Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Journey With Chacha

So a couple of months ago, I wrote an innocent little children's book, promoting nothing but love, tolerance and diversity. To my surprise, this little project took on a life of its own - I received so much love and encouragement, yes, even from Pakistan - that I was thrilled. For a long time the book was probably just being shared amongst people who loved it. Who loved the idea of teaching children in whats perceived to be an intolerant nation (and who are we kidding here, it IS) that being different is ok. This was meant to make us think about how we treat people, and how someone's orientation doesn't impact what kind of friend or relative they can be to you. It is told from the perspective of Ahmed, who is a child that is hurt and baffled by the discrimination that his uncle faces for being an openly gay man in Pakistan. And that is the reaction I have heard from several kids when this book is read to them. Most are upset at the 'trapped heart' page... and wonder why the heart is sad.

I was exceptionally fortunate to have come across some truly amazing educators/teachers - who wanted to make this book a part of their Pink Day resources. It was distributed electronically across one of the Toronto area School Boards and teachers did different things with it. Some read it in their assemblies, some did Chacha colouring pages with their class - and some have even printed it and kept in class as a resource! I cannot tell you how proud I am to be Canadian right now. Just beaming, that I live in a country where this type of revolutionary education is possible for young minds. Think about it, no one is born a homophobe, a racist, a misogynist - these are all learned behaviours. Imagine if we taught tolerance, in schools, if we taught the kids about all the differences amongst us, and to celebrate those differences, rather than discriminate against them. 

Chacha in the assembly!

Why I feel this book is necessary in a Pakistani context specifically, is because we have never really talked about this topic in our culture, on a large scale. I have personally seen people forced into the closet, or living in fear, not being accepted, and much much worse things. It is time to push back against the hate that has become part of our country's narrative. 

Unfortunately though, this book about love and tolerance, in the spirit of anti-bullying, was just not tolerated by some parents. There have been several hate-filled blog posts and articles talking about how Toronto does not respect 'religion' - to the writers I will say this in response - Toronto, clearly respects everyone, and respects diversity. Canada is a secular country, and our public schools are also secular. Religion is not part of the equation here. There is no disrespect meant, but when human rights are being violated and kids are being picked on, you can certainly expect that schools will step up and teach them about love and tolerance. What could you possibly find wrong with that? And if you take issue with secular education that doesn't exclude anyone, including your children - why not send them to a religious private school then? 

The article I came across today was ironically and rather nonsensically titled "I Got Bullied By the School Board on Pink Day"  Hahaha

Lets Take a minute. 

Seriously though, this parent is trying to masquerade her homophobia as tolerance, and complaining about the fact that the school board robbed her of her chance to speak with her kid about Homosexuality. You see, its the schools job to teach kids about things. Will you also feel robbed of the chance to talk to your child about trigonometry, when it comes up in school? I mean, homosexuality is just as much a part of reality and a part of life as trig. But to single it out as some anomaly, is incredibly homophobic of you. Do you also have issues when they read books to your kid that involve a mommy and a daddy? because you didn't have an opportunity to discuss 'heterosexuality' with your child? 

You are really missing the point here, and sadly being praised for your hateful ignorance, by like minded homophobic parents. 

What people like you are doing, is trying to bully the school board for stepping up on anti-LGBT bullying. Funny how that works... and then playing the victim, as though you were somehow bullied. Can you see how bizarre that sounds? 

"I love Canada, and I think it’s the most amazing place to raise my kids, with a deep understanding of diversity and acceptance of all kinds of people."

Um, no - you clearly don't think that Canada is so great, because it wants to teach your kids that LGBT rights are a thing. There is no age for teaching children about human rights, if you are opposed to this, then clearly you prefer a 'selective diversity' - maybe a school that teaches to respect kids from all races and religions, but excludes kids based on their or their parents' orientation. Human rights are human rights, you cannot pick and choose what is covered under the term. 

"my biggest goal in life is to ensure that my kids are extraordinary citizens."

Well thats great. Because that's exactly what your child's school was trying to accomplish. 

"But this week I felt disappointed. Disappointed by a system that stripped many parents of their right to raise their kids the way they want."

Oh, wait.... What? So they can't teach your kids that all people are people.. and deserve to be respected equally.. my bad. Yeah man, they totally STRIPPED you of the right to raise your kids as intolerant humans. Silly school. Now they have been corrupted, and made diversity-loving forever. But worry not, there is still hope.... with your hard work, you can return your hateful thoughts to their minds. You can repair the damage done, and get rid of the silly concept of equality from their minds - equality shouldn't be used EQUALLY...across the board... come on.... anyone knows that. Equality is a concept to be used to further your own personal beliefs, even if those may exclude some. 

"The truth is: Pink Day is awesome. It reflects our need to be understanding of others, and open minded towards differences. Which is ironic, because just this week, I felt a little bullied too for my difference of opinion!"

I think you are a little confused about what Pink Day is, I can direct you to a link, where you can read about it, and perhaps learn that it is specifically about anti-homophobic and anti-Trans bullying. So how exactly were you 'bullied'? Because your child was read a book that tells them to respect everyone regardless of orientation? Have you forgotten that you think Pink day is awesome? Then why do you hate what it stands for? 

"Many parents have spoken up on line as well about feeling hurt because their kids were read a story about a Muslim Pakistani boy whose uncle was gay. Now don’t get me wrong, am not here to judge anyone. "

Yes, here is a small sampling of the very civil, and 'hurt' comments Pakistani, Muslim Parents are leaving about a project that is supposed to teach love. They seem very 'hurt' indeed - but you know, maybe people who's entire existence is being defined as a 'sickness' or as 'immorality' - might be a touch hurt too.... but who really cares about them anyway. We must protect our kids from Satan's wishes for diversity and tolerance. So sorry that you were hurt by someones existence getting in the way. Ugh, hate when that happens.... I mean why can't they just 'not exist'.. right? 'Equality' would be so much easier to explain to our kids then. 

"If my four year old came home from school and asked me why his friend has two moms, I would sit and tell him all about how people are different and how he needs to understand that everyone chooses to live their life according to what they feel is best.
If my six year old brought home a library book about a family with two dads, I would read her the book,
Wait, so you're mad that it was exposed to them in the assembly hall vs. the library? Interesting. But sure, I can try my best to make sure it IS available in plenty of libraries, so many kids like your own can take them home and talk to their parents about it. I'm so sure you would've been thrilled to pull 'My Chacha is Gay' out of your kids' schoolbag. I can just sense how excited you would've been from your article. 
 and talk to her about how she felt after reading it. I would tell her that people do things differently everywhere in the world, 
(Except Pakistan, I suppose :/ )
and give her examples of families of single parents, and grandparents who raise their grandkids when their parents are no longer alive.
Oh, you mean kind of like this page? 

So let me just get this straight, you're just mad that the school taught them exactly what you would, just before you got a chance to? I mean, like I said, I'm sure there are a lot of things they learn in school that you haven't had a chance to talk to them about yet... that is kind of .... you know... the point of ....sending them to 'school' - if this is the crux of the issue - have you considered homeschooling? Because then you would get the first chance to teach them everything...and wouldn't have to compete with those pesky 'teach-ers'! 

"When my children come across homosexuality on their own  – want to be able to teach them."

Yeah, I feel your pain. I would hate it too if teachers taught my kid something. :/ 

And what if they come across homosexuality for the first time when someone is bullying another child and they decide to join in because they have never been taught 'its ok to be different in that way'?  

"What happened across several Peel Board Schools this week was hurtful and saddening. I’m outraged as a mother."

 YES. So saddening they tried to corrupt our kids by teaching them to respect people equally. You should be outraged. But you still think Pink Day is Awesome right!? Just not what it stands for... yeah ....makes perfect sense. 

So when white supremacist parents *shudder* are offended that their kids are taught about racial diversity and tolerance - they have every right to be outraged too right? Because they should have had the 'right' to teach their kids about that when they felt they were ready to deal with such a 'subject'. 

"I’m fortunate that my kids fall under the jurisdiction of the Halton Board."

Wait what? why are you claiming to be bullied by a school board that your kids aren't even a part of? Please. Get your story straight. 

I have gathered some words from fellow Pakistanis to show that there are plenty of us who DO support the project, its just that no one wants to hear from us because that wouldn't fit the stereotype as well. Stereotypes are rather convenient. 

Ali S. : "This book is a really good first step in the right direction. There needs to be a wider discussion about homosexuality and LGBT issues, at least in the south asian communities and this book does that, targeting the very foundation. When children read this book, they WILL question their parents and teachers about this. Initiate the discussion. You do this and maybe we can combat homophobia with the next generation standing behind us."

S: "I hope the schools don't give in to these parents' requests."

Aima: "I 100% support the message that the story 'My Chacha is Gay' is trying to spread. I am a Muslim and try my best to be a practicing one. I do not understand how a God, who's many names include Kind and Merciful would be okay with people hating and being disrespectful to His mankind. My religion has taught me to Love everyone no matter what caste, creed or beliefs they have, or whichever way they live their life. Why? Because all were created by the Almighty, and if you claim to love your God and hate His creation as they don't share your mindset, then your claims are false I'm afraid. LGBT rights are as important as any other.
Get yourself educated, educate the children and let them grow in a more tolerant world. No calamity is going to come because of love and respect."

We see what you're doing here. Please don't try to 'Bully' the school board. Kudos to them for doing something revolutionary. Homosexuality is just as natural as heterosexuality, and it exists everywhere in the world.... it's time we had this discussion surrounding Pakistan, and in different cultural contexts. 'My Chacha is Gay' has already been translated into a couple of languages online... maybe we need to translate it into more! Lets spread love, not hate! 

If you would like to support our crowd-funding project, you can find it here - you will be happy to know that articles like yours only motivate people to donate to this cause and that we are almost halfway funded in less than 2 weeks! Cheers! 

Do check out this Toronto-based radio show the book was featured on. Some very interesting comments from parents... :/ 


UPDATE: The crowdfunding campaign was a huge success! Thanks to all you wonderful people who supported the project! Now its time to get the book into more hands :) Get your copy here