He calls Toronto’s Pride Parade “the single-most important public celebration of the LGBT community.”

And on Sunday, El-Farook Khaki, this year’s Parade Grand Marshal, will be standing atop his float, complete with a marching contingent, guiding thousands of other participants along the downtown parade route.

“At the end of the day, when you distill our genders and our orientations and our class and our colour and our religions, ultimately we’re just human,” says Khaki of his float’s theme, Human Positive. “It’s also in reference to solidarity with all those people who live with HIV,” he adds.

The 45-year-old Toronto-based immigration and refugee lawyer, who was born in Tanzania, but ended up in Vancouver as a youngster after his family fled political persecution in their homeland, was voted Pride Week’s 2009 Parade Marshal in honour of his nearly two decades of human rights activism on issues including gender equality and sexual orientation.

When Khaki moved to Toronto in 1989 from Vancouver after graduating from UBC’s law school, he experienced somewhat of a revelation. “I had never really known other people who identified themselves as Muslim and were also gay or lesbian or bi or trans,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘hey, I’m not the only one.’”

Two years later, Khaki founded the organization Salaam, with the purpose of bringing these people together and giving them a sense of solidarity and community, particularly for those who were especially isolated and without any sort of link to provide a social network, he says.

In 1993, the same year he came out to his parents, Khaki established his own law practice, focusing on refugee claims of people who had been discriminated against in their homelands because of their gender or sexual orientation. “Many of my cases are based on sexual orientation and gender and gender identity and HIV,” he says. At the time, he says there was very little precedence for those types of refugee claims.

In the 26 years since then, Khaki has worked tirelessly on cases dealing with the persecution of sexual minorities and refugees living with HIV. “I’m really honoured to have been elected,” he says of his role as Parade Grand Marshal. “The work that I’ve done in the community is really about building bridges and bringing people together across all lines.”

Most Popular From ...