Anas Qartoumeh, a gay Syrian refugee, will be this year’s Grand Marshal for the Pride March.
“Anas has been on an extraordinary journey to get to here,” said Dustyn Baulkham, past president of Kelowna Pride. “He reminds us of what is still unfortunately happening to LGBT2Q+ people in some parts of the world. At Pride, we march for those who are not able to live as their authentic selves.”
Anas had to hide his identity his whole life. He grew up in the conservative culture of Damascus, where being gay is not only stigmatized by society, but also criminalized. He would often watch Pride parades on TV and dreamed of moving to Canada, where he could be himself. However, when war broke out in Syria, the risks of being gay escalated. Word spread that members of the LGBT2Q+ community were being thrown off buildings by ISIS. Anas finally fled to Lebanon and then Iraq.
“I would love to deliver this message to conservative parents in the middle east and across the world.” said Anas. “Being gay is not a choice. And some of your kids might be afraid to come out to you. Please learn from Canada. Embrace and accept your kids and let them choose you as the first person to come out to.”
After waiting on a refugee application for some time, Anas finally found Rainbow Refugees (a Vancouver-based non-profit organization), who helped him connect with the group that sponsored him, the Central Okanagan Refugee Committee (CORC). On Nov. 23, 2017, Anas arrived in Kelowna to a group of his sponsors waving rainbow flags and welcoming him to Canada. Just over eight months later, Anas feels settled in the community and is enjoying his job as a senior accountant at KPMG.
Anas will share his story at Stuart Park before the Pride March on Saturday, Aug. 18.
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