Vancouver activists call for greater cultural sensitivity in LGBT issues

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      While sexual and gender diversity is at the forefront of LGBT community issues, cultural diversity still remains an afterthought for many people.

      At the Vancouver Pride Week launch at Vancouver City Hall on July 27, two speakers who were part of a panel discussion about transgender issues raised the subject of cultural sensitivity.

      Vancouver-born, Hong Kong–raised Dora Ng, a member of the Park Board Trans* and Gender Variant Inclusion Steering Committee, talked about the Vancouver School Board hearings held prior to their update of their sexual orientation and gender identities policy in 2014.

      Ng noted the strong organized reaction from "certain members of the Chinese Canadian community". However, Ng also spoke about the counter-reaction and media coverage that associated homophobia and transphobia with Chinese Canadians.

      "During this time, one of the question I heard the most, whether from the media, from the queer community, from people I have known to be very progressive and committed to diversity was 'Is there something about this particular culture that prevents them from being progressive and adopting Canadian values?'," Ng said. "This is a question that's never raised for white folks no matter how many comments, many Westboro Baptists Churches, how many Tea Parties there are."

      In contrast to the idea that Asian cultures are futher behind in LGBT awareness than Western ones, Ng pointed out that just as English vocabulary has expanded over the past decade with terms such as trans, genderqueer, and non-gender binary, Ng said a similar evolution has occurred in Chinese languages.

      "Ten years ago, I would have never been able to imagine that there would be kind words in Chinese to describe…those who fall outside the gender binary," Ng said.

      Ng said that while previously the only words in Chinese for genderqueer people were "ugly and terrible", there are several words now that Ng called "so cozy, so cute, so clever".

      Ng also showed the audience a tank top made in Taiwan, designed specifically for transgender people with a built-in chest-binder so they don't have to use packing tape or bandages.

      Ng called for greater cultural sensitivity in LGBT issues by clarifying what it is and isn't.

      "Cultural sensitivity doesn't mean that you need to understand all the nuances of every single culture in Vancouver. That's impossible. I can barely know my own," Ng explained. "What being culturally sensitive means is to be aware that immigrant communities are vulnerable. When you're an immigrant, your social network could be literally two friends. And when one of them tells you that schools are trying to turn kids gay and the other one is questioning whether your son's shirt is too girlie, you will freak out and you will ask your son to change shirts because we are human and we tend to get scared."

      Ng said that rather than yelling at people things like "Go back to China!", accessible and culturally appropriate information needs to be made available. Ng said that needs to include outreach to media and community members.

      Wallace Wong, a clinical psychologist of the Children and Adolescence Sexual Health Program at the Ministry of Children and Family Development and author of two transgender children's books, also said there's a need for more ethnic minorities from LGBT communities to become more visible and visually represented.

      "Many members of ethnic minorities don't know what transgender issues are all about and they never see someone who happens to be [a] ethnic minority speak about this," he pointed out. "For them, this is a foreign issue, this is a white issue. But it's not. It's everybody's issues."

      As a form of greater inclusivity, Ng added that many LGBT members of Chinese Canadian communities can become potential resources for help.

      "There's a lot of us out there who are willing to step up if we're given the chance or are asked to help bridge some of the gaps," Ng said.



      Barry William Teske

      Aug 6, 2015 at 6:44pm

      Great read and one of my favs now.
      Thank you!