Hooped was inspired by his years growing up in the Newton area of Surrey.
Hooped is about a teenage boy – Jimmy, who is the son of immigrant parents and is the captain of his high-school basketball team.
Although quite intelligent, Jimmy doesn’t see the value in a high school education. He soon meets Sunny, who is an established drug dealer in the Surrey neighbourhood and he takes Jimmy under his wing and gives him a street-education.
As a teenager, Michael was exposed to both the good and bad sides of Surrey, and knew there was a story to tell. “I wanted Hooped to come across as being a sincere reflection of what is happening in Surrey,” Michael says.
“People often depict Surrey as being a certain type of place even though they have never lived there. They base their opinion of Surrey on what they’ve heard on the news and most of it is negative.
I wanted to use this novel as a way to go past the surface level and into the deeper issues of what is really going on.”
The novel also explores the difficulties that teenagers navigate while growing up in a world that has become so full of uncertainty and where it has become normal for kids to question the status quo.
“What some people don’t understand is that a lot of teenagers are seduced by the drug dealing lifestyle because they don’t agree with the alternatives,” Michael says.
“None of these teenagers see themselves wanting to work a 9-5 job. And that’s what high school and post secondary educations are designed to lead them into. So why would they buy into it?”
Hooped is being released at a time that is marked with civil unrest that is occurring all around the world. Michael hopes that Hooped can offer perspective on this unique time in our history.
As part of the release for Hooped, Michael is also launching his “Pursue Your Passion Series,” where different people will be highlighted who have followed something that they love doing.
“I don’t want the ‘Pursue Your Passion Series’ to be just about financial success. Because a passion can be anything. You can have a dream of running a half- marathon, or mastering an instrument, or playing a sport, or whatever. I feel like we could all live our lives with more passion.”
Canadian Veteran Trevor Greene inspires $312M Legion Veterans Village Centre of Excellence for PTSD
Greene’s ongoing brain injury and PTSD improvements from Afghanistan axe attack published in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience
Photo: Canadian veteran Trevor Greene on a peace keeping mission in Afghanistan, where he suffered a debilitating head injury from an axe attack. Today, he continues his ongoing recovery from brain injury using innovative brain technologies.
Surrey, British Columbia, Canada – With Remembrance Day fast approaching, Canadian veteran Trevor Greene shares how he continues to disrupt conventional limits in brain injury and PTSD recovery as he rewires his brain using the latest and most advanced brain technologies, fourteen years after suffering a debilitating brain injury from an axe attack while serving in a peace keeping mission in Afghanistan.
In 2015, the B.C. and Yukon Command of the Royal Canadian Legion helped outfit Trevor with a robotic exoskeleton, which helped him continue re-learning to walk. Called Project Iron Soldier, this exciting initiative inspired the development of Legion Veterans Village, a $312M Centre of Excellence for PTSD, mental health and rehabilitation dedicated to veterans and first responders. Legion Veterans Village is currently under construction in Surrey and is slated to be completed in Summer 2022.
A research team led by neuroscientist Dr. Ryan D’Arcy from the Centre for Neurology Studies at HealthTech Connex, and Simon Fraser University (SFU), reports the latest breakthroughs from Project Iron Soldier in a recently published scientific study in the Frontiers of Human Neuroscience journal, tracking Greene’s neuroplasticity as he shows physical, cognitive and PTSD improvements through his neurorehabilitation.
Capt. Greene and the Project Iron Soldier research team have continued with intensive daily rehabilitation, but the team experienced an extended plateau in progress using conventional therapy alone.
To break through the plateau, HealthTech Connex launched an intensive 14-week study using the Portable Neuromodulation Stimulator (or PoNS™) in combination with physical therapy to safely stimulate novel neuroplasticity and tracked brain vital sign improvements using NeuroCatch® Platform (or NeuroCatch®).
The PoNS is a neuromodulation technology that sends a series of small electrical impulses to the brain by stimulating the tongue (known as translingual neurostimulation). NeuroCatch is a rapid objective measure of cognitive brain function.
A number of published clinical studies demonstrate applications for both the PoNS and NeuroCatch for brain injury, with the current case study highlighting the real-world application to push the limits of recovery in physical abilities, cognitive processing, and PTSD symptoms.
“Our team has been leading clinical research to develop and validate advanced brain technologies like the PoNS and NeuroCatch Platform for a few years and have seen incredible results in terms of improved brain health and well-being,” says Dr. Ryan D’Arcy, co-founder of HealthTech Connex, which operates the Centre for Neurology Studies and an SFU professor. “When Trevor experienced a plateau in his rehabilitation, we tried intensive conventional treatment approaches, but to no avail.
It was only after combining stimulation with the PoNS device with his rehabilitation therapy that we could break through these barriers and demonstrate significant clinical improvements.”
Results of the study:
The newly published results demonstrate that PoNS neurostimulation, paired with intensive rehabilitation, may stimulate neuroplasticity to overcome an extended recovery plateau in this case as objectively measured by NeuroCatch and other brain scanning technologies. The main findings were:
- Capt. Greene showed significant gains in clinical outcome measures for physical therapy. It is noteworthy that these improvements occurred more than 14 years after the axe attack. Capt. Greene and his wife Debbie Greene also reported notable and lasting improvements in cognition and PTSD symptoms.
- Capt. Greene showed significant brain vital sign improvements in cognitive function, particularly in auditory sensation (as measured by the N100 response), basic attention (as measured by P300 response), and cognitive processing (as measured by N400 response). The study results are published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
Dr. D’Arcy describes the study results:
“We were fascinated to see that, while the focus was physical therapy, NeuroCatch scans detected cognitive improvements and Trevor and his wife Debbie reported greatly reduced PTSD symptoms.
My favorite line in this published paper was when Debbie closed the study by saying, ‘I got my superman back.’ In our COVID-19 era, when we are all concerned about the recent links to brain health, it is breakthroughs like this that bring continued hope for science and technology advances.”
Says Capt. Greene, “I first saw the power of neuroplasticity in the early days of the first study involving the MRI. I was blown away when Ryan showed me images of my brain with coloured splotches showing where my healthy brain tissue was taking over for the damaged bits.
Later on, I saw the full power of the PoNS device when I got demonstrably stronger, steadier and more coordinated after using it regularly for just a few weeks. It’s really been a game changer for me and my family.”
“Trevor’s amazing progress is no doubt pushing the frontiers of medical science by overcoming perceived limits of brain recovery,” says Dr. Shaun Fickling, the study’s lead author who completed his PhD at Simon Fraser University.
“These brain imaging results provide valuable insight into the importance of unleashing the power of neuroplasticity to inspire countless people impacted by brain and mental health conditions.”
Capt. Greene and Dr. D’Arcy recounted their remarkable progress and showcased their mission to lead scientific breakthroughs in neuroplasticity through a recent TEDx talk.
Dr. D’Arcy concludes, “These neuro-technology breakthroughs have considerable impacts to inspire many of us to push beyond conventional limits in neurological and mental health recovery.
For our veterans and first responders, who remain resilient in the face of frequent exposure to trauma, this research and science underpins the inspiration for our newly developed Legion Veterans Village, to give back through a Centre of Excellence in PTSD, mental health, and rehabilitation.”
For more about the PoNS treatment, visit the Surrey Neuroplasticity Clinic.
About HealthTech Connex Inc. :
Located in the Health and Technology District, HealthTech Connex Inc. (HTC) is a brain technology company focusing on cutting-edge innovations and services for rapid impact on health improvements and outcomes in neurological performance.
With brain vitality as a premier focus, HealthTech Connex provides translational neuroscience innovations to care and community sectors worldwide, bridging the gap between what is capable in the laboratory and what’s available in the real world.
It operates the Surrey Neuroplasticity Clinic (SNPC), a neuro-rehabilitation clinic in Surrey, British Columbia, focusing on comprehensive therapies using advanced, non-invasive brain technologies to help treat people with neurological conditions. www.healthtechconnex.com
Legion Veterans Village (LVV) :
The Legion Veterans Village is a unique $312-million, two-phase, multi-purpose social infrastructure project in the City of Surrey, led by the BC/Yukon Command of the Royal Canadian Legion, together with Whalley Legion Branch 229 and Lark Group.
The project includes a mix of 495 market housing condominiums, 91 affordable housing units, a Centre of Excellence for veterans and first responders focusing on PTSD and mental health, an Innovation Centre for Rehabilitation and a new facility for the Whalley Legion Branch 229.
Once completed (slated for Summer 2022), a key priority will be the integrated delivery of a continuum of programs and services for veterans and first responders, as well as contributing training and research towards new practices, interventions and technologies in mental health, counselling, engineering, robotics and advancements in neuroscience, etc. www.legionveteransvillage.com
Sher Vancouver releases “Queersome Desi Resources.”
Surrey, British Columbia – Sher Vancouver is proud to release “Queersome Desi Resources” which is a specially curated list of Queer South Asian Resources from around the world. The resource was created to celebrate, liberate, and validate our queer South Asian community.
We have created an extensive list including inspiring reads, podcasts, movies, creative projects and have featured around 20 noteworthy Queers in our community. This resource highlights global queer organizations to build an inclusive community by supporting each other. Let us come together and celebrate our South Asian queer community who are living their truths unapologetically. We are so grateful for your representation!
The resource was created by Sher Vancouver Women’s Coordinators Sharon and Anoushka. “I am grateful to help create this resource collection for Sher Vancouver, as it has been my saviour in my own self-healing, and acceptance journey. I quickly dismantled the belief of me being the only queer Punjabi person in the community working on this collection.
Instead, what I found was a plethora of queer South Asian platforms! All it took was determined searching of the Internet. I hope you too find comfort, hope, empowerment, and pride in these resources. Desi queers are here. Desi queers exist. and Desi queers are thriving” states Sharon.”
“Being a part of this project makes me incredibly proud as it presented an opportunity to give back to the Desi queer community. For someone who has relatively recently accepted their own identity and was on a journey to find resources, people to rely on and organizations to be a part of, a list like this would have been a great place to start.
The lack of queer representation growing up made me feel isolated and unsure but through this project I have learnt that acceptance and empowerment is present no matter who you are and where you are from. Among these resources and people, I hope you find what I was able to. Embrace who you are,” states Anoushka.
“I feel Sharon and Anoushka did an exceptional job with curating the Queersome Desi Resources for Sher Vancouver. This project creates awareness and visibility of the global South Asian queer community. South Asian queers are not alone in this world,” states Sher Vancouver Founder Alex Sangha.
Queersome was designed by one of Metro Vancouver’s most talented graphic designers Jag Nagra of https://www.jagnagra.com/
The Queersome Desi Resources is part of a three-part series designed to provide information to the LGBTQ + community. This three-part series project consists of:
1. Legal Resources Kit which consists of three documents:
a. LGBTQ+ Friendly Lawyer Referrals
b. Information Regarding Human Rights
c. Safe Countries for LGBTQ+ Travellers
2. Queersome Desi Resources (South Asian Queer Resources from around the world)
3. Sher’s Pink Directory which will list organizations that fund the LGBTQ + community in Metro Vancouver (coming soon)
The resources are available for free download for everyone on the Sher Vancouver website under RESOURCES at the following link: https://www.shervancouver.com/resources.html
Love at First Sight: A Mother’s Journey to Adoption
Raj Arneja’s new book evokes powerful emotions of becoming a mother
Raj Arneja’s joy to motherhood is her most fulfilling life experience. Her journey is filled with emotions and strife, after traveling thousands of miles from Canada to India which led her to a happiness beyond her own expectations.
Raj, the Director of Corporate Engagement and Philanthropy at Nanak Foods, recently announced the launch of her extremely personal and thought-provoking book, Love at First Sight – A Mother’s Journey to Adoption, which chronicles her journey to adopting her two beautiful children Kabir and Kirti. The book promises to inspire you to never give up hope, no matter what life throws at you.
In her book, Raj describes the challenges she faced in the 1990’s while trying to adopt her now grown up children. The stigma surrounding adoption in the South Asian community gave Raj a reason to pen her story, share her experiences and inspire people to take a chance on life and parenthood.
“Like most people, I have faced many challenges in life. Not being able to conceive was heartbreaking at first and I longed to feel the love and joy of a baby. While I felt the sadness, I was also not ready to give up,” says Raj. “I knew I would love and experience it all through adoption. With a strong will and stronger love for children, I adopted my two kids. Every day since then has been a blessing. It has been the best decision of my life.”
Raj has always believed that giving birth to a child is not the only thing that makes a woman a mother. It is the unconditional love you have for your child that makes you one. Love at First Sight – A Mother’s Journey to Adoption will inspire young mothers and aspiring parents exploring the option to adopt a child.
Raj loves her children more than anyone in the world and she hopes that her book will inspire more people to adopt, or diminish the stigma surrounding adoption. People who have read Raj’s book have found it to be of wise council.
“I hope my chosen path and my struggles can help someone find their way to undying love, just as I have with my children,” she says.
Rajiee M Shinde, CEO, ShowBox Channel of IN10 Media Pvt Ltd. A Dada Saheb Phalke Film Foundation award winner was enamored by her story. Rajiee says, “With powerful words, and wonderfully exhibited emotions, Raj gives you an insight into how her struggles and accomplishments shape her as a mother. Her journey to date is evidence of what a complete and beautiful human being she is – a remarkable example for society!”
Dr. Bal Pawa, Co-Founder Westcoast Women’s Clinic, Author of The Mind-Body Cure and TedX Speaker, found the book ‘compelling’. “This book highlights the power of love: unconditional, expansive, and infinite. Raj’s incredible perseverance and unwavering faith in a higher purpose fuel her maternal instinct to never give up.
Heart-wrenching emotions are illustrated in the trials and tribulations of IVF treatments, cultural expectations, and navigating unknown waters of overseas adoptions. I especially loved her explanation of adoption to her child, “you came from my heart.” This unforgettable reframing of biology should certainly inspire more couples to adopt.”
“A remarkable story of perseverance, love and family. Raj’s life story is an inspiration. Her journey to motherhood reminds us all of the power of intention and manifesting the life we wish to have. This book is a must read for anyone looking for an uplifting and refreshing take on finding purpose and meaning through all of life’s adventures and challenges.” – Bal Brach, CBC Journalist, Documentary Filmmaker, Reporter CBC Vancouver
The book is available on Amazon:
About Raj Arneja
Born into an immigrant family and raised in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada, Raj’s childhood memories are full of colourful stories of supporting family and friends as they settled into their new country and adjusted to new customs and traditions. Raj works hard at building relationships within the community through her work at Nanak Foods.
She directs the company’s philanthropic initiatives, including strategy, programming, and partnership development, and the day-to-day operation of all corporate contributions. Raj also sits on various boards, where she adds value through her skills and experience. She is a well-known entity in the South Asian community in the Vancouver area.
Raj enjoys supporting various charitable, non-profit community organizations, including the Seva Thrift Society, VISAFF, and two girls’ orphanages in Punjab. Raj strongly feels that humanity has no borders and we should reach out and help wherever we are able to, regardless of race, gender or nationality. Raj lives in Surrey, British Columbia, with her husband and 2 children. She is an avid traveler and has travelled to over 60 countries, many times with her children and to some as a volunteer.
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