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Published: September 8, 2011

Charter Lau lets the gender of his gay sibling slip in conversation but doesn’t want it revealed — to protect his relative’s identity, he says. So we talk in generalities: the sibling, the person, they.

He found out about the sibling’s sexuality through his mother, who wrote about it in a letter to her other children. Lau doesn’t know how she found out, but she wasn’t thrilled. “We told my mom, ‘Look, we’re all grown up. What’s the big deal?”

“She wasn’t happy because she wants offspring,” Lau elaborates.

“It’s not a right or wrong thing; it’s a preference thing. If someone wants offspring from her offspring, the person does not give her the offspring, she’s not happy,” he continues with a chuckle. “It’s a culture thing: this is how humans sustain, right?”

Lau says his parents never brought up sexuality, let alone homosexuality. “Because they didn’t mention it, we figure it might not totally be a good thing. Otherwise they will say, This is good, this is bad, right? This is the hot button.”

“Anything that is not normal is not okay in Chinese society,” asserts Hong Kong–born Heinel Wong, who recently shared an account of losing his anal virginity with Xtra readers.

“And normal is really, really normal,” he emphasizes. “No sex until married, guys should be providers, they should be tough; females should be gentle, more nurturing, stay at home, cook, take care of the kids. They should fit a certain mould in such a way that the family can continue on.”

As things stand, there’s no estrangement between Lau’s family and the sibling, who is still welcome at family gatherings and brings a partner, who is referred to as a friend.

“We solve the problem. We love the sibling, we have dinner, everything that a normal sibling will do in the family, except we don’t talk about sexuality,” Lau says, describing a kind of détente where no one forces anybody to accept a particular point of view. “My sibling appreciates the fact that we accept the sibling. ‘Accept’ meaning we tolerate it. We don’t make a big fuss, we pretend that nothing happened and then everybody is happy.” That said, Lau and his family feel homosexual sex will lead to ill health. He cites a recent study that shows more than half of all new HIV infections in BC are occurring in men who have sex with men.
Lau, who was born in Hong Kong in 1958 and moved to Vancouver in 1991, says Chinese people are not enthusiastic about discussing sexuality, straight or gay.

“We just make money, we marry, be happy and then life goes on. If we have a different lifestyle, and I’m not just talking about sexuality, you just go your own way, keep it low profile — as long as you don’t put it in our face, force people to make a stand, then everybody is happy,” he summarizes. “But sometimes some brave soul wants to stir up the pot a little bit in Hong Kong.

“When there is a gay couple fighting for their gay rights, to get married, then people will punish that guy, because we think you are wasting our time; you are making a big fuss out of small things. We think whatever your private life is, is your private life. Why you want me to accept certain things, or to do things for you? You marry in your village, in your home, you have your dinner party, you do your own stuff.”

What Lau can’t fathom is the public demonstrations he sees on the streets here. “In Canada, you can stand in the middle of the road to protest, you hold up traffic, just to complain about something — complain about politics, complain about whatever. To us, this is not okay.

“Because you have a right to express yourself, you don’t have a right to disturb other people’s life,” he contends. “So if someone wants to force us to say, ‘Okay, you must accept a certain idea,’ we resist. We don’t want people to force us to accept something — that’s the bottom line.”

Like 5.45, for example, the Burnaby School Board’s newly minted anti-homophobia policy.

The district’s trustees unanimously passed the policy on June 14, but not before hundreds of parents, many of them Asian and attendees of Willingdon Church, reportedly Canada’s second-largest Protestant congregation, staged three rallies to protest against its content. Among their grievances were that the policy promotes reverse discrimination, infringes on parents’ rights, and privileges its proponents who have a political agenda to target children.

“When you say you try to teach it in schools, they will feel uneasy,” says Lau, a Willingdon Church member and key spokesperson for 5.45’s opponents, some of whom later coalesced into Parents’ Voice.

“If you force them to teach their children that homosexuality is a normal and healthy lifestyle, you will instantly have a whole army against you, because you disturb the harmony and stability of the family, because you are teaching the children something they don’t feel comfortable with,” he says. “It’s not about gay is sin.”

He says he has no problem with schools recognizing the existence of gay people in society, saying their rights should be respected, and even saying they are “as normal as we are except that they are gay.”

But highlighting gay people’s positive contributions to society is going one step too far in Lau’s estimation. “I understand it is very effective to teach children about gay things, or whatever. I don’t think this is the role of education or school.”

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