3 min

Know your enemy

Religious fundamentalists are the problem, not visible minorities

Credit: Xtra West files

Like so many others, I was disheartened to arrive at the courthouse Aug 16 to discover that the anti-gay rights rally called by local churches had attracted mostly members of visible minority communities.

I heard gasps around me, people saying, “My God, they’re Asians.” It was too easy, and wrong, to look in front of us and conclude that our enemy had a distinctive skin colour.

“How can people who have felt discrimination turn around and call for discrimination against gays and lesbians?” one gay man asked another next to him at the rally.

I sympathize with the question: after all, Asians were not allowed to vote in this country until 1948. First Nations people had to wait until 1961. Remember the head tax? Remember the internment of Japanese-Canadians in the Second World War? This nation, prior to the repatriation of our Constitution and the inclusion of a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, had one of the western world’s worst histories of official prejudice against visible minorities and Jews.

Pierre Trudeau’s Constitution liberated racial and religious minorities. And now it’s liberating us. It’s clearly disconcerting-and profoundly discouraging-to view a sea of minority faces united to vigorously protest against gay rights.

Clearly, their misguided spokespeople are over the top when say that minority cultural traditions forbid equality of gays and lesbians and that therefore gay marriage should not be allowed in Canada. First, it’s simply not true that their cultural traditions are anti-gay; many Asian cultures accepted same-sex love and lust prior to the arrival of Christian missionaries. Secondly, in Canada, Constitutionally enshrined rights trump such “traditions”, while maintaining people’s freedom to worship and think as they like.

This isn’t about race. It’s not even about culture. It’s about the power of and manipulation by religious extremist leaders. Let’s remember the Catholic Church-the most consistently homophobic institution in history-organized the rally. The Catholic Church has been forging a united front among Lower Mainland religious conservatives-Christian and Muslim, Jew and Sikh.

Conservative churches-including Chinese Christian churches-sermonized against gay marriage and organized busses to herd their congregations to the law court and art gallery steps on Aug 16. You could tell by the look on their faces that most participants would rather be just about anywhere else on such a fine day.

There are, of course, relatively progressive religious movements in this city-Buddhists and pagans come immediately to mind-but their voices (and the voices of more moderate Christians and Jews) are being increasingly drowned out by the rabid religious right. It will only get worse for a while: Liberal PM-in-waiting Paul Martin has a problem with gay marriage and is open to revisiting Jean Chretien’s promise to legalize it. Martin’s spent a decade attracting conservatives to the federal Liberal Party.

So, yes, it’s true that we saw a crowd of Asian Christians, Sikhs, and Muslims, among others, demonstrating against gay rights that day. And we’ll see it again, I dare say. But let’s be clear about who we’re fighting here: it’s religious extremists, the manipulative power of churches, the conservative leadership of the nasty three desert religions-Judaism, Christianity and Islam-with their lists of rules and small-minded, intolerant, backward-looking orientation.

This is really about world views. Religious conservatives need a bogey-man to unite their followers in a feeling of superiority and moral judgement, and gays have been that bogey-man for a few centuries now. Religious leaders want it to stay that way.

At Xtra West, we’ve repeatedly run reports and features exploring the intolerance of much of Christianity. In this issue, we bring you an interview with Irshad Manji, a Vancouver-raised lesbian Muslim who has written a wonderful book challenging Islam to reform on several fronts, including its widespread homophobia. We will note that past efforts by our staff to find moderate local Muslim leaders to speak out against homophobia have proved fruitless. Surely, there’s someone progressive enough in the straight Muslim leadership to openly build a bridge?

Meanwhile, we should focus as a community on fighting religious fanatics, not singling out members of minorities. And we should keep in mind that second-generation visible minority Canadians are as liberal, on the whole, as are Canadians of European descent.

Gareth Kirkby is Managing Editor for Xtra.