The first Filipino-Canadian gay and lesbian group in B.C. is coming out, and its pioneers hope that they will find understanding and acceptance in a community steeped in traditional values.
Pinoy Pride Vancouver will hold its launch on Friday (May 6) with a dance party in the city’s West End, the epicentre of gay and lesbian life in the Lower Mainland.
“We want them to understand that, ”˜Hey, we’re just one of the guys; we’re no different from you,’” the group’s founding cochair, Santi Pelaez, told the Georgia Straight in a weekend interview at a downtown Vancouver café.
Pelaez, an accountant, was joined by cochair Stella Reyes and core group member Gary Lising in the conversation. They talked about the challenges of being queer in an ethnic setting where Catholic beliefs and high expectations of males to marry and pass on the family name hold sway.
Lising, a retail-business manager, was only four years old when his family left the Philippines. “When they knew I had some gay, feminine attributes when I was growing up here in Canada, they really went after that, correcting those behaviours,” Lising related.
Lising has been out for 20 years, but it was only quite recently that his extended family in his native country learned about his sexual identity.
“I went back last year in May, and the biggest thing when I went back was when I told my relatives, ”˜Bakla ako [I am gay],’ ” Lising recalled. “They were really surprised. Their concept of bakla is a man who wears women’s dresses. I was redefining it to them that, ”˜No, I’m bakla, but I can be masculine and also be in upper management in whatever job I do and also be strong and sensitive.”
Reyes, who works in insurance, said she was lucky to grow up in a family of artists who held liberal views. She came out as a lesbian in high school.
“Not everyone is fortunate to have a family that’s as open as mine,” Reyes said.
UBC professor emeritus Aprodicio Laquian, a Filipino-Canadian academic who has extensively studied the community, considers the formation of Pinoy Pride Vancouver as a milestone for this growing minority group.
“Filipinos are supposedly very religious, and the Catholic religion doesn’t really accept homosexuality, and so on,” Laquian told the Straight by phone. “There is a little contradiction in the community that is focused on the church, where Filipinos are usually found in churches on Sundays, and yet those who go to mass, they follow their own conscience. And gays and lesbians, they don’t consider it [being queer] as a sin.”
PPV may have blazed the trail for other Filipino-Canadian queer groups. In B.C., there’s already a diversity of groups representing LGBT interests in the South Asian community. There’s Sher, Trikone, and Salaam Vancouver, which caters to Muslims.
The PPV pioneers recalled that they began meeting after the first participation by Filipino-Canadians in the Vancouver Pride parade, in 2010. The community float designed by a local group called MUSICA Society won the best
little-float award during that event.
Vancouver-Kensington NDP MLA Mable Elmore helped organize the community’s delegation in that parade, which included kids. The openly lesbian Filipino-Canadian politician later introduced people to each other who would eventually form Pinoy Pride Vancouver. “I came out as a lesbian when I was 20 years old, and it was a challenge,” Elmore told the Straight in a phone interview. “And that’s why I’ve always been involved in trying to advocate gay and lesbian issues.”
Proceeds from PPV’s May 6 dance party at J Lounge (1216 Bute Street; doors open at 7 p.m.) will help fund the community’s participation in this summer’s Pride parade in Vancouver.