Transcript: What happens when faith, family, and sexuality collide | Nov 19, 2021

You're listening
to a TVO podcast.
(Funky beat playing)
Welcome to On Docs -
a podcast about documentaries
and the stories they tell.
I'm Colin Ellis.
And I'm Nam Kiwanuka.
Nam, you just got back from a
Yes, I was in Ottawa and
Kingston and,
OMG, Ottawa was cold.
C'est tres froid.
Apologizing for my "franglais".
But I'm working on a new project
for TVO,
which will be coming out in the
next few weeks.
So, look out for that.
You're not leaving me, are you?
I'm not.
♪ Together forever ♪
♪ We're gonna be--
never we part ♪
I'm really sorry,
especially people who are
with their ear earbuds on.
I don't sing very well.
So, Colin, we're here to talk
about some documentaries.
And today, we're actually
talking about not one
but two documentaries, right?
That's true.
We are talking about
the documentaries
With Wonder and Emergence:
out of the Shadows,
with directors, Sharon Lewis and
Vinay Giridhar.
Love that moment where I felt I
was able to connect with God.
How could it be Christ-like that
you be suicidal
because of something you have no
control over?
I still have faith,
but it's not faith in church.
And when I let go of wanting to
be different,
I came to know myself, which
made me a person of faith
in a way that I would
never have suspected.
And this was the beginning of my
to reconcile my faith and my
So, Nam, you spoke with Sharon
and Vinay
during the Real World Film
Festival in a panel
to discuss the intersections
between queerness,
religion and culture.
So, I'm just wondering if you
could talk a bit about
what stood out for you in that
I realized that it's
a really complicated
conversation to have
because what stood out for me
was how important religion was
to the people profiled
in those documentaries.
But yet, we as a society seem to
that it's easy for them to
separate that part of themselves
or to leave those spaces
if they're not welcomed
because they're queer.
I think religion means so much
so many different things to
it means community
identity and belonging.
And if you're forced to leave
because you're not accepted,
you're leaving a
huge part of yourself.
So, it kind of made me very,
very sad.
Yeah, that's sort of my
takeaway, as well.
And in my discussion with Sharon
and Vinay, we get into all that
and the importance of
representation in media,
especially for people who want
to come out to their families,
but the families might not
really be equipped
to have those conversations yet.
So, let's get into it.
This is my conversation with
Sharon Lewis and Vinay Giridhar.
(Funky music playing)
Sharon Lewis and Vinay Giridhar,
welcome to the podcast.
Good to see you.
Thank you for having us.
Well, I want to talk about your
films With Wonder
and Emergence:
Out of the Shadow,
and Sharon, I'll go to you
Your film is With Wonder.
Could you just talk a bit about
what brought you to this subject
in the first place?
Yeah, I was finishing up a
called Disruptive Conductor for
the CBC,
which was about the first openly
Black music conductor in Canada,
and he's talking about
conversion therapy
and his relationship to the
and I thought, "I can't believe
conversion therapy
"is still going on in Canada,"
so I started looking into it
and I decided I was going to do
a documentary
on conversion therapy.
That led me to meet Maurice
Tomlinson, who was in Jamaica,
who was putting on the first
Pride march
in Montego Bay, Jamaica,
and that felt much more
and much more urgent to cover
than conversion therapy.
And it also made sense to me
that conversion therapy,
in the way that it's constructed
from Hollywood,
and the way that we read it
and read about it in the
mainstream media,
it's a very White gay male
of what conversion therapy is.
And when I interviewed people of
and people in rural Jamaica,
conversion therapy looked
So, the documentary still
encompasses conversion therapy,
but I didn't call it that,
because when you use that label,
it conjures up images of, you
Hollywood films that deal with
conversion therapy.
Well, we'll come back to Jamaica
and conversion therapy in a bit.
But Vinay, maybe I should ask
Emergence: Out of the Shadows,
why did you want to make this
We wanted to make this film
because there was not much
of queer South Asians on the
mainstream media,
and even in the regular media
because people don't really know
their stories.
And I was volunteering and
with this organization
called Sher Vancouver
and the producer of the film is
Alex Singer -
the founder of the organization.
And then, we have a lot of very
successful members
who were willing to share their
stories for this film.
And we thought it's a golden
because we think queer South
they really don't have good
role models to model after
and it's important for
good role models to be found
because if you don't have
somebody that represents you
on the screen in the media that
you see,
it is very-- it is not very good
for a person who's
growing up gay or LGBTQ.
So, this, I think we wanted to
create more role models,
that's why we created this film.
And Colin, can I just jump in?
I just want to say, being Black
and South Asian,
Emergence: Out of the Shadows
blew my mind
because to see South Asian
loving their queer South Asian
is radical and revolutionary.
Like, Vinay, that really, really
hit me.
It really hit me.
I want all my family to see it,
you know,
because it's radical to see
It's much different than when
you see stories
about White families and White
parents, because, also,
queerness, in the Caribbean
Community anyway,
is seen as a White thing.
Hmm. Well, you actually took me
where I wanted to go next,
Sharon, because I think in both
films, you know,
we see moments of acceptance,
but we also see moments of
from families whose children
come out as LGBTQ.
And I wonder why-- maybe,
you can answer this first.
Why was it important to kind of,
I guess,
show both sides of that
Well, I think the rejection
shows the reality of the
situation of BIPOC folks,
and BIPOC queer folks who are
going through that struggle.
But it was very important to me
to not make a trauma doc,
which was all trauma, which is
usually what gets focused on,
and not see the surviving and
the love and the commitment
and community and companionship
that also happens when you go
through a struggle
and you reach out to people.
And that-- yeah, I wanted-- I
wanted this doc to be for us,
so that, when we watched it, we
could feel hope.
How about you, Vinay?
I agree with Sharon on this one
because the fear of rejection is
a very real thing.
Like when it comes to-- when I
interviewed a lot of people,
I asked a lot questions to other
queer South Asian members
and everybody had the same
like they have the fear of
And then, South Asian families
being very collective
and people live in extended
and they all think about what
other people think about you
more than you think about
and there is that upkeep of
how you want to present yourself
in society.
So, it was-- it was for that
like Sharon said,
rejection is more like the
reality of situation;
more people are scared of coming
out because of this.
So, we wanted to show that it is
possible to live a hopeful,
joyful life
in any situation.
So, this is why we wanted to
show redemption and hope
and something positive
to look forward to.
Yeah. Vinay, I wanna stay with
you for a second because,
I think, you know, that reality
that you're talking about
involves expectations, right?
Like the parents having certain
expectations of their kids
and maybe their kids not living
up to those expectations.
Can you just talk a bit about
what it is--
what is it is that the parents,
I think,
expect of their children in your
Well, any parents, they all have
their own imagination
of how their child would be,
Like when they're growing up,
"Oh, my child would be like this
or like that."
So, they have-- they tend to
their own desires onto their
So, when when it comes to the
parents, like, I mean,
there are a lot of expectations
to get married
and get a nice job in a--
or choose a career that is,
societally, like, acceptable,
maybe being a doctor or brain
surgeon or something,
like, you need to be
in that category.
Like, otherwise, people don't
think of you as, like,
smart enough or your family is
good enough
for other people to be mingling.
So, it's just a status thing, I
So, for a family to keep their
societal standing,
they want to pressure their
to perform in a certain way in
their lives.
This is why the expectations
part is very--
it's very damaging for a lot of
for a lot of kids growing up.
And slowly, it's changing, I
It's slowly changing and people
are getting more open
and accepting of the new
and new possibilities in life.
So, I think I'm hopeful
for the future.
Sharon, what about in your film,
that idea of status, you know,
like presenting, I guess, a
certain front to the community,
how much of that plays a role
in some of the characters in
your film's lives?
Well, I think it's a matter of
survival, you know?
For some of the characters in
With Wonder,
it's not a choice to come out or
not come out;
it's a choice of survival -
whether or not you'll get
whether or not you'll be
from your community.
And when you're living in a
small village
and the local priest is sort of
the hub of that community,
being separated from that priest
means you're being separated
from your entire support system.
So, I think the stakes
are extremely high.
Also, if you're an immigrant to
this country, you know,
we get judged doubly hard.
We get judged for
coming here taking jobs.
You know, whenever the economy
is bad,
we get judged in that way and we
get targeted.
So, you try to be the super
you know, the super great
immigrant -
work really hard, work harder
than anybody else,
marry, get a house, fit in.
So, imagine all of that
pressure to assimilate,
and then, you know, you're
trying to come out and be queer.
Yeah. Well, you brought up
Maurice Tomlinson earlier.
He's a Jamaican man, he's gay,
and you also talked about
conversion therapy
and how it kind of operates
differently in Jamaica.
Could you just talk a little bit
about Maurice's story and,
I guess, kind of how homophobia
operates in Jamaica?
Well, I think homophobia
operates in Jamaica
like it does anywhere else,
where it stigmatizes queer
and tries to make them less
I don't think-- I think the
difference in Jamaica is,
as I spoke about, depending on
where you exist,
if you're in a rural community,
in a small community and you're
not getting that support--
it happens here in Ontario,
it happens in small towns in
Ontario, as well.
But, I think, because we have a
colonial history,
we also have the baggage of
colonial history,
which means there's an
anti-sodomy law
on the books in Jamaica from
1867, I think.
So, we've also inherited this
huge colonial
homophobic instruments that
still exist in Jamaica;
that, in Canada, we have been
able to fight against,
and Jamaica has to fight against
years of colonialism to do that.
So, homophobia is still very
much instituted in the churches
and in the legal system
because of a long
and torturous colonial
occupation in Jamaica.
Yeah, stay with that for a
because I think, you know, it's
interesting, like, you know,
Maurice has chosen to fight
against those laws,
and in Canada, you know, like
you mentioned, you know,
we have fought against those
and we've seen same-sex marriage
we have international Pride
parades all over the country.
But it seems like-- why does it
seem, though,
that maybe in Jamaica and in
as well as in another countries
that you visited,
there's this-- the intensity of
it is, I think,
a little bit more-- I guess, a
little more pronounced.
Why do you think that is?
Well, I think that's an
interesting question
because, I think, part of that
is a systematic racism
in how our countries are
portrayed as more homophobic,
more backward, more, um...
dangerous than Western
Because if you look
at the number of deaths that
happened to queer people
in Western countries, it's quite
especially trans
and trans of colour.
So, that's partly it,
it's a lopsided view
and it's an easy view to
look at countries that--
like Nigeria and Jamaica as
being more homophobic.
So, part of that is racist
and part of it is a lack of
to fight against colonial
that have been there for years.
So, Canada has had independence,
but really, conversion therapy
was just addressed in the last
five years in Canada.
In terms of the way it affects
people in Canada,
Indigenous and and people of
are affected quite differently
than other White gay male
So, again, it's an idea of the
way that you look at it -
"My goodness, it's so intense,
it's so hard for people in
Nigeria and India" -
and the same thing is happening
here in Canada
for people of colour,
it's just that the media skews
in a particular way.
Now, with that said, a lack of
exacerbates any situation
that you're in.
And if the church holds a very,
very strong hold
in that community and the church
is homophobic,
that will exacerbate the
situation you're in.
In many parts of Canada,
especially in larger cities,
it's a secular city, it's a
secular run city.
In small towns, you're going to
find the same dynamics
or very similar dynamics,
when a church is taken a
stronghold of that community,
which is why all of the stuff
that happened
with the Catholic Church or with
residential schools
happened in Canada, you know,
it's because, in those
that was-- that was run by a
particular organization.
Vinay, I should bring you in
I don't know if you have any
if you want to add to anything
Sharon just said.
I totally agree with
Sharon on this one.
There is always this Western
view of the Eastern world,
like how the Eastern world is
more backward or, like,
not as forward-thinking
in many aspects.
But in India, like, things are
changing, I think.
There are Pride parades
happening everywhere.
But, as Sharon mentioned,
I see a parallel
within our own communities
because I, personally, don't
know many gay,
queer people in my own towns and
like you don't see them.
But when you go to the cities,
you see more of them over there,
not in the local small towns.
So, I think it's happening
everywhere, it's the same way.
But there is also that concept
of the religious aspect,
like in Emergence, for example,
a lot of the Eastern religions,
they don't mention being gay
or having gay sex as a sin.
There is no written--
like, it's not written in the
holy books
or the sacred scriptures.
So, people don't see it as a
sin, essentially,
but they see it as a shameful
they see it as a shameful thing.
So, but this is--
this is actually easier for
parents to accept,
I feel, like, in the Eastern
rather than in Christian--
or people who follow Islam or in
other religions.
So, I feel-- this is my personal
opinion, anyways, so, yeah.
Yeah. Well, Vinay,
let me stay with you because I
want to talk about
some of the characters in your
You have one story about a man
named Amar,
who's also-- who's gay,
and his mother--
his mother Jaspal,
you feature their relationship
pretty prominently in the film.
I wonder if you could just talk
a little bit about them?
Yeah, they're both really
amazing people.
I've been acquainted with
Jaspal - Alex's mom,
Amar's mom, for almost ten
since I've been involved with
Sher Vancouver.
Because when I moved here to
Surrey, as an immigrant,
I didn't have any family here,
I didn't have any friends here,
so I was a little bit lonely
and alienated,
like, I didn't know who to--
like, I didn't have any
friends, right?
So, it was volunteering with
and meeting people that way,
like, it gave me that community,
sense of community.
And then, over the years,
now, when I look back,
like over the last ten years,
I feel like I've been preparing
for this documentary,
like, without me knowing it.
Like, it's happening in the back
because I've been talking to
them for years and years now.
And I knew that Jaspal - Amar's
mom -
is very, like, well-spoken,
like she is very well-read,
she knows her culture
She's very, like, almost
she can talk about stuff like
And Amar, as well, like,
you see Amar is actually-- like,
kind of takes after his mom
and then they're both kind of
similar in that way.
And then, Amar is the founder of
Sher Vancouver,
so he's very well-known activist
and is successful as a gay
as a gay South Asian person,
and he's always--
so, people look up to him in
certain ways.
So, it was important for me to
include both of them in the film
because I knew they have good
stories to share.
Well, religion is a big theme in
both your films?
How do the subjects of your film
keep their faith
despite what their religion
might say about homosexuality?
Yeah, as I mentioned, like, that
religious aspect, right?
Like, they were-- they're able
to separate
religion from sexuality
in a way.
So, they can-- they can see it
as two different aspects,
so they really don't have to
discard their faith
to accept their children.
So, this is why I feel like they
were more--
they were able to accept them in
this way, in this film.
With Wonder we deal specifically
with "Can you be queer and
I really wanted to focus in on
because of its colonial history
and because that's who I am
and that's what's in my circle.
And what I found most
fascinating was that,
by including Winnie - Reverend
who's this South Asian, queer,
Anglican priest -
and her telling her own story
and her being there and loving
and a theologian, as well,
hopefully, just by seeing her,
you go, "Oh, okay, so it's
"to have a connection to God and
be queer at the same time."
And then, everybody else's
had to be an individual journey
to get to that because,
depending on your experiences
with the church,
you may not be able to forgive
the church
and what the church has done.
But what I was really trying to
get across was that,
if you feel a spiritual
connection to God,
however you call God,
that connection can get broken
by the church.
So, by the very institution that
is trying to connect you to God,
that very institution
can break that connection.
And so, I really wanted to show
that what church is about
is about strengthening our
connection to God.
That's really the purpose of
church, right?
That is supposed to be the
purpose of church.
So, if you've got a church, in
your neighbourhood
or around you, saying,
"God doesn't love you" -
I know that's reducing it down
to a very simple statement -
then maybe that's not the church
to go to.
So, to answer your question -
"How can you have faith given
what everything has happened?" -
because if you can go into a
and feel that connection to God,
then that church is doing what
it's supposed to do,
and that's what Christians want;
they want that connection,
that's what-- you know, that's--
they want to be queer, they want
to be people of colour,
and if they're Christian,
they want to have that
connection to God. You know?
I forget-- I can't remember who
says it,
but I think someone says that
being out
was a way of connecting with God
or something to that-- to that
effect. I'm not sure if it was--
Yes, Winnie says it.
Yes, that's right.
It was Winnie.
Okay, sorry.
Yeah, absolutely.
Winnie was like,
the most she felt free
was when she came out
and it was a spiritual
coming out.
COLIN: Yeah.
It was the
most free she ever felt.
I want to switch gears a little
bit because I find--
I find it it's interesting,
now that we're seeing
on streaming services and in
movies, you know,
sort of an abundance of
portrayals of LGBTQ folks -
I'm thinking of, you know, CBC
has this new show Sort Of,
there's a wonderful series on
Netflix called Sex Education -
and I think what's really
interesting about those series
is it shows the characters
having these very tough
and emotional conversations with
their families
about faith and about sexuality.
And Sharon, I'll ask you first,
you know,
just how does mainstream
sort of help facilitate
real-world conversations
about these subjects?
Well, I love Sort Of, by the
I think it's a fantastic show
and I think it's so well done.
But I think what it does is,
I see it in my 17-year-old son,
there's a normalization of
and there's a normalization of
conversations around sexuality.
So, when I hear him talk about,
you know, one friend that's
bisexual or, you know,
somebody else came out trans,
those conversations, I was not
having when I was 17.
They would have been in a--
I wouldn't even have known
those words,
I wouldn't have had the words.
So, it normalizes it, when you
see relationships,
same-sex relationships on--
in mainstream media, I think it,
you know, quote, unquote,
normalizes it,
to the extent that we can have
those conversations,
without it being a political,
didactic conversation
about heterosexuality
versus homosexuality.
You know, you get to talk about
love and connection, and family,
all those things that you
Actually, it made me think that,
you know, when I was growing up
in the 90s, you know,
mainly my exposure to
any talk about sexuality,
it was sort of, you know, I'm
thinking of Seinfeld, you know,
the "Not that there's anything
wrong with that."
You know, there was this kind of
like, queasiness around it
or uncomfortableness around it.
And Vinay, I wonder, you know--
I don't want to ask you your
but I just wonder, you know, for
you, growing up,
if you saw role models on
that you could sort of look to
and have conversations with your
folks and stuff like that?
Yeah, definitely.
Well, it's very hard to find
queer role models in South Asian
Like whenever they are
they're portrayed as kind of
funny characters,
like they're there for the joke
aspect of the scene,
but they are not there for
like, we're talking about
substantial roles.
So, it was very hard to find,
when we talked to the--
when I talk to my cast, like in
the movie,
they said the only person they
could think of
as a queer person who's
successful is Ellen
and then she's the only person,
but she's Caucasian,
she's from a different--
she's not from our culture.
So, there was that void when it
comes to having role models
or somebody to look up to.
So, this is why we wanted to
create that.
Like, I think Sher Vancouver had
an out and proud project,
like they interviewed a lot of
other South Asian--
South Asian members who are kind
of successful
and then they're willing to talk
about their stories,
and they profile them in a way
that people can look at them
and then say, "Oh, there are
other people that look like you
"or look like me."
So, that is very important,
growing up, I think.
Yeah. Well, we're kind of
the end of our conversation
here, but I want to know,
just maybe Vinay, you could
just tell us a little bit about,
I guess,
the reaction that your film has
gotten from audiences.
I'm overwhelmed with so much
whenever they've watched the
Like, I've been teary-eyed
seeing the reaction of the
We just watched it at VISAF -
Vancouver International
South Asian Festival -
and people were mostly like
Brown, to say South Asian.
And then, in that community
where we shot the film,
which is the city of Surrey
and they could recognize all
these places
that we shot the film in, and it
was a wonderful feeling,
and then they were clapping and
there were, like, tears of joy.
So, it's just--
it's a beautiful experience for
me and all the cast.
It feels like a warm hug,
that we are being accepted into
this --
you know, like, into this club,
exclusive club of people.
So, it just feels good, yeah.
Great. How about you, Sharon?
Yeah, well,
we just won the Audience Choice
Award at Reelworld,
which, I have to say,
is probably the best award I've
ever won
because it meant that the
you know, chose our film,
and so that meant a lot,
that meant a lot to me.
But I think it also-- it just
makes me grateful
for those participants that came
and really risked a lot in their
lives to speak on camera
about what they're going
and to know that people are
appreciating their story
and hearing their story, it
means a lot to me;
it means that their courage
hasn't gone unseen.
Well, congratulations on the
I have to ask what you guys are
both working on next.
Vinay, this is your first doc.
Do you plan on doing more?
I hope so.
Yeah, so, I'm just getting into
this idea
that I could be a filmmaker
because I never thought of
myself as one.
I knew I can tell, like, stories
because I've done animation
and that sort of thing and
written scripts and all that.
But being a person who makes
and I can see the real impact
around me--
like, Sharon would agree with
that is the biggest award that
anybody could get -
it's the impact that
you see in front of you,
more than any fictional film, I
think, like a narrative feature.
Yeah, so, I'm really happy, I
will, hopefully--
we are working on other film
projects, as well,
which have social impact.
Like going on, like, we have--
we are splitting the film into,
like, three different short
so that it can be taken to high
schools as an educational tool
within BC or Canada-wide.
So, that is the project
that I'm working on next,
like maybe coming next year,
We've already created a
discussion guide,
created by activists here,
(Unclear) and Sher Vancouver
and they've done a wonderful job
creating an educational tool
that we can take to schools
and universities and then,
you know,
show something that, you know,
people can start those
and maybe have meaningful
Yeah. How about you, Sharon?
Anything you're working on?
Yeah. Well, our next big event,
with With Wonder
is we're bringing it to Jamaica
in October for Pride.
So, we're going to have a
screening in Jamaica
for all of those who couldn't
make it
out of Jamaica to see it.
So, we're going to have a big
fancy, I hope, gala event,
as long as COVID stays in its
and I'm hoping that a lot of
in Jamaica get to come see it.
Well, Vinay and Sharon,
thank you so much
for joining me today on On Docs.
I really enjoyed it.
Well, thanks for championing our
Thank you. It means a lot.
Thank you for having us.
Vinay, good to see you,
good to chat with you.
(All laughing)
(Funky instrumental
music playing)
And that's the podcast.
You can go to
to find out where to watch
Sharon's film
and to see all
the upcoming screenings
for Vinay's documentary.
We love to hear from you, so,
give us a shout-out on Twitter.
I'm @ColinEllis81.
And I'm at @namshine.
Thanks to producer
and editor Matthew O'Mara,
senior producer Katie O'Connor,
production support
coordinators Nikki Ashworth
and Jonathan Halliwell,
and executive producer
Laurie Few.
We'll catch you at the next
(Funky music playing)

I wasn't-- I wasn't sure who you
were singing there,
then it occurred to me
it was Rick Astley.
I thought you would recognize
it; you're a music guy.
Well, it took me a minute, but
yeah, eventually I did.
♪ Never gonna give you up,
never gonna let you down ♪
That's actually more--
Sing it, Colin!
(Both laughing)
Just don't Rickroll me.
(Both laughing)

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