Ottawa
3 min

The ‘white disease’

Once, at a community health centre, a counsellor told me that there was no need to have any anti-homophobia education for the staff. There was no reason to address homophobia, he said, because there were no queer people in his community. His community was the Chinese community.

After I informed him that I was queer he seemed quite taken aback. I asked him why he thought there were no queer Asians. He told me that he considered homosexuality to be a “white disease.” He smiled at me politely, gave me an appraising look and asked me if I wanted to become a woman. At this point I had had enough. I waved goodbye and thought to myself, “This guy’s a nut. How could he be a counsellor?”

Later that same day I read an article about HIV in Africa. After reading through the horrors of the epidemic and the poverty it was intensifying, I was drawn to a statement credited to the leader of an African country. There were no gay people in his country – his entire country, he said. I imagined the face of the leader standing before a podium covered in microphones, smiling proudly, while making his zero-gay people declaration. It was creepy to see that declaration in print and I had to read the article twice before accepting that yes, this was in fact the leader’s statement.

Now, most of us have heard of countries banning homosexuality and giving harsh punishments to anyone discovered to be queer, but who knew there were countries declaring themselves gay-free zones?

Certain members of cultural/ ethnic communities consider homosexuality to be a “white disease.” Queerness, I suppose, only happens among the amoral, decadent and un-pious cultures (read mainstream white culture). If a member of a (and I use this term loosely) non-white community is queer, it is because they have been exposed to too much Canadian culture, mainstream media has corrupted them or they’ve had too many white friends.

Of course, this point of view is ridiculous. It seems to come from a mix of cultural alienation and homophobia. It is far easier to blame the supposed moral laxness of Canadian society then confront homophobia and heterosexism (the belief that heterosexuality is the only valid form of sexual and cultural expression). It is perhaps easier for some members of minority communities to believe that a member of one’s cultural community would be “normal” had it not been for the corrupting influences of society. After all, it maintains the myth that one’s own culture is still untouched by the curse of queer. Right. As I wrote two columns back, Stephen Harper seems to have bought into this myth as well, evidenced by his attempt at blocking same-sex marriage with the support of the so-called ethnic vote. But I digress.

For those of us who know better – who accept that there is no definitive origin for sexual orientation – it’s hard not to notice how white mainstream gay culture seems. The lack of representation in queer media culture is scary. I think that Queer As Folk averaged 2.2 people of colour per episode (mostly as a non-white face somewhere in the crowd). Most of the Hollywood movies featuring gay people feature white gay people. Will and Jack: both white.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t believe that gay media is trying to exclude nor do I think that the lack of representation makes the community racist. Some will say that I’m being naive but that’s a whole other argument. But the lack of representation of people of colour, people with disabilities, women and other members of the diverse queer community makes gay seem very white, very able-bodied and very male.

Gays from minority communities must address and challenge homophobia within those min-ority communities. That’s especially true for those of us who come from communities where leaders continue to insist there are no gay people.

At the same time as we do that, the queer community itself must also continue to push for greater inclusion and increased representation of diversity. I think that we can agree that diversity and inclusion is a good thing in itself.

But it can also help those of us in minority communities challenge the myth of the “white disease.” If I ever run into the counsellor who told me that being queer and Asian is a contradiction, I’ll be able to open a newspaper or turn on the television and point out the diversity in the queer community.

A footnote: For a good laugh and a dose of queer diversity, rent The Wedding Banquet (1993), directed by Ang Lee.