Vancouver
3 min

Dear Charter Lau,

Getting beyond the 'culture war'

It was easy, and not so easy, to hear what you had to say about homosexuality and gay people — my community.

But I asked, and in asking, I signed up to listen.

It was easy because I appreciated your willingness to open up about your family, the distress your mom felt (maybe still feels) about having a gay child, how your family interacts with him or her, the silence about sexuality, and your sense of the norm and normal.

It was easy, and not so easy, because it was familiar.

I did the silence thing myself for five years after I partially came out. It’s one of the main reasons I left Trinidad, my home country. I did not trust that my parents would understand if I told them, though I knew they loved me. In an island environment, where everyone knows everyone else, where the world’s religions are very well represented in a population of almost two million, and great stock is placed on personal and family reputation, being gay is not something you shout from the rooftops.

The world view, the cultural norms I grew up with, meant that the only option I felt I had for the longest time was to keep quiet, lest I cause disquiet.

It was not so easy because, during our interview last month, you said there’s no estrangement between your gay sibling and the rest of the family, there’s “no fuss,” and you “pretend nothing happened and everybody is happy.”

I do not have the benefit of your sibling’s point of view, but while keeping quiet may suggest that everything is all right and everybody is happy, it may not. It does not for many who fear the consequences of disrupting the family harmony and stability that you say is cherished.

My silence was anything but a happy one, but I was lucky. Sort of. I had the means to make a change. The cost was that I left a culture, a country and a home I love more than I can say because my sexuality would not have struck a harmonious chord.

Did the end result of my decision lead to outward stability and harmony? Seemed like it. Was it internally discordant and disruptive? Without a doubt.

Now, two weeks after the publication of “Back to Burnaby: Behind the Policy 5.45 Battle Lines,” it is easy to feel discouraged by the comments posted on xtra.ca. To see the continuing elusiveness of desperately needed, nuanced, cross-community conversations that should be taking place about critical issues like homophobia and racism. To see instead the anonymous vitriol characteristic of the culture of online commentary, either for its own sake (almost gleeful in some cases), or because of an entrenched refusal to do the hard work of dissecting our differences and fostering understanding, if not acceptance.

Hardly unexpected, though. There are those who are committed to rancour and rumour rather than reconciliation — on both sides of the ongoing divide that resurfaced with the policy 5.45 fight in Burnaby in June.

I am under no illusion that you, or Heather Leung, or any of the other parents who protested the Burnaby school board’s implementation of anti-homophobia policy, will change your minds about the people in my community, even as some of you have been more than willing to engage with some of us during and after the 5.45 conflict.

The cynical among us will probably say you’re getting free publicity for your world view and that of Parents’ Voice and its supporters.

Maybe.

But there’s a real opportunity here to get beyond the noise of an entrenched “culture war” approach where tossing around careless accusations of gay agendas and recruiting children fuel unfounded fear and subvert an honest search for common ground.

I was struck by one of the last things you said before we concluded the interview. You said you’ll continue to try to be open. Thank you for saying that. We could use more communication and less confrontation.

The last thing we need is a dubious combination of discomfiting silence and ideological shouting that leads to anything but the harmony and stability that you, your community and mine all hope for, and some of us strive to achieve.