We are a grass roots community based project that aims to promote the visibility of LGBTQ people of colour in a variety of linguistic and cultural communities across the Metro Vancouver Region.So, what my team members and I are doing, with the help of others, basically is creating and distributing LGBTQ-positive images using languages and ideas that speak to different cultural groups in Metro Vancouver. We are targeting (single quotation) ethnic communities because we feel they are underserved and lack exposure to LGBTQ-related issues and images.
The four groups that we are targeting for this project are the Chinese, Punjabi, Iranian (E-raynian) and Korean communities. Due to scope and resources we’re not at the moment able to focus on every cultural community in Metro Vancouver, so we picked these four groups due to their demographic salience and population in Metro Vancouver. And these happen to be four communities that some of my team members and I have personal experience in, coming from these backgrounds.Also due to scope, when we say we are dealing with Metro Vancouver, we are limiting our project to these cities: Burnaby, Coquitlam, New West, North Van, Richmond, Surrey, and Vancouver.And, what we mean when we say we are creating and distributing images, is that we are making posters to put around local and independent businesses, community centres, libraries, bulletin boards, and street posts in the cities mentioned above.
So now some background as to why we think this kind of initiative is important, and why we feel that it’s still necessary in today’s multicultural society to spread LGBTQ-positive messages with a focus on cultural and ethnic backgrounds. One of my team members found in a 2010 Canadian study that immigrants do have a negative perspective of homosexuality.On top of Canada, studies show that immigrants of US, Belgium, and Austrailia have similar negative attitudes towards LGBTQ people.This is reflected in the fact that most, if not all, of the cultural community groups we are focusing on, do not have any positive words for gay in their respective language, but there are several derogatory terms to describe LGBTQ people. This is the case in some Asian communities, and a study in Australia showed that Muslims face a similar problem linguistically. And bear in mind that there are dozens of Chinese and Iranian languages/dialects alone. Consider if you will, the word “queer” in the English language. The English language is relatively progressive in terms of sexual minorities yet the process of word reappropriation for the word queer is still ongoing. And, those who are from just one or two generations before me, still might hold some negative connotations with the word and my feel uncomfortable using it. You can imagine how much longer it will be for derogatory words to start to get reappropriated in languages that either haven’t yet started talking only about queer issues, or are only starting to.Furthermore, Echoing a lot observations made by the now defunct Asian Society for the Intervention of AIDS, there are many Asian LGBTQ individuals who feel that they have to abandon their culture in order to become a part of Vancouver’s LGBTQ community, and we want to convey the message that this shouldn’t be the case.Going back to my anecdote earlier about my friend who encountered the taxi drivers at the Davie street gas station: the taxi drivers talked amongst each other in their own language thinking that my friend could not understand them. As you can see, it’s not just the LGBTQ individual who might feel like they have to abandon their culture to be LGBTQ, but it’s even assumed by others, that if you *are* openly gay or lesbian, that you have forgotten your language, background, and your teachings of your cultures. It’s become easy for people in our target communities to claim that LGBTQ individuals who come from these communities are influenced to be LGBTQ, by a dominating westernized force. Its become easy and almost common practice to make such excuses for why gay people exist within their own cultural community.As I mentioned before, we found that a lot of non-native English speaking groups in Metro Vancouver, experience a lack of exposure to LGBTQ related images, texts, ideas, and people who openly identify as LGBTQ.
Which brings me to the goals that we’ve set up for ourselves as the Our City of Colours team.Our main goal is to increase visibility. It was not uncommon in my ESL classes which were in downtown Vancouver, to have a well travelled, middle class, academically intellectual student to say to me “we don’t have any gay people in South Korea”. or“There are no gay Muslims”.We want to Initiate discussions within cultural communities, because LGBTQ issues are often overlooked in these communities as it’s easy for people to claim that such issues are irrelevant to their culture, if they are only exposed to these issues in narrow, English-dominated contexts.We want to promote awareness, because the precursor to dealing with issues like gaybullying, same sex relationships, marriage rights, MSM and risky sexual behavior is first acknowledging that LGBTQ people exist.
Some issues that occur if we continue to let slide (-) claims such as “There are no gay people in ____ country where I’m from”, besides the lack of discussion and awareness, it increases the amount of social pressure that some LGBTQ people have to face.For example, when we’re talking about a mainstream gay context, if you come out you can be free from social expectations such as marriage and having children (just for example), but in some Asian cultures, parents still expect you to get married to an opposite gender regardless of your sexuality. This could possibly be because: the concept of a same-sex relationship is unseen and unheard of to many Asian immigrant families.These families have little or no positive images or role models as the basis of this idea that a healthy gay or lesbian couple can exist. Even though we have so many LGBTQ-positive images, information, media, and materials out there, unless it speaks directly to these underserved communities, they do not get the exposure.
To the LGBTQ individual, these social pressures can lead to isolation from lack of family support, or support from their community, or even support from the LGBTQ community if they don’t feel comfortable identifying with the LGBTQ community. And as we all know, that can greatly affect someone’s self esteem.Then there’s also the issue of reaching out to resources; Because of the language barrier and their own comfort level, some LGBTQ people in our target communities who are not native English speakers may have a hard time getting the health care they need if their community is not supportive of LGBTQ people. Some of my team members and I personally know health-care workers and PHD holders from our own ethnic backgrounds who hold negative attitudes towards LGBTQ people in their professional environments. For example, there are people in these cultural communities that are regarded as doctors by the community that still claim that homosexuality can be treated with therapy. These are family doctors and General Physicians.
So to help combat these issues that I mentioned, we created these posters that are catered and targeted to specific cultural communities in terms of language and people. With these posters we are using our target communities’ own native languages, not only for the sake of immigrant and new comers who can’t read English, but also for those who are bilingual or multilingual- Because when you’re speaking to someone in their native language, they know that you are talking to them.In all of our posters we’ve tried to add a cultural element specific to each culture. For example, in one of our Chinese posters, we mention mid-autumn festival, which is specific to Chinese community. And in this Farsi poster, we make reference to Googoosh. Does anyone here know who Googoosh is? She’s a Persian pop culture icon.
And here’s our poster in Punjabi. And one more in Chinese. So not only did we want to convey the message that queer people of colour exist, but that they are normal average people too. Also you may notice that none of our posters feature explicitly the word gay, because as I mentioned before, a lot of these languages don’t yet have positive connotations behind their word for gay. Due to the Health Initiative for Men generously covering the costs of printing all these posters, these posters, and more, are going to be put up on the walls or bulletin boards of a local business, community centre, or street post near you.
1. How does sexual orientation interact with ethnicity to affect health?
2. Mission Statement “Our City of Colours is a grass-roots community based project that aims topromote the visibility of LGBTQ people of colour in a variety of linguistic and cultural communities across the Metro Vancouver region.”
3. Project Details• Who: Chinese, Punjabi, Iranian, Korean• Where: Burnaby, Coquitlam, New Westminster, North Vancouver, Richmond, Surrey, Vancouver• What: Posters
4. Background• Understanding immigrant attitudes• Cultural perceptions of LGBTQ people• Lack of exposure to LGBTQ content