The journey that Bassel Mcleash undertook to reach Toronto from Syria, and eventually to Sunday’s Pride parade, has been filled with obstacles.
Nevertheless, a chance to participate in his first ever Pride parade has been nothing short of exceptional.
Mcleash, 29, who had come to Toronto in May this year, wanted to meet Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the parade. “I wanted to tell him thank you, that I’m Syrian, I arrived here a month ago,” Mcleash said. He was overjoyed, saying marching “in the parade next to the prime minister” was something he would never thought about “in my wildest dreams.”
“Just the idea of attending a pride parade was a dream. To march in it was like an extreme dream,” he said.
As reported by The Guardian, several Canadian politicians were in attendance of Sunday’s Pride parade in Toronto. These included Rona Ambrose, the interim leader of the federal Conservatives, and the Green party’s Elizabeth May.
Mcleash came to Canada three years after he left his home in Damascus, Syria, and a few days before Toronto Mayor John Tory declared Pride Month at City Hall. He was privately sponsored through a program for LGBT Syrians – established by Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian NGO.
Mcleash left Syria after the aviation company deemed it extremely dangerous to continue operating in the city. While he was happy to be away from the violence inflicted Syria, he worked as fuel coordinator in Egypt. However, he quit when they did not honor a pay agreement.
After being diagnosed with HIV in 2014, his situation was further worsened; as foreigners who are HIV positive are not allowed to work in Egypt. He would take up under the table jobs, CBC News reports. “There’s a lot of jobs I’m not proud of, but I had to work,” he said. He also received some support from an LGBT group.
Since his arrival in Canada, Mcleash has been attending Pride events. He experiences the contrast between his freedom to the life he had in Syria. Speaking about the LGBT community in Syria, he said, “Sometimes you just wish that they were here, feeling the same feelings of safety and enjoying the same things.”
Mcleash got a chance to speak with Trudeau, thanking him for welcoming tens of thousands of refugees into the country. “He told me that Canadians were the ones who asked him to take in refugees,” he said. “I literally wanted to cry. I was barely able to contain myself.”
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