3 min

How dare Stephen Harper?

I'm queer, I'm Chinese and my parents love me

Stephen Harper will go to any length to deprive gays and lesbians of their fundamental rights of equality and dignity. He’ll even resort to ethnic stereotyping if he thinks it will help in his fight to stop same-sex marriage legislation.

He is now recruiting minorities to fight minorities. This from a leader and a Conservative Party reluctant to invest in cultural funding or programs to help new Canadians integrate into Canada’s diverse social fabric. I guess Harper thinks he can only get our votes by sowing divisiveness and appealing to his narrow understanding of our religious and cultural traditions.

While his advisors may be telling him that this is the way to go, it is a shortsighted approach that not only harms queers, but also harms new Canadians and minorities. Does Harper believe that new Canadians will be less afflicted with the so-called curse of homosexuality? Does he believe that new Canadians and minority groups will be less accepting of diversity? From his recent forays into community groups, the answers to both questions seem to be yes.

My parents came to Canada from Taiwan in the late 1960s on educational scholarships and my father went on to earn his doctorate in engineering. They remained in Canada in order to enjoy the material benefits of living in this society and also because of Canada’s openness and diversity. After some difficulties in conceiving, my parents returned to Taiwan to adopt me, and subsequently filled out the paperwork for my immigration. As a young child, I attended Chinese school on Saturdays. Mornings were spent in language classes and afternoons were spent in cultural classes where I took calligraphy, Chinese painting and Kung Fu. My parents were active in the Ottawa Chinese community and they even taught classes at my Chinese school.

What my parents liked most about Canada was the fact that we were able to celebrate our own heritage as well as learn about the cultures of other people. While this is not to say that we didn’t experience racism, we were always comforted by the fact that there were legal protections and social opportunities.

I will admit that my parents were not thrilled when I came out to them as queer but they have continued to be supportive. My mother always said that even though my queerness would not have been her preference, we were Canadian. In this country, as it should be around the world, people respect diversity and the personal dignity of others. She said the same legal protections and social tolerance that allowed us to celebrate our own culture must be extended to everyone else. It was the principle of it – the same principle that is found in the Charter Of Rights And Freedoms. My parents are far more disappointed by my choice to study politics (instead of medicine) than they are about my queerness.

Several court cases (Veysey, Brown, Knodel and Haig) have established that sexual orientation is analogous to other prohibited grounds for discrimination. My parents, my Chinese/Taiwanese-immigrant parents who had been raised within a Chinese cultural context, nonetheless respected the fact that sexual diversity is also a part of Canada. The many same-sex marriages that have been performed have not threatened the value of my parents’ marriage nor have they diminished our ability to celebrate our Chinese heritage. Having a queer son has not destroyed my parents’ sense of cultural continuity nor did it prevent them, or myself, from ushering in the year of the rooster.

Kristyn Wong-Tam, president of the Toronto chapter of the Chinese Canadian National Council, summed up my feelings when she recently said, “Throughout this debate, we have stated very, very clearly that it is incorrect to say all Chinese or other ethnic minorities are against equal marriage. We now want to make it very clear to Stephen Harper that he is wrong. And, more so, we want him to know it is patronizing and insulting to us for him to have suggested – in the House of Commons – that the ethnic minorities are monolithic in their opposition to civil marriage being extended to gays and lesbians.”

Despite Stephen Harper’s recent speeches, the fact remains that our culture has not come crumbling down around us. Stephen Harper’s dire warnings have been outright offensive to me. Being Chinese-Canadian means being able to celebrate our cultural heritage while embracing Canadian values of diversity and inclusiveness. Yet Stephen Harper would have us believe that our “Chineseness” makes us less able to embrace diversity, less open to new ideas and less Canadian.

Guess what, Stephen? I’m still Chinese, I’m still queer and I still love the diversity that exists in this country. And so do my parents.