Filipino Canadian film and panel tackle LGBT issues and religion

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      On March 12, a 15-year-old Vancouver teenager postedscreenshots of a text argument he had with his dad on Tumblr after he came out as gay.

      His father condemned him, citing his religious beliefs, and swore at him.

      The post went viral.

      The post serves as a reminder that many LGBT youth face ongoing struggles depsite social progress in Canada. 

      By coincidence, the social media flurry occurred just prior to a film screening and panel discussion about LGBT issues and religion in the Filipino Canadian community.

      Queering the Filipino Diaspora in Canada will be held on March 17 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Liu Institute for Global Issues (6476 NW Marine Drive, UBC). The panel will consist of Dr. John Paul Catungal, activist Melanie Matining, and Pinoy Pride Vancouver's Darla Tomeldan.

      Also on the panel are local filmmaker Joella Cabalu and her artist brother Jay.

      Joella's nine-minute documentary "StandStill", which screened at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival and the Vancouver Asian Film Festival, recorded what happened in 2013 when she had her Catholic parents sit down with her gay brother Jay (who had come out to them in 2010) to discuss lingering tensions between them due to differing attitudes about homosexuality. Even though Joella's parents accepted their son as gay, she said she still played the role of mediator for communication between the family members.

      Joella, whose family is from the Philippines but moved to Vancouver in 1991, told the Georgia Straight by phone that one of her inspirations to make the film was when she saw Daniel Karslake's 2007 documentary For the Bible Tells Me So, about how Christian parents dealt with their children coming out to them, at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

      "All of the families, except for one, were Caucasian, and I thought it was missing that element of an immigrant experience or a family of colour," she said.

      She pointed out that cross-cultural issues adds another layer of complexity of LGBT issues.

      "Just the fact of being an immigrant, [means that] you're already so different and you're trying to so hard to belong and then learning that your child is gay—that's another difference to overcome," she said.

      When OUTtv commissioned her to make a second part to her film, she and her brother travelled to interview gay and transgender relatives in California and the Philippines. She discovered that in the Philippines, coming out is often considered a foreign, Western concept. 

      "From my experience there, people already know if you are gay," she said. "They don't have this need to have an open declaration to their family members or their friends. And in some way, it seems that they just accept you. It doesn't seem like there's any kind of open discussion about it."

      In many Asian countries, due to an emphasis on group identity and harmony as well as social etiquette, this unspoken acceptance can be true.

      However, since openly addressing LGBT issues is a part of Canadian society, the panel discussion at Cabalu's screening will contribute to bridging the gaps between cultures, generations, and beliefs. What's more is that these issues are prevalent in numerous communities in Vancouver, not just among Filipino Canadians.

      To register for the discussion or for more information, visit the UBC Philippine Study Series event webpage.