NOH8: The Real Housewives of Vancouver's Reiko Mackenzie stands up for gay rights
They call her "Switzerland" on The Real Housewives of Vancouver for staying out of the drama that the reality TV series is infamous for. But when it comes to gay rights, RHOV star Reiko Mackenzie isn't remaining neutral—she's using her newfound celebrity superpowers for the forces of good by hosting the first NOH8 open photo shoot in Vancouver next week to support same-sex issues.
For those unfamiliar with the ubiquitous NOH8 images, the campaign is a visual, silent protest that raises awareness of same-sex marriage issues. Photo subjects pose with duct tape over their mouths (to represent their voices being silenced) and NOH8 painted on one cheek to express protest.
In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, Mackenzie said that seeing celebrities getting involved in the campaign piqued her curiosity. She soon learned it was a protest against Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment which banned same-sex marriage in California in 2008. It overturned the California Supreme Court's ruling that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.
And what was Mackenzie's reaction to Prop 8?
"I thought, 'Wow, how backwards is that?' I mean, here in Canada we're so lucky enough to be able to have it legalized and gay people are free to marry whomever they choose...."
Consequently, she flew to L.A. to do photo shoot, where she met NOH8 founders Adam Bouska and Jeff Parshley.
Both Mackenize and her RHOV castmate Mary Zilba (who has also done a NOH8 photo shoot) expressed interest in having them come to Vancouver.
The event will take place on Tuesday (May 8) from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Renaissance Vancouver Harbourside Hotel (1133 West Hastings Street). (For full details, visit the NOH8 website.)
Zilba and Mackenzie will be at the shoot, joined by a third cast member: one of Mackenzie's famous sports cars. (She hasn't decided which one yet. Decisions, decisions...) But she's doing so in the hopes it could expand the appeal of the event beyond the queer community.
"Of course, it has the support of the gay community. Of course," she said. "But the whole idea is to bring this to people who: one, don't know anything about it; two, are straight, and they're living their lives and they don't know realize some of the struggles that are happening within the gay community, and this is about teaching them that."
However, she does understand the challenges many people face in being supportive of gay issues.
"It's not easy for people. It really isn't. I recognize that….We're all learning. And maybe we can just all learn together. If this is going to bring a bunch of people that wouldn't necessarily hang out, well, they are going to on Tuesday because this is what it's all about."
Although she has friends in the gay community, this is her first dive into participating in a gay rights event. And what's one of her main motivations to do so? Simply being a parent.
"Being a mom, I'm truly a teacher of the next generation. I mean, that's who I consider myself to be because I have children. And if I can be out there and a voice for other moms out there, or for any women, or human beings for that matter, to teach equality, tolerance, love, compassion….We don't want people growing up with hatred towards people, whether it has to do with nationality, gender, culture."
And when it comes to those latter issues, her family is particularly emblematic of Canada's multicultural mosaic. Her mother (seen on the show) is Japanese while her father was Scottish. Her South Asian husband, Sun Mackenzie, is Hindu. (She adds that her aunt married an African American.)
She empathizes with those targeted by homophobia because of how she was treated due to her hapa (interracial) identity. She was ridiculed ("What are you?") and teased for having Asian eyes. What's more, she sees similarities between the suffering of two same-sex people in love being denied the right to get married and two people from different cultures not being permitted to marry. "For me, that's hurtful," she says.
But Mackenzie's lineage has deeper parallels with the NOH8 campaign. The Japanese Canadian side of her family faced having their rights stripped away from them during an unjust chapter in Canadian history.
Her Japanese Canadian great grandmother (who Reiko is named after) was born in Canada. But when Japan bombed Pearl Harbour in 1941, Canada declared war on Japan. During an intensely prejudicial period against Asian Canadians in British Columbia, all Japanese Canadians within 100 miles of British Columbia's coast were forced, under the War Measures Act, to either move to Japan (a foreign country to Canadian-born Japanese) or have their belongings confiscated and be interned in camps. Mackenzie's family chose to go to Japan. (Her grandmother and mother, Keiko, who appears on the show, later returned to Canada.)
But in the same way that her family re-established themselves in spite of discriminatory challenges, Mackenzie has learned survival skills of her own. Those facing homophobic bullying in schools may be able to identify with some of her adolescent experiences.
When she attended North Burnaby high school, she said she definitely felt "unsafe". In fact, she said she was jumped by three girls within the first two weeks of school. She later discovered those girls simply wanted to get her attention because—bizarrely enough—they wanted to be friends with her. (Whatever happened to just saying "hello"?)
What's more, as the Sporty Spice of RHOV, Mackenzie is frequently depicted on the show indulging in tomboyish interests that challenge gender stereotypes—something that queer viewers can potentially relate to and draw inspiration from. She became a "grease-monkey" when she took up a high school mechanics course for two years. But she was the sole girl in the class.
"I got a lot of weird stares. I definitely did. And maybe the teacher was just a little surprised that I had shown up sitting there in the class….Luckily, in my generation, I was allowed to take that class. And I actually felt quite empowered, that I was able to take that class. I guess coming from that fortunate past that I feel that it should be the same for everyone else."
In light of the gaybashings that have beset the queer community, Mackenzie is also a role model for self-defense—she's been training in martial arts (as shown on the series) for the past two years and is currently a blue belt in mixed martial arts, with a focus on aikido, muay thai, and samurai swords.
For those who are being bullied, all these characteristics, coupled with Mackenzie's deft ability to avoid becoming embroiled in personality clashes on the show, provides potential inspiration. While the four other women tend to be excessively focused on their relationships with one another, Mackenzie is frequently depicted being activity-oriented and staying out of trouble.
"You don't necessarily have to get caught up in all the drama," she says. "If you're doing something active and healthy and adventurous for yourself, that could actually pull you into such positive light that you don't want to engage in anything negative."
With all this in mind, including her multicultural family and her stance on gay rights, perhaps it's about time people stopped calling her "Switzerland" and start calling her "Canada".