It was exactly a month ago that Vancouver police released photos of two men suspected in an eastside assault on a gay couple.
David Holtzman and Peter Regier had been wandering home when they spotted two drunks. One of the men was urinating on the couple's building. When they asked the man to stop, police say, they were met with taunts, homophobic slurs -- and fists.
Two weeks later, on June 30, Parminder and Ravinder Bassi, two South Asian brothers from Richmond, were charged with assault causing bodily harm.
The charges had a familiar feel.
The Bassi brothers were the 12th and 13th Canadians of South Asian background charged since 1994 in connection with gay-bashing incidents in B.C.
Eighteen cases of alleged gay bashings have come before the courts in that time period -- meaning that cases in which South Asian men were charged represent more than a third of the total cases.
When The Province reported on the Bassi brothers being charged, the comments section of the newspaper's website was flooded with pointed remarks about attacks on B.C.'s queer community.
"I HATE these Surrey Indo-thugs for soiling Yaletown with their mere presence," one person wrote.
"Two East Indian guys once again," another mused.
A third referred to a gay-bashing trial at which Michael Kandola, a South Asian man, was convicted.
"They look like friends of 'Kandola' -- the last guy convicted of gay bashing. What a coincidence," the comment read.
Interviewed the day after the Bassis' arrest, Vancouver Coun. Tim Stevenson, a gay clergyman, acknowledged that South Asians are widely "perceived" by the community to be committing most of the assaults on gays.
"That seems, from everything that I understand, to be true, which is unfortunate," Stevenson told The Province.
It's difficult to say if the perception is accurate.
There is no official data available on the ethnic backgrounds of the perpetrators of gay bashings. To avoid any suggestion of racial profiling, neither Vancouver police nor the RCMP keep such statistics. Likewise, Crown counsel in B.C. do not keep those statistics on gay-bashing trials or hate crimes.
But in a recent issue of the city's gay-oriented newspaper Xtra! Vancouver, under the headline "Brown boy bashing," columnist Natasha Barsotti wrote: "In Vancouver, South Asians are more likely to be gay-bashing suspects, disproportionate to their numbers in the population."
Xtra! Vancouver sifted through its own archives, going back to 1994 to create a database of gay bashings, says managing editor Robin Perelle.
The paper concluded that the 38 per cent was disproportionately high, since according to the Statistics Canada's 2006 census, South Asians account for only 26 per cent of Metro Vancouver's population.
The analysis hasn't gone over well with some in the South Asian queer community, who bristle at suggestions their men are responsible for a disproportionate number of hate crimes against gays.
Fatima Jaffer, spokesperson for the South Asian queer group Trikone Vancouver, says there is no concrete evidence for the idea.
"There are no stats to support that," she says. "Even if this is a trend, which I don't believe it is, it's just a blip.
"I remember, during the Michael Kandola trial, I answered so many media questions [about whether] South Asians were homophobic," she says. "[But] you can't just paint the whole community because of what some individuals do. Alex Sangha, founder of the Sikh gay organization Sher Vancouver, is even blunter.
"South Asians are no more likely to commit gay bashings than any other community," he says. "A perception like this tarnishes the image of our community, especially in Sikhism, which values tolerance and equality."
Although he has heard the trend theory floated several times, Imtiaz Popat, another South Asian queer community activist, says he is baffled every time he hears it.
"Of course, these gay bashings are disturbing," says Popat, organizer of the Muslim gay-advocacy group Salaam Vancouver. "Homophobia is a problem in the South Asian community. But gay bashing is not a South Asian phenomenon. It crosses all ethnic boundaries."
Popat says he clearly remembers the night in 1994 when a group of South Asian males charged into the Edge cafe in Vancouver, yelling homophobic profanities. It was the first instance Xtra! Vancouver found of a South Asian gay-bashing attack.
"I was a witness to that gay bashing on Davie Street and it was pretty shocking," Popat says. "That was the first time I had seen members of my community involved in a gay bashing. But a trend? I don't think so."
Jennifer Breakspear of Qmunity, Vancouver's queer resource centre, declined to comment on Xtra! Vancouver's analysis, but she did agree to speak generally about the perceived South Asian trend.Reference:: Sikh Philosophy Network http://www.sikhphilosophy.net/canada/31491-two-communities-struggle-with-hate.html
"It's easy to think we are spotting trends, but it can also be very dangerous," Breakspear says.
Instead, she suggests that the perception might exist because several of the high-profile cases involving South Asians coincidentally also had victims who were willing to speak out against gay bashings publicly.
South Asian leaders like Bikramjit Singh are also concerned that Xtra!' s analysis will reflect poorly on their community. Singh, president of the Guru Nanak gurdwara, or house of worship, was hesitant to even address the subject.
"We don't distinguish between anyone," he eventually says. "We donate food to the homeless and don't distinguish. Sikhs donate a lot of blood, and that blood goes to everyone, even gays. But highlighting these gay bashings is not going to help the Sikh community."
Coincidentally, ousted Sikh leader Balwant Singh Gill, of the same gurdwara, openly condemned homosexuality in the media in 2007. He later apologized.
Sarwan Singh, head priest at the same gurdwara, notes that violence of any form is not condoned by the Sikh community.
"Our teachings do not permit homosexuality," he says, speaking in Punjabi. "So we say that to our followers, but at the same time, we do not challenge Canadian laws and we do not encourage these beatings."
The Guru Nanak gurdwara offers instructional services to Sikh youth,
especially on preventing violence against women and in gangs, although it does not specifically focus on acts of homophobic violence.
Speaking for Trikone, Jaffer agrees that Xtra!' s analysis could also be detrimental for the South Asian queer community.
"There are many South Asians who are queer and this kind of analysis really doesn't help," she says.
"Shortly after the Michael Kandola incident, I was walking along Davie Street, and two white gay men pushed me, saying I didn't belong here," Jaffer recalls. "It's hard enough being South Asian and queer, but then you become alienated from the queer community as well."Reference:: Sikh Philosophy Network http://www.sikhphilosophy.net/showthread.php?t=31491
Despite the challenge, Xtra! Vancouver defends its analysis.
Managing editor Perelle says it was done to "fully understand" the problem of gay bashing.
"To me, looking at the demographics is not an exercise in fuelling racism," Perelle says. "Ultimately, the goal is to eradicate racism, but we need an accurate picture to do that."
Very little academic research has been done on the perpetrators of gay bashings.
Gerald Walton, a Simon Fraser University grad and an expert in homophonic bullying, says homophobia has less to with race or religion than concepts of masculinity.
"There is this dominant idea of how men should act, sound and dress," Walton says. "And that idea is very common in North America and goes across all cultures."
Walton isn't convinced that any particular culture or religion that is more homophobic than another.
"If you want to [say] that, then we need to ask those suspects if they believe, because of their religion or culture, that homosexuality is sinful," Walton says. "And certainly, there are many people of various faiths who don't buy into that idea.
"Almost always the gay bashings are done by relatively young men in groups," Walton says. "So we need to look at this as a type of bullying. Perhaps the men feel they need to prove something." email@example.com
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