Thursday, December 27, 2007

GLBT COMMUNITY CRACKS DEEPEN

Oldtown News
Vancouver, BC


GLBT COMMUNITY CRACKS DEEPEN
Queer South Asians Supporting Oppressor of Gay Rights


I guess it was bound to happen and it has. The hate comments made by Sikh leader, Balwant Singh Gill, in the December 15, 2007, edition of the Vancouver Sun has, unfortunately had a spin-off effect for the gay community of Vancouver. The homophobic comments of Mr. Gill is pitting Queer South Asians and some of their allies against longstanding GLBT Community Leaders.

I want to explore why this has happened and whether this rupture can be overcome.

Many Queer South Asian community members as they prefer to be called, claim on the one hand how Mr. Balwant Singh Gill's quote which appeared in the Sun is reprehensible, yet they are loudly claiming the Vancouver Sun story to be racist.It really seems like a mixed message and I, like many others are struggling around why Queer South Asians decided to mix racism with what is clearly a hate comment.

I suspect Queer South Asians are citing racism, so that the hate comments made by one of their religious Leaders is watered down. Muddle the message and it is sure to have some impact on reducing the seriousness of the hate comments attributed to the Sikh Leader.

But why is this message, some say spin, being presented?. Well let's go there.

A GLBT community leaders meeting was called on December 21, 2007. It was organized by Alan Herbert and this blogwriter. At the Community Leaders meeting, the meeting was stacked with quite a few 20 year old young adults who were in solidarity with a number of South Asians who lead a group called No One is Illegal. No One is Illegal are allies of a group named Trikone, which is based out of San Francisco, USA. Trikone had three members along with a number of women affiliated with Vancouver Status of Women.

Local Queer South Asian Leader, Fatima Jaffer, is involved with Trikone. Although Ms Jaffer identifies herself as Queer but for as long as I can remember has been directly involved with groups which practise transsexual exclusion. These include the Vancouver Lesbian Connection, Vancouver Rape Relief and Vancouver Status of Women and Kinesis, the now-defunct lesbian rag.

Ms Jaffer herself has been personally oppressive toward the rights of transsexual females.

Ms Jaffer, as a collective member in 1997 for Battered Women Support Services, outed a transsexual female volunteering at BWSS. Ms Jaffer was instrumental in calling for a policy to be developed on whether to allow transsexual females the right to volunteer at BWSS. More recently, Ms Jaffer testified for Vancouver Rape Relief on its exclusion and oppression of Kimberely Nixon, a transsexual female.

Previously in the earlier 1990's, Ms Jaffer was a collective member of Kinesis, a lesbian newspaper connected to Vancouver Status of Women who ran a feature story on probably the most vicious attack on transsexual females that I have ever witnessed.

Kinesis wrote this scathing piece from a position of anonymity. The article took a number of liberties and spread misinformation and untruths. The article clearly was an attack on the trans community and clearly oppressive. The authors of the article refused to sign their names, citing they feared for their safety.

Those in leadership positions at Kinesis at the time, included Fatima Jaffer and former City Councillor, EllenWoodsworth, who now leads COPE, a municipal party.

Now working closely with Ms Jaffer is Ms Harsha Walia, who is spokesperson for a group called No One is Illegal. They are in fact, quite close.

No One is Illegal organized the protest at the airport over the deportation of Laibar Singh, however, what is really interesting is that No One is Illegal, have placed Mr. Laibar Singh in sanctuary at the Guru Nanak Sikh temple, which has as its president, Mr. Balwant Singh Gill, who of course is the religious leader who directed hate comments at the gay community in the Sun edition of December 15, 2007.

At the beginning of the Community Leaders meeting, a challenge was made that former City Councillor, Alan Herbert and myself who were co-facilitating the meeting shouldn't be, since as Trikone member, Fatima Jaffer, states, " we were not seen as being neutral".

Ms Jaffer claims are preposterous and it shows her political insensitivity. Really none of us are neutral when discussing hate or racism. We all have opinions and Ms Jaffer is just playing divisive, petty politics.

Ms Jaffer is right though. I am not neutral as I have strong beliefs on the subject of hate as do many community members. Just as she does. But to say that Mr. Herbert or myself could not be fair in conducting the meeting which we organized is a tried and true tactic of those who wish to derail a meeting.

Ms Jaffer, Ms Walia, No One is Illegal and Vancouver Status of Women members came with an agenda and the prevailing position put forward by these groups and individuals was that the Vancouver Sun article was racist. They demanded that any action taken at the meeting must address this fact. Ms Jaffer said she had another appointment and had to leave about 40 minutes into the meeting. No unity position was put forward by her or her supporters including Ms Walia.

No One is Illegal, is a group affiliated with DERA and APC. No One is Illegal is the group which staged the mob protest at the Vancouver Airport and at the Community Leaders meeting, Ms Harsha Walia, voiced many strong opinions.

A number of Community leaders were absent (due to a quick change of meeting plans to accommodate a Muslim holy day).

Sadie Kuehn, a women of colour, took over chairing the meeting and even she was expressing strong personal viewpoints that a letter be sent to the Vancouver Sun, charging the article smacked of racism. Of course nobody challenged Ms Kuehn on her neutrality since her view-points were shared by others from the South Asian, Vancouver Status of Women, Trikone and No One is Illegal contingent.

PRIDE President, John Boychuk, longtime Queer Writer, Kevin McKeown, Lulu Gurney, a Two-Spirit Youth Leader from the Nass and myself, had difficulty finding the article racist. We left the meeting during intermission. It must be noted that a number of prominent community members will not sign off on a letter to the Sun claiming racism, until there is refutable proof that the Sun story is factually incorrect.

Harsha Walia, in the meeting claims that the political leader of COPE, Ellen Woodsworth, has signed a basis of unity statement which supports the claim of racism against the Vancouver Sun. Why Ellen Woodsworth is having her name tarnished with a fringe group is really odd. No One is Illegal believes there should be no borders and immigration should be a wide open process, even for criminals.

Here is why a number of Queer South Asian community Leaders are citing racism.

No One is Illegal are working in solidarity with Mr.Balwant Gill, in keeping Mr. Laibar Singh from being deported from Canada. But it goes beyond working together.

Mr. Laibar Singh was placed by No One is Illegal, in the direct care of the Guru Nanak temple leader, Mr. Balwant Gill, who as I mentioned is the religious Leader who directed hate at the gay community. The statement of Balwant Gill was "I hate homosexuals, it's unnatural and no major religion allows it".

Working with Mr. Gill is No One is Illegal's Harsha Walia, a self identified Queer womyn, who is now claiming she's not out. Together, Mr. Gill and Ms Walia are raising money to keep Mr. Singh in Canada. Or at least that is what Ms Harsha Walia has repeatedly said in the press. In fact, Ms Walia claims hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised for Mr. Laibar Singh.

The tunnel vision of Queer South Asians in calling the Sun piece racist is creating a deep rupture within our community. Sadly, calling the Sun piece racist, deflects real criticism away from Mr. Balwant Gill.

But is that any surprise considering the close and cosy connections between Ms Walia, Ms Jaffer and Mr.Balwant Gill?

How those who identify as Queer South Asians, in good faith, can work alongside an oppressor of gay rights calls into question their loyalties within the broader GLBT community. And, what does this say about their commitment to the GLBT community and our oppression when they actively work with our oppressor?

If the Queer South Asians and other people of colour like Ms Kuehn, keep pushing the racism card, what they can expect is that many GLBT members and leaders will develop a deep distrust of them. Working together as allies in the common struggle for human rights will be hopeless. Irreparable harm will occur.

As a community which has faced incredible homophobia and transphobia, we should be united when hate rears its ugly head. However, queers of colour are making a huge mistake with their actions. They are forsaking members of the community to suit their personal cultural agenda which historically involves the oppression of gay people.

The Queer South Asian community by claiming the Sun story was a way to get back at them for supporting deportee, Mr. Laibar Singh, instead, attempts through smokes and mirrors to deflect their complicity in working with a hate monger.

From the public Community meeting of December 21,2007, there are plans to write a letter to the Sun and Mr. Balwant Gill, however, many gay community leaders and groups will not sign it with perhaps the exception of leaders who sell out for political purposes.

This attempt at twinning the Laibar situation with the hate comments comes at the worst possible time.

The Balwant Singh Gill hate comment lands on our doorstep when many in our community and our allies are already feeling deep discomfort with a number of religious cultures which act out and numerous times, infringe on our human rights.

Many of us are openly talking about how Sikh, Punjabi and South Asian males routinely victimize survival sex workers. Descriptions by survival sex workers of "EastIndian males', continuously show up on the bad date sheets of survival sex workers.

Gay men in the Davie village are claiming young Sikh males are coming down and beating on them.

Non-religious affiliated women and men are concerned over gender mutilation rites practised by a number of religious cultural groups.

We hear how worshippers in the Sikh temples are praising terrorists as martyrs to the cause and dare I even mention Air India.

We learn about women being treated as possessions of Sikh men and this is frightening. Worse is that many South Asian women believe it culturally acceptable to be possessions of their husbands. How many times have we heard of South Asian wives being killed and set on fire which appears to be an accepted cultural rite.

We hear stories of infanticide, which is the cultural practise of killing babies. We learn of women who claim its their cultural right to be treated like slaves. In the temples women are not allowed to pray with men. And adding insult to injury, most recently, a human rights case has been filed by a Muslim woman who claims it's her cultural rite to refuse to shake hands or interact with male co-workers because it interferes with her cultural beliefs.

Is it any wonder then that the gay community upon learning of religious leader, Mr. Balwant Singh Gill's hate comments have had enough.

The culmination of continuous attacks in our community and the cultural collide is now being met head-on. We are not going to be silenced, have our rights set back or simply walk away.

We are going to confront our modern day Nazis and that is just to damn bad if this offends anyone.

My community does not support hate mongers or those who support them and we are fed up and calling a spade a spade.

Human Rights vs Cultural Rites?

Yes and there is no turning back. Its unfolding faster then we think and we are not going back to the dark ages or stepping back into our closets.

Jamie Lee Hamilton
tricia_foxx@yahoo.com

6 Comments:

At 11:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

He is expressing religious beliefs. If the Gay community doesn't like it, don't read it.

 
At 12:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was shocked to read your post.

I must say, this entire post escalated itself, seemingly by paragraph, in a manner of more and more racist comments. They started out borderline and eventually get to the point of near panic.

quote JL Hamilton:
"It really seems like a mixed message and I, like many others are struggling around why Queer South Asians decided to mix racism with what is clearly a hate comment."

It is not at all impossible to imagine someone being persecuted also being a hate monger. One needs to see *why* the article is being published now, what the intent is, and to what sentiment it is trying to respond.

There is nothing at all acceptable about the comments of Mr Gill, but they are being played so as to whip up-- along with all the other sentiments against the Sikh community-- suspicion, and more importantly (one would think) to someone like Jamie Lee Hamilton-- "other-ness".

This whole post contains a combination of her anti-immigrant politics-- quote: "Why Ellen Woodsworth is having her name tarnished with a fringe group is really odd." and the the blogger continues on to dismantle further what is wrong with the "fringe" politics of a no-borders grouping.

Which is her politics, and so far as that goes, fine-- but this stuff:

"We hear how worshippers in the Sikh temples are praising terrorists as martyrs to the cause and dare I even mention Air India.

We learn about women being treated as possessions of Sikh men and this is frightening. Worse is that many South Asian women believe it culturally acceptable to be possessions of their husbands. How many times have we heard of South Asian wives being killed and set on fire which appears to be an accepted cultural rite.

We hear stories of infanticide, which is the cultural practise of killing babies. We learn of women who claim its their cultural right to be treated like slaves. In the temples women are not allowed to pray with men. And adding insult to injury, most recently, a human rights case has been filed by a Muslim woman who claims it's her cultural rite to refuse to shake hands or interact with male co-workers because it interferes with her cultural beliefs."

Is not simply hate mongering, it is fear mongering, it is based in the very *same notions* that have oppressed the community of Ms Hamilton for centuries: It is establishing a "norm", one based in Canadian-ness and goes from there to establish further who has deviated from it. It is not self-defense to use these kinds of "we hear of..." comments. These are the kinds of comments that are used to whip a population into a frenzy-- a frenzy that leads to the murder of a Sikh Caretaker in Surrey, or the murder of a gay man in Stanley Park-- both of which are truths of the last decade in this city, and neither one is (clearly) good enough.

 
At 9:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, even if the Vancouver Sun article is, as you claim, not racist, this tirade certainly is. The queer community should look at it's own treatment towards queers of colour before we go ahead and judge any groups outside of our own community.

 
At 9:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting that you chose not to publish a reply that doesn't have some kind of reactionary bent to it.

Perhaps you fear ideas, Ms Hamilton?

 
At 8:46 AM, Blogger Temporary said...

This article by you is racist. Period. And it makes me wonder what you thought of Xtra West's article on Queers of Colour.

I don't automatically expect someone who is white to understand how these words, as strung together, are racist. Just as I wouldn't expect someone who is not Trans to automatically understand the subtleties of the covert, or systemic discrimination that are experienced by that group of people. In both cases, people with no experience and unsophisticated understandings can learn, and thereby become valuable allies.

The history of a "culture" or a community or a piece of land or a religion, etc, do not necessarily have anything to do with the way individuals conduct their lives. And ONE individual in an organization does not mean that EVERYONE in an organization believes the exact same thing.

Be VERY careful Jamie when you draw lines in the sand around who is an ally and who is not. I am a HUGE supporter of TransFolk, however I come out STRONGLY against what you have written here and am content to look you in the eye and call your tirade RACIST. And to be clear, I am calling your writing, and not you racist. Why? 'Cause I don't know enough about your racial politic. All I have are these words to judge by.

Would I stand beside you in relation to Trans rights? YES. Would I stand beside you for Homelessness rigths? YES. Would I stand beside you around rights for sex trade (survival or otherwise) workers? YES. But with this article, you have shown that you appear to be unable to be MY ally on a subject which impacts me every day.

When I walk down the street it is a political act. Not as a queer, which can be hidden easily enough, but for what I can not hide, which is my race.

There are many sides to who I am that I advocate for at different times. And I have come to learn that an ally in one context may not be an ally in another. I certainly acknowledge that I have more energy for some of the fights on my plate than for others. And I know that I have fights on my plate which are in direct conflict with each other.

You seem to suggest that a person who is queer is queer FIRST. That there are no other parts to who they are that can at times move more strongly to the front. I find this troubling.

A hallmark of sophistication is the ability to not only see connections, but also to see how things are discreet. You have done a mix and match which does NOTHING to build understanding or build community.

It's kind of a chicken and egg thing really. Do I support my race before I support my sexual orientation? Or visa versa? Or do I just speak out PERIOD based on the CONTEXT of what is at hand? If I came to know of a homophobic disabled person who was denied access to a service or job... I would have no problem stepping the fuck UP. It doesn't mean I'm gonna put up with their homophobia. And we don't even have to discuss it. What we need to do is the work around access. Period.

Careful Jamie. Careful, careful, careful. Unless you are prepared to wear the label of racist, I suggest caution. And for what is now public, perhaps some research, consultation and some second thought.

!Kona

 
At 11:25 AM, Blogger Jamie Lee Hamilton said...

Kona, it is so easy when you can't deal with facts to begin resorting to calling people names. This is a tried and true tactic of those who have difficulty working through logical arguments.

Can african americans be homophobic? Of course they can. Can people of colour or other minorities be homophobic or transphobic? Of course they can.

When there happens to be a systemic problem, it is important to bring these issues forward for discussion.

Right now, there is a problem developing in our society where different values are clashing.

We must feel free to speak about these facts.

One can't be afraid to speak out based on retaliation or fear or being called something which one isn't. Moreover, if young Sikh males are over-represented in gay bashings, we need to speak up about this. If bad date sheets of sex workers are claiming thir attackers to primarily be 'east indian males', this needs to be brought forward.

In terms of being from the gay community, this often does come first for many people. If you don't feel safe living your lifestyle, nothing else in life much matters if you are persecuted for your difference.

Kona you can scream all you want about my writings but my actions in being out in the community speaks volumes about who I am and no amount of threats or intimidation can erase my contributions.


Jamie Lee

 

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