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Sexuality and identity: an intersection with East Asian religious and family values

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Connie Chan, chair of the department of public policy and public affairs at the University of Massachusetts–Boston, discusses the intersection of sexual identity and religious and cultural beliefs among East Asians and Americans. Contrasting values, she says, affect how East Asians and Americans express their sexuality.

Religious beliefs as well as cultural, family, and personal values impact, and sometimes conflict with, sexual identity, Chan says. Western culture values individualism; self-promotion, assertiveness, and to an extent, some separation from family is expected. Rewards are based on individual merit.

East Asian culture, on the other hand, values collectivism. The needs of the group come before those of the individual, and roles within the group are especially important. Conflict, says Chan, is to be avoided. The East Asian belief system that defines roles in a community or within a family has historically been based on a blend of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism, and more recently has been influenced by Christianity. For the most part, none of these philosophies accepts homosexuality. The belief is that homosexuality makes traditional relationship roles hard to negotiate, violates a natural balance, and reflects impurity, says Chan. That means “coming out” is not necessarily the most liberating or healthy choice for East Asians, she says.

March 23, 2009, 7:30 p.m.
Photonics Center

About the speaker:

Connie Chan is chair of the department of public policy and public affairs and professor of human services at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies at the University of Massachusetts–Boston. She is a supervising clinical psychologist at Boston Medical Center, and her research focuses on the mental health of Asian-Americans. She published If It Runs in the Family: At Risk for Depression in 1993. She is a fellow of the American Psychological Association.

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