Thursday, December 27, 2007


Oldtown News
Vancouver, BC

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