Written by Adrian She.
On January 30th, 2015, Toronto’s Asian Community AIDS Services (ACAS), hosted its Asian MSM Pathway to Resiliency (AMP2R) community-based research report launch event at the Glad Day Bookstore, Canada’s first bookstore dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community. The space was a testament to resiliency itself, with its struggles with Canada Customs not unlike Vancouver’s Little Sisters Bookstore, in addition to the struggle to revitalize the bookstore despite declining revenues in recent years. And today, the space, which has continually recovered from adversity, augmented the stories of the racialized LGBTQ community members at the event, who have empowered themselves at the same time they have coped with difficult events in their lives.
The event began with a presentation which outlined the context and the main findings of the research, where the principal investigators: Dr. Alan Li, Dr. Maurice Poon and Richard Utama, as well as the project co-ordinator, Christian Hui, presented. Dr. Li, the founding president of ACAS and Mr. Utama, ACAS’ Mens’ Program Sexual Health Coordinator, explained that the motivation for the research was from a community-based sexual health forum for Asian men organized by ACAS, named S.L.A.M. (short for Sex Love Asian Men). Community-members at the forum as well as community and academic stakeholders at an ensuing research think-tank decided that a research agenda to explore the strengths and resilience of Asian gay and bi men when facing life challenges, transitions, and events was needed such that their overall well-being could be improved. Dr. Li and Mr. Utama point out that strength and resilience factors may enhance gay and bi men’s sexual health and well-being despite them having challenges in a racist, heterosexist, and HIV-stigmatized society and encountering cultural taboos within the Asian community. Upon knowing these factors, interventions or programmes which promote resilience among Asian gay/bi men and their communities can be developed so that these communities can be strengthened. Dr. Li acknowledged this Canadian Institute for Health Research funded community-based study was heavily driven by community stakeholders it directly affects, Asian gay/bi men, as well as service providers, academic organizations, and policy makers.
Next, Dr. Maurice Poon, a social work professor at York University, outlined the main themes in the research findings. Each theme is a life event for which there are challenges and barriers to overcoming it, along with facilitating factors and resilience strategies to help an individual to overcome the challenge. These themes include coming out, migration, sex and relationships, and encountering HIV. Dr. Poon remarked that some of the common barriers he noticed include the intersectionality of different forms of discrimination as well as lack of positive gay and bi role models within the Asian community. The principal investigators, and Mr. Hui took turns presenting each theme. A community member acted as the ambassadors for each theme by sharing their personal experiences related to it, which illuminated how the research framework was applied within their lives.
I was personally inspired by the diversity and the honesty of the stories which all participants and the ambassadors shared at the event. After the presentation, event participants were able to share their own perspective on each of the themes with the resilience ambassadors and each other, which was a powerful experience sharing. From speaking with event participants, principal investigators, and resilience ambassadors at the event, I took away the importance of finding the good within our own cultures and incorporating that into our own identities as queer, racialized individuals. For example, event participants shared how their own cultures taught them the importance of providing for themselves as a result of difficulties experienced when immigrating to Canada, or the importance of pushing themselves to do better as a result of the “tiger mom” culture they experienced in their childhood. I am thankful for hearing all these stories from event participants as sharing these in a group setting was very uplifting and empowered our community members.
But perhaps what was most powerful was the closing activity where all the event participants shared what resilience meant to them personally. Responses ranged from personal emotions when experiencing resiliency, to how resiliency affects the community. Undoubtedly, all participants of the event left feeling satisfied and with more knowledge about self-empowerment.
An electronic copy of the AMP2R CBR Study Community Report can be accessed here.
Acknowledgement: Thank you to Christian Hui, Dr. Alan Li, and Meza Daulet of ACAS for supporting me in writing this article.