Practicing Allyship and Creating Safe Spaces for the 2SLGBTQIA+ Community

Practicing Allyship and Creating Safe Spaces for the 2SLGBTQIA+ Community

Ascend Canada sat down with Kenny Koon (he/him), who was one of the panelists at our ‘Practicing Allyship and Creating Safe Spaces for the 2SLGBTQIA+ Community” event in June. Kenny, who is a Relationship Manager at Commercial Financial Services in RBC, shared with the audience about his lived experiences of meeting his husband, coming out to his family, beginning the journey of starting a family via surrogacy.

Ascend Asks is an occasional Q&A feature highlighting leaders across industries and their lived experiences, both personal and professional, to help provide a deeper understanding of diversity and inclusion in the Pan-Asian community.

By Jennifer Hu & Vybhav Sharma

Ascend Canada: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today, Kenny! We loved hearing about your story at the panelist event and we’d love to start off by hearing more about your journey of meeting your partner and coming out to your family, with the cultural background and context surrounding that.

Kenny Koon: Absolutely. My partner Bradley and I met in 2017 when he was posted to the naval base in Victoria BC when he was with the Royal Canadian Navy and we tied the knot in Vancouver in 2018.

We had talked a lot about our families and about how much we wanted to start a family of our own at an early stage of our relationship. Bradley comes from a family of six, and seeing him being so comfortable in his own skin and being accepted by his parents was something that was missing in my life at the time.

Up until then there was never really a plan for me to come out to my family, and since my parents lived 8,000 miles away in Hong Kong I had the benefit of avoiding questions like – “do you have a girlfriend now?” or “when are you going to start a family”? But, the downside of that was that my parents and I were growing further apart and becoming more distant after each conversation. So I decided I’d come out to my parents.

I actually came out to my parents at the same time I had told them that I was planning to get married. It was a difficult conversation with a lot of tears and self-blaming by my parents. Not only did I have to tell my parents I was gay, but I also had to ask them for their blessings. In the months leading up to the wedding, I could tell how sad she was and how much she wished her son was straight. Deep down, I know that all it really was that she was worried about me and about how society would see me, and the homophobia I would experience as a gay person.

But having my parents come to our wedding changed everything. It was a day full of love and joy, and that was exactly what my mom needed – to see that I was happy, supported, and loved. And how the relationship has never been better, because now she has a son-in-law and a grandson coming in a couple of months.

Ascend Canada: That’s so great to hear that you were able to come out to your family and that you have built a great relationship with them! When you were coming to the decision of coming out, what was your thought process?

Kenny Koon: I think the goal before I considered coming out was to keep it to myself as long as I could. At some point I was even considering just getting married and not telling my family but that way I wasn’t able to be myself to them and there would always be a scar.

I wanted to tell them that I was happy, and there was no effective way to do it without them seeing that. I wanted to show them that I’m independent and happy the way I am now. At the end of the day, that’s how I was really okay to take the big step of coming out.

Ascend Canada: You mentioned earlier that your feelings towards your family and even starting a family had changed when you met your husband Bradley. Can you tell us a bit more about that? Were there pivotal points at which you were coming to reconcile between your cultural and queer identities?

Kenny Koon: Well, starting a family has always been a dream, and – you know – up until I met Brad it was only a dream. So starting a family, let alone marrying a man, was something I didn’t really think about until I met my partner.

Growing up in a traditional Chinese household, I was always taught to keep my head down, focus on school or work, build a good income and family will just fall in naturally. So it was encrypted in my mind and that’s how I portrayed myself, and there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for me to be myself and socialize because I didn’t think there was a need to share anything personal with my coworkers.

But as I start being a bit more open to certain people one at a time, I began to be able to speak more freely like I can today. Being an inspiration for some of the younger crowd who are struggling with their identity is a really rewarding feeling.

Ascend Canada: You also mentioned that you and Bradley are in the process of starting a family and actually expecting later this fall – how exciting! We’re sure everyone would love to hear some more about you and your husband’s journey of starting a family!

Kenny Koon: Starting a family has always been a conversation even at the very early stages of our relationship, and we did take time to do a lot of research and see how we wanted to bring a new life into our family. One of the challenges was that we started our process right before COVID. We had challenges finding an agency, finding a doctor, and finding a surrogate because in Canada everything was shut down and options were very limited.

also interviewed a lot of same sex couples who have been or were currently going through the process because everybody’s journey is going to be different. For example, some couples work with an agency, and others find a surrogate through close friends or family members.

We chose to start our journey with an agency because we were hoping that the agency can help guide us. However because of COVID the number of surrogates was not as high as it was before and we had a hard time finding one. Another challenge throughout the process was that even if we found a surrogate we liked, they might not want to work with a same sex couple. We can only appreciate that people have different values and beliefs and that was something that we cannot control.

Because we had difficulties finding a surrogate in Canada we ended up going down south in the US to look for a surrogate. There were more opportunities because in the US it’s legal to compensate the surrogate for the service, whereas in Canada you’re not able to legally pay a surrogate. But what we found was that every state has different laws and regulations, and if your surrogate and your clinic are in different states, you need to make sure you follow each of these states’ laws and regulations. Surrogacy law is relatively new in North America and there have not been a lot of cases before, and a lot of lawyers are willing to take it on our case especially given that we are an international couple which poses additional complexities as well.

Ascend Canada: How did you go about deciding which state and which surrogate and donor to work with?

Kenny Koon: For us we never put a priority on which states we wanted to work with. It was more based on our connection with the surrogate. Being a same sex couple, we also had to find an egg donor. The agency helped us have access to and screen through a list of egg donors who are willing to help people start a family. We got access to their medical histories, details about why they wanted to help, pictures of them and their families, and stuff like that. Based on all of that we were able to choose our donor.

We really took our time to interview our surrogates as well our candidates and in the end, we found our surrogate, Patty. This is her second surrogacy and we were comfortable with her because during the interview she was asking a lot of detailed thoughtful questions like what food we wanted her to eat or avoid, what music to listen to, etc. Her husband is also in the military as well so we were able to relate to her on many levels and that’s why we wanted to work with her

Ascend Canada: That’s great that you were able to find a great surrogate that you were able to build a bond with! Are you able to share some more about the baby and what kind of life you imagine for them?

Kenny Koon: Absolutely! So we know the gender of the baby – it will be a baby boy and his name will be River.

In general it won’t be too different from a straight couple raising a child. I think our society has progressed, and these things will become the norm. But there are a lot of different concerns I have. For example, what if they get picked on in school? What about Mother’s Day celebrations? How early should we start to have this conversation with our son? That’s something that’s always on the back of our minds. We’re very lucky to have a lot of friends who went through the same process and their kids are a little older now. The advice that they’ve given us is that there’s really no right or wrong way, it depends on the kid and you’ll know when it’s the right time to have the conversation.

Ascend Canada: And do you have any advice or recommendations for couples who are looking to start a family through surrogacy?

Kenny Koon: Yes, I think it’s very important to keep in mind that everybody’s journey is going to be different and their support systems will be different. There’s no right or wrong or too early or too late as long as it makes sense for you.

There’s also alternatives to surrogacy. If your purpose is to start a family, adoption is another great alternative. This is actually part of our plan. We were able to use the same egg donor to create 2 batches of embryos – half of them with my DNA and half with my husband’s DNA. We love kids, so ideally we will able to have two children of our own and adopt our third child.

Ascend Canada: Your vision for your family is beautiful and inspiring! We have one more closing question – do you have any messages for people who are trying to by allies to the community?

Kenny Koon: Similar to what I shared at the event, I think it’s important that support needs to be with intent and voluntary. Being an ally is not just about going some courses and checking it off the list. If you want to be an ally, be curious and don’t afraid to ask questions and learn. Every time someone asked me about my surrogacy process or how I met my husband, or how I came out to my family, I’m always willing to share with them. Understand the good and the bad and learn about the challenges.