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Saturday 08 April 2017

Challenging Ignorance

Posted in: Our Communities
By Sarah Murphy - 10th February 2017

The Auckland Pride Festival is almost upon us, the first Pride of the year to kick off festivities throughout the country, it is seen as a chance to celebrate queer and gender diverse communities.

While it is the perfect excuse to party, it also is the perfect time to reflect on how we define pride and how we, as a diverse make-up of communities, can better support and celebrate one another.

One of our communities that does not often see the spotlight is the Asian community.

Aatir Zaidi and Danny Lam from the group EquAsian know all too well the issues that run just below the surface in our wider community and are working on making a real change in the lives of young queer and gender diverse Asian people.

Danny’s family immigrated to New Zealand from China when he was 4 years old and grew up in Auckland. Coming out to friends at age 13, and family at age 18, Danny first got involved with EquAsian at the 2014 Pride Festival.

Aatir grew up in India, where he went to school and graduated, before coming to New Zealand where he completed his honours in Psychology at Massey University. Aatir says he got involved with EquAsian when his boyfriend took him to the support group and he met the General Coordinator Aram. “Aram was so welcoming and lovely,” he says. “I remember hugging him for the first time. At EquAsian I felt I was at home. I had been to other LGBTQI+ groups but they were so white oriented. They never understood how it felt to be coming from a collectivistic culture.”

Aatir says that his experience of living in New Zealand as an openly queer Asian person is a mixed one. “To a large extent it has been positive. However, there are times when I really struggle to be openly gay. I mean there is always a risk because I am twice more vulnerable. For instance, holding my boyfriend’s hand makes me more vulnerable because I am Asian.”

This is echoed by Danny who says that as someone who is Chinese, he feels he is constantly being told to stay closeted to save-face. Being an openly queer Asian person is not something that Danny necessarily identifies himself as, instead preferring to acknowledge he is simply an individual.

“It’s hard to summarise, because I find it difficult to categorically relate my life experiences to these labels,” he says. “I’ve never felt comfortable assigning these labels to myself, whatever connotations they carry. I much prefer to be identified as myself, an individual. I can relate to similar experiences of many LGBTI Asian people as a population group: because LGBTI issues are not often discussed within the Chinese immigrant population, it does make it harder to basically ‘explain myself’ to family and other people (this was especially the case in high school).

“The level of ignorance and incorrect information can be baffling and frustrating. For example, some people having the most ridiculous ideas about how HIV is transmitted; family being overprotective of me from the ‘other’ gay people who they assume to be deviant or too outrageous. Conserving face is also another frustrating thing that I have faced being Chinese: constantly being told to stay closeted for fear of potential homophobic employers etc. Someone explained this to me: it’s likely to be ingrained homophobia projected onto non-existent other people. I don’t blame people for ignorance it’s not their fault, and it is our duty to remedy ignorance; it is however, frustrating how closed-minded some people can be.

“I am however grateful to be in New Zealand as the situation may be quite a bit different in a more conservative society.”

Both Aatir and Danny say racism is a issue that runs deep in the queer and gender diverse communities here in New Zealand.

An issue Aatir says he has faced “so many times”.

“I have noticed people treating me differently. Not trying to make a conversation with me. Not greeting me back. Or if I try to be friendly they start maintaining a distance as if I will ask anything in return.

“Believe me, there are “white only” groups in gay communities in New Zealand,” he says.

Danny says he has experienced racism particularly from the male gay community.

“People pass off racism as ‘preference’ but it’s blatantly racist to say - and I quote - that you are “allergic to Asian”. “Preference” itself is an ingrained unconscious form of racism that needs a much different strategy to combat I think."

He says this is one of the big issues facing young queer and gender diverse Asian people.

“Racism in general is not vanishing: just last week someone yelled racist abuse from a car to me (which I reckon is the immature racist equivalent to ringing a doorbell and running away as a prank). The issues above mean that Asian LGBTI people face isolation from their communities.”

Aatir agrees, “We are treated as outsiders just because we look different. I know members of EquAsian who are born and brought up here but they are always assumed to be Chinese, even though they are NOT Chinese.”

Facing discrimination from within the queer and gender diverse communities, Aatir says he doesn’t think our organisations are doing enough to support Asian communities.

“We are always invited when they need some representation,” he says. “We are used as a token Asian community.”

With this in mind, EquAsian plays an important role in the Auckland queer and gender diverse community and provides a safe space for young Asian people to feel supported.

“EquAsian is trying to build a community,” says Aatir. “Often people with Asian descent find it hard to explain their family and personal situation. EquAsian is about making them comfortable and helping them with social support, empathy and sympathy.”

Danny says that he would like to see the group not only build their community but also raise awareness of issues that Asian LGBTI people face to everyone in Aotearoa.

“Simultaneously giving some people a voice to show their individuality and the diversity of this huge umbrella category labelled ‘Asian’,” he says.

The group are thankful to Rainbow Auckland, Rainbow Youth and Auckland Pride for helping them this year during Pride however Aatir says as the group runs on donations and grants, it would help if other organisations acknowledged they had work they do.

“I think there is always more that we can all do,” says Danny.

“Representation is the most important: it encourages especially young people when we see representation of someone who simply looks like us, who probably faces the same struggles and shares the same culture and language.

“While one or two people can never fully represent an entire population, because we are all individuals, it definitely increases diversity and cultural awareness.”

Sarah Murphy - 10th February 2017

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