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Spotlight on Reshad Ali: An Expert DEI Professional Who's Creating Safe Spaces for Queer Indo-Caribbean Voices in a Major Way

Written by Rebecca Dass

Sunday February 5, 2023


"Growing up as a queer person, it was very hard connecting with people who looked like me or who had similar experiences as me - someone who is Indo-Caribbean, Canadian, and part of the LGBTQ2S+ community"

For Reshad Ali (He/Him), 39, advocating for LGBTQ2S+ Indo-Caribbean Canadian voices is an integral part of his work. 

Born and raised in Toronto, Reshad currently works as the Senior Manager of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and Strategic Advisor at Hudson’s Bay. Before joining Hudson’s Bay, Reshad spent ten years in the legal industry in Human Resources and DE&I. He previously completed a BComm in Human Resources Strategy & Technology, and recently graduated from a McKinsey & Company Management Accelerator certificate program. He was also recognized by Start Proud in 2019, as an Emerging Leader for his work in LGBTQ2S+ inclusion in the legal industry. 


Reshad first began his journey with the Indo-Caribbean Canadian Association (ICCA) in 2021.  Here, Reshad talked about LGBTQ2S+ Indo-Caribbean identities and experiences as part of ICCA’s very first pride program, which was picked up by Pride Toronto as a community affiliate. 


“It was always an important conversation that ICCA and Ryan [Singh] kind of wanted to have, particularly for this space,” he says. “We knew these intersectional perspectives had to be told. There was a lot of visibility for Black Caribbean folk and the broader Indian diaspora, but never any real conversations around what LGBTQ2S+ Indo-Caribbean experiences were.” 

Ryan brought Reshad on to Co-Chair EPIC, an organization within ICCA dedicated to LGBTQ2S+ Indo-Caribbean Canadian people. Apart from leading EPIC, Reshad also helps with broader ICCA initiatives such as inclusive best practices for communication, social engagement, and governance. He was also proud to be a part of the Star Bhai program last year, leading a section on LGBTQ2S+ identities in the Indo-Caribbean community space.


ICCA launched EPIC in 2022 on the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia. Although they’re only a year into community building and allyship, the work they do month to month consists of creating awareness, developing learning resources, and pushing forward as a family. 


EPIC held two in-person events in 2022, which Reshad explains was very impactful for him on a personal level. “We did the Pride Social in the summertime. It was nice to see so many others from the same shared lived experience and background in one room. You had this immediate feeling of belonging [and] celebrating Pride over Indo-Caribbean food and music. It was a first for me, it was a first for many.” In conversations, attendees talked about how challenging it was for them growing up in Canada to find community, and the discrimination, isolation and sometimes racism felt in previous Pride celebrations. “We’re now starting to build [this space] here in Toronto and across Canada so we [can] reach out to future generations so that those experiences aren’t the same.” 


Speaking on the holiday social at the end of the year, “Sometimes, being queer and Indo-Caribbean is very challenging during the holidays,” he says. “In some instances queer people are removed from their families or placed in uncomfortable, or harmful situations. They can be shunned for being who they are, or like me growing up, suppress their true self to fit into this narrative of who we need to be.” The event featured drag performer Sanjina, who is of Indo-Fijian descent. “There was something really beautiful and communal about that afternoon. You felt safe, the food was Indo-Caribbean influenced, and we had [DJ Reyaz] playing all the tunes! More importantly, you left feeling loved and part of something larger.” 


Apart from the in-person events, Reshad is also proud of the ongoing conversations that ICCA has had throughout the year. “Whether it was profiling  LGBTQ2S+ Indo-Caribbean leaders, talking about the history of LGBTQ2S+ policy and governance in the Caribbean and South America, or hosting some of the webinars where we were able to take an intersectional approach to Indo-Caribbean Canadian queerness,” he says. “It was the first time we had a full calendar of events and it was just nice to see it continue to grow and evolve.”

Reshad was inspired to create a safe space after realizing many people didn’t have a broader community to connect to in Canada. “Part of it was carving out a space for those individuals who still felt lost, marginalized, [or] who didn’t really have a sense of belonging or connection to a [greater] community,” he says. 


He also stresses the importance of creating resources in the community to assist those who are looking to understand the LGBTQ2S+ experience. “Resources are a fantastic tool and a quick takeaway for anybody who's just wanting to learn more, whether it’s a parent or a guardian, or somebody questioning. Even reflecting on myself and my coming out journey, my parents didn’t have that. I think it will be very impactful to have a toolkit and a resource for Indo-Caribbean parents created by the Queer Indo-Caribbean community.”

“Coming out for me was a real struggle, it created this deep divide between myself and my parents for a very long time. Even right now as an adult, there’s still many family members who have chosen not to associate themselves with me, or relationships that are strained just because of who I am,” he says. “It’s so difficult. Not only do I work professionally in this space, it’s who I am. Over the years, I’ve developed thick skin to kind of cope with this. Things are much better now, but there are times where I still can’t be me. This is why this work is important.” 

Going forward, Reshad has many aspirations for his career and motivations for his future work. “I want to continue to make a difference for our people across the entire organization,  support our communities, provide our customers with a safe and inclusive place to shop, and ensure we take purposeful and meaningful steps towards reconciliation and diversity [and] leave a ripple effect across the retail landscape, inspiring others to make a difference.” 


For Reshad, there are two main objectives that he hopes to achieve with his work within ICCA. One, is for those who identify as LGBTQ2S+ to continue to see visible representation and stories be celebrated. He hopes this work will also influence other Indo-Caribbean Canadian leaders and social influencers to champion these voices as well, so that these conversations are heard across the entire community. 


The other hope is to break down barriers and create allyship through the right tools and resources. “For us to be one of those platforms to provide those learning opportunities and break down those barriers to ensure that future Queer Indo-Caribbean Canadians can come out at home in a safe space, is for me at least why this work is important, and another focus area that we’re going to continue to drive for years to come. My hope is that through the work that we’re doing with EPIC and ICCA as a whole, 2 or 3 years from now, that these stories and experiences [help] any Indo-Caribbean LGBTQ2S+ person who is discovering themselves, deciding to come out, or struggling, for them to feel connected to a supportive community. To be seen.” 

Apart from work and volunteering, you can find Reshad discovering new food throughout the city, listening to electronic music, attending theatre, or cycling. “It helps a lot with just my mental health and clarity. There's something very therapeutic about just being on your bike, listening to music and just peddling down around lake Ontario.” He also shared with us his favourite Indo-Caribbean dish, “My favourite is egg curry,” he says. “My grandma used to make egg curry for me growing up. Every time I have egg curry and roti, aside from absolutely loving it, it brings back all these memories of my grandma, my sister and I, growing up, sharing a laugh, listening to Bollywood records, and getting into trouble,” he says. “Making sure I dedicate meaningful time for my partner, friends and my family, are also incredibly important to me. That’s my purest source of happiness.” 


About the Author

Rebecca is an aspiring digital marketer, writer and photographer based in Toronto. With a BA in Sociology and a minor in Caribbean Studies, she joined the Indo-Caribbean Canadian Association to continue her interest in researching and writing content about Indo-Caribbean history and culture.

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Story is an Indo-Caribbean newsletter designed to bring Canadian Caribbean culture to the forefront. Explore Indo-Caribbean news, identity, and culture online.

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