In high school, Darren Ho recalls boys writing, “Darren’s so gay” in his notebook, or calling him girly. A shy kid who didn’t like standing out, Ho kept mostly to himself.
Now a 23-year-old linguistics major at Simon Fraser University, Ho says he couldn’t talk to his parents about what was going on in school or that he couldn’t sleep at night. He was overwhelmed with fear about how they would react to him being gay. When he came out to his friends in Grade 11, he didn’t tell his parents. They still don’t know.
Ho’s experience as a gay Asian Canadian teen is common in BC. A study released on March 28 from the University of British Columbia found that lesbian, gay and bisexual Asian Canadian youth are 30 times more likely to face harassment than their heterosexual peers. They are also more likely to use drugs or alcohol, according to the study conducted by professor Elizabeth Saewyc.
The report’s findings were based on 5,423 Asian youth who completed the BC Adolescent Health Survey in 2003. Another key finding is the importance of relationships, particularly with teachers and family, in potentially alleviating some of the negative effects of racist and homophobic bullying.
Darren Ho is frustrated by the complicated silence around sexuality maintained by his parents and their generation of Chinese Canadians.
(Beth Hong photo)
“Family connectedness really does make a difference for sexual minorities,” Saewyc said. “Unfortunately, many feel that they have to deal with it themselves, which is a shame because they deal with homophobia, racism, and discrimination.”
Brian Wong can relate to Ho’s experience as a gay Asian Canadian growing up in Metro Vancouver. The 27-year-old grew up in East Vancouver as a second generation Chinese Canadian.
Wong too was bullied from Grades 8–12 by classmates who called him “gay” and “girly.” He got depressed, and his grades slipped from As and Bs to Cs by the time he graduated. While he didn’t turn to alcohol or drugs, he thought many times about suicide.
At 19, he finally came out to his mother. Her reaction was surprisingly accepting, but she did not tell her husband. Wong finally came out to his father two years ago.
“He said he knew something was wrong a year before,” he recalls. “But ultimately he said, ‘You’re our son and we love you.’”
When asked about his relationship with his parents now, Wong says it’s still an uncomfortable topic for his parents to discuss with their friends and colleagues. However, it also hasn’t been as negative as he expected. He remembers in particular shopping with his father at Pacific Centre last December.
“Hollister had two male buff models in swim shorts standing in front of the store, enticing people to go in,” he said. His father made sure to point them out to him. “I thought that was very indicative of his level of support for me now.”
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