In a place as multicultural as Vancouver, many people don’t comfortably fit into just one group.
People who are both members of ethnic minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or queer (LGBTQ) can feel as if they need to choose between their ethnic and sexual identities. But the local Our City of Colours organization wants to raise awareness on how these identities can be reconciled in a positive way.
A non-profit group started in 2011, Our City of Colours now has over 100 members and aims to promote the visibility of LGBTQ people who may face intolerance from their ethnic communities, said board member Carven Li.
The organization held an anti-discrimination workshop on campus this past Monday as part of UBC’s Outweek programming, a series of events celebrating LGBTQ people.
Li, who is the only UBC student on the board, said he hopes Outweek will help the organization establish a larger presence on campus. Li hopes to attract more members to the annual general meeting for Our City of Colours on March 6.
The organization’s most prominent campaign is a series of multilingual posters depicting LGBTQ people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. They show real Vancouverites and list cultural and family activities they enjoy alongside matter-of-fact descriptions of their LGBTQ identities.
One of the posters shows Spencer and Aaron, two young Chinese-Canadian men, holding hands and smiling. Aaron, the poster says, is 25 years old, plays volleyball, enjoys hot pot dinners and loves Spencer. Spencer, age 24, does yoga, watches soap operas with his grandmother and loves Aaron.
Spencer and Aaron’s poster is bilingual in Chinese and English. Other posters feature other languages, including Farsi, Filipino and Russian.
Posters have been put up throughout the Lower Mainland. At UBC, the posters can be seen at Brock Hall and in the Sexual Assault Support Centre, among other places.
UBC Outweek co-organizer Tamara Brown said Our City of Colours is doing important work to help promote diversity and acceptance.
“We do have queer people from a variety of different cultures, and Our City of Colours really recognizes that and tries to promote the idea that you can be queer and be from any culture, and still be out and happy and celebrated,” Brown said.
According to Li, ethnic minorities seeking LGBTQ resources may face language barriers or resources that are not culturally appropriate. At the same time, resources to deal with LGBTQ issues may be nonexistent within an ethnic community.
“Being an ethnic minority, they may be double- or triple-marginalized,” said Li.
Li said the group has various plans for future outreach at UBC.
“I think students, being at UBC — such an international place — can benefit from not just seeing our posters at Brock Hall but actually participating in discussion groups in the future,” said Li.
Mo Kazerooni, a fourth-year economics and accounting student at UBC, had many positive things to say about Our City of Colours.
“When I saw this project, I saw this as a good way to have a presence in the Iranian community and other cultural communities, and bring people together, start a discussion and give some visibility to gender and sexual minorities,” said Kazerooni.
Darren Ho, an SFU student who was a co-founder of Our City of Colours, said he started the group because he felt there was a lack of resources for ethnic minorities dealing with LGBTQ issues.
“I always felt that when it comes to LGBTQ issues, everything was seen as a Western issue. Or when it was talked about, it was talked about from a westernized perspective,” Ho said.
“We’re filling a void that wasn’t there. When I started this project, a lot of people told me this was long overdue and needed a long time ago.”
Ho said the campaign also tries to work around some other, more subtle barriers. Some languages may not have words for LGBTQ people that don’t also carry derogatory connotations, Ho said.
He said the campaign focuses on outreach to immigrants and newcomers to the country. “When they come to Canada, they lack a lot of resources when it comes to LGBTQ information because a lot of it is primarily in English,” he said. “And if you’re a newcomer who happens not to speak English, then you’re missing out a lot of the information and a lot of the resources.”
The organization has focused on Metro Vancouver so far, but there has also been interest in expanding the poster campaign into Winnipeg and Toronto.
“I feel like we’ve accomplished a lot in the short time we’ve existed,” said Ho.