South China Morning Post: School Transgender Policy Row

I have received quite a warm welcome back to Vancouver for my doctoral graduation today. Ian Young has done a masterful job of quoting me in today’s edition of the South China Morning Post.

scmp_ianyoung

The article is about how Chinese Christians — in particular, Cantonese-speaking evangelicals — in Vancouver are contesting the Vancouver School Board’s proposed policy for transgender faculty, students, and staff. There is both a main article and a side column based mostly on a reading of chapter 5 of my dissertation.

The controversy centers on those who have opposed the policy because they feel that their ‘parental rights’ to educate their children primarily in the private sphere have been violated. As I explained to Young:

This is not really a debate about homophobia. It’s a debate about parental rights … and this has been the long-standing theme in these debates in Vancouver…Chinese Christians have this vision for a rational orderly society. A particular reading of the Bible may inform this, a particular reading of the Chinese classics may inform this. But at the heart of it, it’s about a rational orderly society, where parents are the primary educators for their children. What they are seeing instead with this kind of stuff [the board’s proposals] is that this is irrational and disorderly. That’s why there is such a strong pushback.

In addition, I emphasized that these political activities ‘were not a “church effort” but involved churchgoers in a secular way, “through Chinese Christian e-mail chains, informal conversation and assorted Chinese Christian media”.’

I am very thankful to Ian Young for our collegial relationship. He first contacted me last year about an article on youth transitioning to adulthood between Hong Kong and Vancouver, a topic that Jo Waters and I had written on in Global Networks. I found Young’s questions very perceptive and incisive, always pushing me to draw out my points, to illustrate with examples, and to pose counter-illustrations. I suppose I should expect no less from the former International Editor of the SCMP, but I must say that it is always a pleasure to work with someone at the height of his craft.

I also appreciate how Young engages multiple sources in his account in order to draw out the multi-sided complexity of this debate. His interview with Cheryl Chang is revelatory both because of how Chang insists on her secularity as a concerned parent activist and because she was the legal advisor for the Anglican Network in Canada, a realignment group that sued the diocese for their property because they insisted that it was they who were holding to historic Anglican orthodoxy on theological doctrine and sexual praxis. He not only quotes me about the non-church-based Chinese Christian networks, but goes right to the source, Truth Monthly, one of the two premier Chinese Christian newspapers in Vancouver (the other is Herald Monthly). He has done his research on Charter Lau, mostly through my dissertation, but instead of just quoting the thesis, he has used it to trace the precedents for this poobah in both Burnaby’s Policy 5.45 controversy in 2011 and the ongoing debate about Bill C-279 to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (my dissertation fieldwork took place during the C-389 controversy).
[UPDATE: May 23, 2014: These items have been corrected in the online edition.]

As this information develops, however, I do want to make two very minor clarifications to the record, none of which affect Young’s larger point. The ‘CSCF’ that Young mentions is the ‘Christian Social Concern Fellowship,’ not the ‘Christian Social Conservative Fellowship.’ While many of its members are politically conservative and some are card-carrying members of the federal Conservative Party of Canada, ‘social concern’ is a term derived from mainline Protestantism in Hong Kong to talk about the church getting involved in social action. The second is that the Truth Monthly post date is from the January 2014 issue. That this post predates the debate by four months instead of several weeks in fact strengthens Young’s point about this transgender issue being widely discussed in Chinese Christian media.

Again, many thanks to Ian Young for a very thorough article and sidebar for SCMP. I look forward to further collaboration in the future.

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SSHRC Postdoc Fieldwork, Summer 2014

I’ve got some fun news. I’m back in the field!

I’ve really missed this. Much of my PhD was consumed with doing ethnographic fieldwork, key informant interviews, and focus groups, both for my actual doctoral project (see my work in San Francisco [x2], Vancouver, and Hong Kong) as well as for the collaborative project on the Highway to Heaven in Richmond, BC. After finishing all of that, I did a ton of writing, which has resulted in a dissertation and will result in a series of publications that you can expect to roll out over the next few years.

But as the summer is starting up, teaching is done, and frameworks are being solidified, it’s time to do some new fieldwork for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellowship. That’s the whole reason I’m here in Seattle in the first place.

I need your help. I need to talk to people.

Here’s what the project is about.
I am interested in publics. Asian American and Asian Canadian Christian publics, to be specific. And to be really precise, in Seattle and Vancouver, for now. And to be super-precise, publics produced by the younger generation.

What are publics?
That’s actually what I want to find out. There’s a huge academic literature on publics, as well as a lot of popular reflection. In general, a public is just whenever someone puts something into circulation and creates an audience. This is usually contrasted with the private, which means stuff that’s not supposed to be circulated outside of a self-governed institution, like a family, a church, or a corporation. But do younger-generation Asian American and Asian Canadian Christians think of their work as public or private? That’s the golden question.

So what are you really interested in?
I’m interested in how younger-generation Asian American and Asian Canadian Christians understand their participation in making publics. This can be really broad. It can include stuff like electoral politics, grassroots activism on a variety of issues, social media participation, artistic/musical production, social services, and a lot more stuff. Like my PhD on Cantonese-speaking Protestants and how they engaged the civil societies of Vancouver, San Francisco, and Hong Kong, I let the data drive the issues that I explored.

So what’s the key research question? (Because I’m a social scientist and I know what I’m talking about.)
The key research question is: how do younger-generation Asian American and Asian Canadian Christians in Seattle and Vancouver engage and create publics?

How will you find out about this?
By talking to people. My research is usually driven by key informants. These are usually named individuals (although I always give the option for anonymity) who are positioned well to provide information about a phenomenon. My research is qualitative, so unlike a statistics-based project, I’m not aiming for representativeness. I’m trying to get stories, opinions, perceptions, and insider explanations on the record. To make sense of this data, I usually overlay it with focus groups of lay people and extensive methods where I consult quantitative data that’s already out there. I also use the key informant research to point me to documents that I need to put in my archives.

Who do you need to talk to?
I need to talk to key informants who can talk intelligently about how younger-generation Asian American and Asian Canadian Christians make publics. This means that they are usually a) talking about their own work as an individual or part of an institution or b) talking about people that they work very closely with.

What do you mean by Christian?
I mean people who self-identify as Christian. Evangelicals, liberal Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox, hard to categorize, etc. If you’re from another religious tradition or not part of a religious tradition and still want to talk to me, let’s also talk…about Christians.

By Christian, do you mean that you want to talk to Asian American and Asian Canadians who are doing Christian stuff in the public sphere?
NO. I’m also interested in people who are working in the secular public sphere but personally identify as Christians. If the public stuff doesn’t have much to do with personal identification as Christian, that’s interesting too!

What do you mean by younger-generation?
I mean ‘second-generation’ (i.e. born in North America) + people who came here when they were young. This way, I don’t exclude people I should be talking to arbitrarily based on birth. It also means that I’m interested in talking to people who do work in Asian languages, not just English-speaking.

But ‘Asian’ is so diverse!
I know! The thing is, there’s this theory that I’m trying to suss out called pan-ethnicity. People who work on second-generation stuff (especially my colleague Russell Jeung in his book Faithful Generations) have noted how Asian Americans — and to some degree, Asian Canadians — cooperate across ethnic lines (i.e. Chinese, Korean, Filipina/o, Japanese, Indian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Indonesian, Malay, etc.) and talk about themselves as ‘Asian.’ I want to see if that works when Asian Americans and Asian Canadians do stuff in the public sphere.

But I don’t live in Seattle or Vancouver.
That’s OK. For one thing, I need your information to contextualize what I’m finding here in the Pacific Northwest. For another, the data here might lead to sites outside of the Pacific Northwest because this public work might not be regionally bound.

Do you have ethics clearance for this research?
Yes. The University of Washington’s Human Subjects Division in fact determined that my research was exempt from review under Category 2 of their Exempt Determination. This means that — given adherence to common-sense ethical research procedures — my work has been approved by the university.

I’ll be working on the initial phase of collecting data for this project in Seattle and Vancouver throughout Summer 2014. This initial phase means that I am very interested in talking to key informants. This usually means setting up an interview that is usually audio-recorded, lasts for about one hour, and is transcribed for accuracy. I have a formal letter of invitation, consent form, and interview questionnaire available, if you want to see that before talking to me.

Contact me at jkhtse (at) uw (dot) edu, and let’s talk!