Religion, Sexual Diversity and South Asian Youth Culture in the GTA

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What’s your South Asia? Do you identify as Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, Kashmiri, Pakistani, or Indian? What about Canadian? What’s your Islam, your Hinduism, your Buddhism, or your other? Who decides your communities, how you fit in those communities, and what’s important to each? When it comes to dating, how do you negotiate your gender and sexuality? What’s your normal? This conference sponsored by the Religion and the Public Sphere initiative at the University of Toronto brought together these and other questions in two free events, the first an evening public forum, the second a day-long community workshop.

In its report, “Projections of the Diversity of the Canadian Population,” Statistics Canada estimates that by 2031 South Asians will be the largest visible minority in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). According to 2006 Census results, 36% of Brampton and 22% of Mississauga’s population is comprised of people of South Asian-descent, and these populations have increased during the intervening years. These demographic shifts have had a significant impact at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, where the student population of South Asian descent has increased in recent years and has played an important role in shaping campus life and academic programs. UTM hosts a diversity of South Asian student organizations and the faculty offerings in a broad range of courses on various aspects of South Asian religions, history, ritual and culture, and gender issues. Beyond the university, there is an active and committed number of organizations and individuals committed to addressing issues of gender, sexuality, and the family in South Asian communities in the GTA.

In the university courses offered to students, community groups engaged in activism and education, and student groups engaged in religious and cultural activities, what role does religion play in discussions about sexuality, sexual and domestic violence, dating and multiculturalism? This forum and community workshop provided an opportunity for scholars, students, community activists, religious leaders, and service providers to examine the role of South Asian religions (Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism) in addressing issues of gender and sexuality that young South Asians are experiencing and exploring through their multiply situated identities: Canadian-Pakistani/Indian/Bangladeshi, Hindu/Muslim/Sikh, straight/gay/lesbian/bisexual/trans. Also examined was the extent and role of religious identity and traditions with regard to three issues of gender and sexuality that Canadian South Asian youth experience. The first issue focused on sexual and domestic violence, especially as these forms of violence are explicitly gendered and find their legitimation through patriarchal investiture in religio-cultural norms of “honour.” The second issue centred on Canadian South Asians who identify as LGBTQ. How do Canadian South Asian youth negotiate their sex/gender identity in relation to the ostensible mandate of heteronormativity in Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh religious law? The third issue considered dating and multiculturalism. What tensions do young South Asians navigate between the Canadian value of multiculturalism that they have grown up with and parental and social expectations that they will not date until marriage?

The community workshop sessions and the public forum assessed through these three areas of focus the role that religion plays in the expression of gender and sexual diversity among South Asian youth in the GTA. What role does religion play in shaping sexual and gender identities? How do religious and cultural communities and Canadian values of assimilation and multiculturalism intersect to produce ambiguities, challenges, and opportunities for young South Asian Canadians in their gender expression and formation of sexual identities?

For their kind support of these events, we thank the Religious Diversity Youth Leadership Project, the Religion and Diversity Project, Mark Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, Centre for South Asian Civilizations, Department of Historical Studies and the Department for the Study of Religion.

See the following media relating to the Religion and Sexual Diversity events.

Report by Ayesha Valliani

RPS on YouTube

Forum videos on the RPS YouTube channel

Featured Events

Religion and Sexual Diversity Forum and Workshop information flyer

RPS FORUM (St George campus)

“Religion, Sexual Diversity and South Asian Youth Culture in the GTA”

THURSDAY 26 SEPTEMBER 2013, 5:00-7:00 p.m., followed by an informal reception with refreshments • University College, Room 140, 15 King’s College Circle, Toronto

Forum participants: Kavita Bissoondial (LGBT Youth Line Coordinator and social justice advocate), El-Farouk Khaki (lawyer and human rights activist), Farrah Khan (community activist and educator), Momin Rahman (Professor of Sociology, Trent University), and Ramraajh Sharvendiran (Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention). Moderator: Ayesha Valliani (Department for the Study of Religion)

Following the forum event we were pleased to present Heartbeats: The IZZAT Project, a performance by the Outburst! Young Muslim Women Project.


RPS Forum Guest Profiles

Kavita BissoondialKavita Bissoondial is a mixed-media artist, facilitator, storyteller, and recovering student organizer. She has participated in a diversity of social justice projects, aiming to create space for community building and peer support by and for queer and trans people of colour and indigenous folks. Her technical background is a mixture of self-taught and university-learned film, photography and radio production, poetry writing and performance, Kathak (classical Indian dance), and a mishmash of print graphic design work. Her work is informed by her experiences as a fat, Indo-Caribbean, diasporic, queer, femme, survivor, growing up in Scarborough on the land of the Mississaugas of New Credit, and struggling through white supremacy in Kingston on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples. She now serves as the Service Coordinator at the LGBT Youth Line and as a facilitator for the peer youth violence prevention program Respect In Action (ReAct).

El-Farouk KhakiEl-Farouk Khaki is a refugee and immigration lawyer. His practice primarily involves representing women fleeing gender violence, LGBTQI people fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, as well as people fleeing persecution because of their HIV status. A human rights and social justice advocate, his leadership has been recognized through many awards, including: 2006 “Excellence in Spirituality” Award – Pride Toronto; 2007 Hero Award, Canadian Bar Association The Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conference; 2007 Steinert & Ferreiro Award from the Lesbian & Gay Community Appeal. In 2009, he was elected the Grand Marshall for the 2009 Toronto Pride Parade, and received the “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop”, Pride Toronto Theme Award. In 2008, he ran for Canadian Federal Parliament in two elections for the New Democratic Party of Canada.

El-Farouk is the founder of Salaam: Queer Muslim Community, an organization he originally started in 1991. In May 2009, he co-founded the el-Tawhid Juma Circle (operating as ‘Unity Mosque’) with Troy Jackson and Dr. Laury Silvers. He is co-founder of Canadian Muslim Union, past Chair of Africans in Partnership against AIDS and sits on the Advisory Board of Muslims for Progressive Values (USA and Canada). El-Farouk has set on many boards and is a public speaker on Islam, the Immigration and Refugee system, human rights, racism, politics and HIV/AIDS. He is also one of the owners of the Glad Day Bookshop, the world’s oldest surviving LGBT bookshop. He is currently enrolled in the Muslim Chaplaincy/Pastoral Studies Master’s program at the University of Toronto.

Farrah KhanAt the age of 16, Farrah Khan picked up a microphone to speak out about sexual assault and has not put it down since. She has spent the last sixteen years working diligently to raise awareness of gender-based violence through art creation, education, counseling and community development. Farrah is a nationally recognized public speaker and educator on violence against women including forced marriage and “honour” related violence. She holds a Master of Social Work from the University of Toronto and supports women who are survivors of violence as a counsellor and advocate at a community agency. At the Clinic Farrah coordinates Outburst! Young Muslim Women Project. She is also an artist who uses prose, video and craft to explore the intersections of migration, faith and community. She is the editor of “Heartbeats: The IZZAT Project” a graphic novella by South Asian young women about resiliency in the face of family violence. An emerging leader in grassroots equity movements, Farrah has been presented with numerous awards, including the Toronto Vital People Award.
Momin RahmanMomin Rahman is Professor of Sociology at Trent University, and has published Gender and Sexuality: Sociological Approaches (2010, with Stevi Jackson), Sexuality and Democracy (2000) and numerous articles on LGBT issues, including work on queer representations of David Beckham (2004) and in sports celebrity more generally (2011). He is currently working on the tensions between Muslim cultures and sexual diversity and has just completed a manuscript on Homosexualities, Muslim Cultures and Modernity, due for publication in late 2013.
Ramraajh SharvendiranA Communications Studies graduate of York University, Ramraajh Sharvendiran has been working with queer-identified communities in the GTA for the last six years. Since 2011 he has been the Tamil Outreach & MSM Prevention Coordinator at the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention where he provides frontline services for South Asian and Tamil-speaking MSM (Men who have sex with men), manages online resources and co-facilitates three social support groups. He is also host and producer of a weekly radio segment on CHRY 105.5 FM in Toronto that discusses issues of health and human rights as they relate to queer-identified communities. Ramraajh was the former Internal Coordinator of the Trans Bisexual Lesbian Gay Allies at York University (TBLGAY) where he coordinated a LGBTQ student resource centre, provided peer-support and referrals to youth.
Ayesha VallianiAyesha Valliani is a Master’s Candidate at the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto, where she also completed her undergraduate degree. Having lived in Karachi, London, Dusseldorf, Dubai, and Toronto, Ayesha is interested in questions of religious diversity and identity formation, and how religious freedoms and rights are understood in different legal contexts. Her research focuses on the 2012 “N.S.” decision by the Supreme Court of Canada. The case was to decide on whether or not women can wear the niqab in the courtroom, however, the decision was such that each future case will be ruled on on an individual basis. Specifically, Ayesha will be considering how certain legal precedents influenced the decision in this case, and what the implications of the ruling will be for future cases surrounding religious diversity and individual rights in Canada.

Outburst logoOutburst! Young Muslim Women Project is a movement of young Muslim women in Toronto who are breaking silence and speaking out about violence. We want to determine the ways in which we define and access safety. Outburst!, a program of the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, is an opportunity for us to build community through art, education and research. Performers: Kathana, Mariam and Aruba

RPS Forum, HeartbeatsHeartbeats: The IZZAT Project is a love letter to our communities. We came together as a group of young South Asian women to challenge how “izzat” or “honour” has been used to rationalize violence against us. Our bodies belong to us, not to patriarchs, media or governments. Heartbeats: The IZZAT Project affirms our right to safety. Throughout 2012, we collectively wrote six stories which were illustrated by artist Somya Singh and Selena Wong into the graphic novella Heartbeats: The IZZAT Project.

 

Religion and Sexual Diversity Forum and Workshop information flyer

RPS COMMUNITY RESEARCH WORKSHOP (Mississauga campus)

“Religion, Sexual Diversity and South Asian Youth Culture in the GTA”

FRIDAY 27 SEPTEMBER 2013, 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. • University of Toronto Mississauga Council Chambers, Davis Building, Room 3130, 3359 Mississauga Road North.

An opportunity for scholars, policy-makers, community activists and service providers to consider: What role does religion play in shaping sexual and gender identities? How do religious and cultural communities and Canadian values of assimilation and multiculturalism intersect to produce ambiguities, challenges, and opportunities for young South Asian Canadians in their gender expression and formation of sexual identities?

The three workshop sessions addressed (1) Sexual and gender-based violence, (2) Negotiating queerness, and (3) Dating and multiculturalism.


RPS Community Research Workshop Schedule

9:00-9:30 Arrival.
9:30-10:00 Introductions
Amanda Goodman (University of Toronto: Department for the Study of Religion and Department of East Asian Studies) and Karen Ruffle (University of Toronto: Department for the Study of Religion and Department of Historical Studies)
10:00-11:30 Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
Facilitated by Salina Abji (University of Toronto PhD candidate, Sociology), Asam Ahmad (community organizer), Farrah Khan (community activist and educator) and Sadeq Khan (founder of the non-profit organization Positive Productionz)
11:30 –13:00 Lunch

13:00-14:30

LGBTQ Issues: Negotiating Queerness
Facilitated by Sena Hussain (community activist), Gitanjali Lena (Executive Director, Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line), Momin Rahman (Professor of Sociology, Trent University) and Aisha Wahid.
14:30-15:00 Break
15:00-17:00 Dating and Multiculturalism
Facilitated by Ramraajh Sharvendiran (Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention), David Udayasekaran, (Planned Parenthood T.E.A.C.H. program), Pamela Uppal (Master’s Candidate, Women’s Studies and Feminist Research Program, University of Western Ontario) and Fatima Wahid (social justice activist).

 


RPS Community Research Workshop Facilitator Profiles


— WORKSHOP #1: “SEXUAL AND GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE” —

Salina AbjiSalina Abji is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on efforts to address violence against women with precarious immigration statuses in Toronto, Canada, and how these efforts are re-shaping the meanings and locations of citizenship in the contemporary immigration context. She is part of a CERIS-funded research project on services to address violence against women among South Asian communities of the GTA.
Asam AhmadAsam Ahmad is a writer, poet, scholar and community organizer. He has been coordinating the It Gets Fatter Project for the past year, a grassroots body positivity collective founded by fat people of color for fat people of color. He is actively involved in social justice, fat activism, indigenous and Palestinian solidarity work, and is committed to ending all borders. He is a Tumblr, dim sum and reading addict, and is passionate about making the world a fatter place.
Farrah KhanAt the age of 16, Farrah Khan picked up a microphone to speak out about sexual assault and has not put it down since. She has spent the last sixteen years working diligently to raise awareness of gender-based violence through art creation, education, counseling and community development. Farrah is a nationally recognized public speaker and educator on violence against women including forced marriage and “honour” related violence. She holds a Master of Social Work from the University of Toronto and supports women who are survivors of violence as a counsellor and advocate at a community agency. At the Clinic Farrah coordinates Outburst! Young Muslim Women Project. She is also an artist who uses prose, video and craft to explore the intersections of migration, faith and community. She is the editor of “Heartbeats: The IZZAT Project” a graphic novella by South Asian young women about resiliency in the face of family violence. An emerging leader in grassroots equity movements, Farrah has been presented with numerous awards, including the Toronto Vital People Award.
Sadeq KhanA University of Toronto graduate, Sadeq Khan is currently a student in the Faculty of Education program at York University. He has been heavily involved in the community, and in 2011 was awarded Youth of the Year by Peel Region. He is the founder and executive director of Positive Productionz, a non-profit organization that addresses youth violence in the GTA. The organization has branched out to also raise awareness about sexual abuse in the South Asian community, and hopes to release a film, “The struggle of an Immigrant: The story of Ibrahim”, in August 2014. The film highlights issues such as sexual abuse, rape and unreported crime in the South Asian community, and also youth violence among immigrant populations in Canada. Sadeq also plans to establish The Right Path, a youth program where approximately 20 participants from the GTA will receive guidance on becoming positive and successful young adults in the community.

— WORKSHOP #2: “NEGOTIATING QUEERNESS

Sena HussainQueer community activist Sena Hussain, 2nd generation Canadian of Pakistani-descent, is an aspiring social worker and part of Toronto’s vibrant queer people of colour community. Sena also performs drag, using gender performance as a way to subvert heteronormative and gender normative discourses placed on the bodies of brown, Muslim women. As part of Secret Trial Five, a political punk band she formed with two other Pakistani women from Muslim backgrounds, she became the first woman to sing on an Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) stage, when she and her punk friends crashed open-mic night at an ISNA convention in 2007. The band was formed following the events of 9/11 when she developed a desire and urgency to make music with a political message that addressed the animosity being directed towards Muslims.
speaker default imageGitanjali Lena is a poet, installation artist, cellist, and legal worker of Tamil/Sinhalese origins. In 2013 Gitanjali became the Executive Director of the Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line. She works to question traditions and uncover the complexities of our identities of ancestral past and diaspora present. She has exhibited and performed in Vancouver, Ottawa, Kuala Lumpur, Montreal and Toronto.She has exhibited and performed in Desh Pardesh, Masala Mehndi Masti, Ayelasah, Word on the Street, the AGO, SAVAC and the Izzat Zine Launch. She published in Fireweed, and the 2010 "Our Roots Need Rain" in the Whose your Daddy? Anthology of Queer Writing on Parenting". Gitanjali organized a Queers Against Sri Lankan Apartheid contingent who marched in the 2009 Pride Parade with handmade t-shirts. Gitanjali was part of the organizing teams for Ayelasah 2011 an event which raised $6,000 for Batticaloa flood relief and community development. In 2012 she appeared in ASAAPs Colour Me Queer postcard campaign and co-organized Backyard Banga a queer sri lankan performance night.Her latest project is going to be a digital Tamil archiving project to collect stories of Tamils in the GTA. She is a proud queer amma to her son Amuthan.
Momin RahmanMomin Rahman is Professor of Sociology at Trent University, and has published Gender and Sexuality: Sociological Approaches (2010, with Stevi Jackson), Sexuality and Democracy (2000) and numerous articles on LGBT issues, including work on queer representations of David Beckham (2004) and in sports celebrity more generally (2011). He is currently working on the tensions between Muslim cultures and sexual diversity and has just completed a manuscript on Homosexualities, Muslim Cultures and Modernity, due for publication in late 2013.
Aisha WahidAisha Wahid or “The Edgar Allan Poet” describes herself as a badass poet with a lot of swagger. She loves telling stories, lip syncing and chocolate covered almonds. Her poetry can be found in Pink Ink and Homebound Poetry.

— WORKSHOP #3: “DATING AND MULTICULTURALISM” —

Ramraajh SharvendiranA Communications Studies graduate of York University, Ramraajh Sharvendiran has been working with queer-identified communities in the GTA for the last six years. Since 2011 he has been the Tamil Outreach & MSM Prevention Coordinator at the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention where he provides frontline services for South Asian and Tamil-speaking MSM, manages online resources and co-facilitates three social support groups. He is also host and producer of a weekly radio segment on CHRY 105.5 FM in Toronto that discusses issues of health and human rights as they relate to queer-identified communities. Ramraajh was the former Internal Coordinator of the Trans Bisexual Lesbian Gay Allies at York University (TBLGAY) where he coordinated a LGBTQ student resource centre, provided peer-support and referrals to youth.
speaker portraitDavid Udayasekaran became involved in T.E.A.C.H. in 2003 when he joined the program as a volunteer. As the Volunteer Engagement Worker for the program he now supports youth Peer Facilitators in delivering workshops on anti-homophobia. He is dedicated to ideals of equity and anti-oppression. He has a background in sex education and as a public speaker. His experience as a queer South Asian man gives him a different perspective than many who do this work and thus informs much of his work and activism.
Pamela UppalPamela Uppal is a Master’s Candidate at the University of Western Ontario in the Women’s Studies and Feminist Research Program. Her independent research project focuses on critically analyzing the experience of young South Asian women who are children of immigrants and are living in the Canadian diaspora. More specifically, looking at the ways in which such women construct their identities through intersecting discourses of race, class and gender as embedded in two, at time conflicting, cultures. She has completed her undergraduate degree in Philosophy and Women & Gender Studies at the University of Toronto. Pamela has also spent time working with the South Asian community as a caseworker at a local non-profit organization.
Fatima WahidFatima Wahid is a photographer, poet, and social justice activist. She writes, tells stories and is always deconstructing people’s notion of “women” “Muslim” and “Pakistani”. When she’s not doing that she can be found organizing something related to Outburst!, the Muslim women group of which she’s a part, and she hopes that one day women of colour will run the world.
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