Gary Lo has experienced more racism within Sydney’s gay community than he has in the mainstream community.

When he went to gay venues people muttered things like fucking nip. He found it almost impossible to get served at bars, as the staff would look straight past him. And when he tried internet chat rooms, the minute the issue of race came up people would say they weren’t interested.

All this came as a shock to Lo, 25, when he first hit the scene.

When you come out you experience so much rejection and ostracism in the wider community, and you look on the gay community as this haven you can escape to and expect it to be welcoming and accepting and loving, Lo told Sydney Star Observer.

Then you go out and you get racial slurs and you think maybe that was just one night. So you go again and it happens again, and again and again, and it eats away at your self-esteem. Then you start to internalise it. You think, maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m not pretty enough, he said.

Then I started talking to other Asian people and they said they go through the same thing. I realised it’s a bigger problem. It’s a systemic problem. It’s a complex issue.

Lo is a volunteer for ACON’s Racial Harmony Working Group that is holding a public forum this weekend called Diverse City: Tackling Racism In Our Community. The forum will feature speakers from a range of culturally diverse backgrounds, but mostly it will be an opportunity for people to share their personal experiences and brainstorm ways of combating racism.

Lo, who was born in Hong Kong but has lived in Australia since he was two, said people in the gay community seemed to think they had more leeway when it came to racism.

It seems like anything goes with the gay community when it comes to race, he said.

Maybe it’s because there’s a sexual hierarchy of desirability on the gay scene. And Asians rank pretty low on that. No one talks about it but it’s pretty well understood.

Lo remembered watching a Mardi Gras parade next to a group of young white men.

When a gym float went by, one of the men in the group next to me said, -˜Oh, imagine having sex with them, they wouldn’t have much in the way of cock.’ And then they all laughed and someone else said, -˜You know what’s worse? Fucking an Asian.’ And they all laughed and I was standing right next them, he said.

That kind of behaviour is okay in the gay community. That’s part of what we hope to tackle with the racial harmony forum.

Lo admitted there was disagreement about racism in the gay and lesbian community. People say that some levels of desirability have a racialised element to them, and a lot of people would say, -˜I can prefer whoever I like.’

But the way people expressed that preference was often offensive, Lo said.

Self-described queer Arab Nicole Barakat is also a volunteer on the Racial Harmony Working Group and will take part in Saturday’s forum.

Barakat said she had also experienced racism in the gay and lesbian community. The biggest problems were related to ignorance, misunderstandings and exotification, she said.

A lot of us who are non-Anglo tend to get the whole -˜why don’t you come out to your family?’ question a lot. Coming out seems so important to some people, and I can understand why. But it’s not always so important for us.

Important things for us are more about maintaining a sense of family and culture and community. And being able to still have our cultural identity and not be compromised. I think there’s a lot of ignorance around why it’s important to stay connected to our culture.

Diverse City: Challenging Racism In Our Communities is on Saturday 24 September, 1pm at the LHMU auditorium, level 1, 187 Thomas Street, Haymarket.

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