Spotlight on…Chai

23 03 2011

Every so often, QAPA will highlight members and allies who have made an impact raising LGBTQ awareness within the API community.  Our second guest is The Network/La Red’s and QAPA’s own Chai Jindasurat.  Chai attended the annual conference on LGBT issues and equality, Creating Change, in Minneapolis this past February and shared his experience at this amazing event.

I had the privilege to attend the annual Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change at the beginning of February in Minneapolis. Through my position at The Network/La Red, I sit on the governance committee of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs’ which has an in-person meeting at Creating Change each year.  I went to Creating Change for work, but the experience of being there did not feel like work at all.  There were plenty of professional development workshops I could have attended, but being at Creating Change was a rare chance to delve deeper into all the issues that I feel connected to, including the queer Asian Pacific Islander movement.  I chose to attend the day-long institute Building a Queer API Movement which was a closed track for API people only.  This was the first API institute to take place at Creating Change, and happened thanks to a lot of behind the scenes work by NQAPIA, the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance.  The institute was awesome.  The organizers did a great job of making the space feel safe for the vast diversity in the room.  After all, no queer API experience is the same!

We addressed this head on by participating in sharing circles where people who identified with a certain category spoke about their experiences while the larger group listened.  The categories included East Asian, Southeast Asian, South Asian, Mixed, Pacific Islander, API Adoptee, and those who didn’t feel like they fit into any of these categories.  I participated in the Mixed group, which was actually the largest with those identifying as mixed race or mixed API identities.  It was so nice to hear peoples’ stories about being queer and API.

Other topics discussed at the institute were the visibility (or invisibility) of APIs in queer people of color movements and the larger mainstream LGBT movement, model-minority theory, queer sexualities in API history (which was extensive and amazing!), and LGBTQ API work being done across the country.  An important conversation that occurred was that Creating Change took place during the Lunar New Year, one of the most important holidays of the year for many API communities. During the opening ceremony of Creating Change, the organizers of the Queer API movement were featured and they brought this issue up loud and clear.  The fact that Creating Change was notified that the conference would conflict with the Lunar New Year and chose to hold it then anyway was announced.  The speakers expressed their struggle with deciding to spend the New Year with their families or at Creating Change.  It was very powerful.

I attended various other API and non-API focused workshops and caucuses throughout the conference.  I would normally feel like I was taking one hat off (like my API one) and putting another on (like my anti-violence one) attending all these different things, but being at Creating Change was a refreshing reminder that you never really take off your various hats or experiences.  It was grounding, and it was that rare space where you felt like you could be your whole self, as you should be. Assumptions were challenged, truths were spoken, and you could feel the movement-building happening.  Creating Change left me feeling connected, energized, and ready to come back to work in Boston.  Overall, it was a rockin experience.

For more information on The Network/La Red, check out their website: http://www.thenetworklared.org.  And for more information on the Creating Change Conference, visit their website: http://www.creatingchange.org





Spotlight on…Miyuki

6 10 2010

Every so often, QAPA will highlight members who have made an impact on raising LGBTQ awareness within the API community.  We will also turn the spotlight on LGBTQ API allies fighting for justice and equality, both in and out of the political arena.  Our first guest is QAPA’s own Miyuki Baker, gay activist extraordinaire.  She created a forum on Asian LGBTQ issues, birthed from her own experiences of being gay and Asian.  We sat down with Miyuki a few days ago to talk about her new project, gay idols, and who would be her Asian “Shane.”  Be sure to visit her website, Asian, Gay & Proud.

So tell us a bit more about why you created your awesome website, Asian, Gay & Proud?  What sort of response have you received?

After living in the lesbian capital of Asia, AKA Taipei (haha) last year, I came back to the US and was pretty shell-shocked.  Coming from Taipei where it seemed like every other couple was queer, I had forgotten how invisible queer Asians were in the scope of mainstream American gay culture.  Actually, this summer I myself was struggling to figure out how to come out to my parents.  I was looking up all these coming out stories online and corny “tips on how to come out to your parents” sites, but time and time again, the advice was directed at kids with white parents or at least non-Asian parents.  Not that I hadn’t looked it up before but I tried “Asian” and “gay” and of course, a long list of porn sites.  I was infuriated.  I gave up on the internet and after some lengthy phone calls I finally came out to my parents.  That was a pretty big deal…but after I came out, I decided that I could finally do what I had always wanted to be a part of-gay activism.  It just felt so much better that they knew and that I didn’t have to be constantly nervous about them “finding out.”

Responses have been great!  The site has had close to a couple of thousand unique visitors which I’m blown away by.  I can only hope that the information on the site has been helpful or encouraging to readers.  Responses from potential Out and Successful interviewees were really great too-even people who I thought wouldn’t have the time for such a small website responded to my emails really enthusiastically.  I guess that goes to show you that we all know how scarce queer Asian media is in the US! (By the way, I’m looking for more Out and Successful interviewees so check here for details! If you’re API, out and proud, then you qualify!)

Awesome, congrats on your successes so far!  And what do your parents think about your activism?

My parents found out about the site a couple of weeks ago actually, and while they feel that I have good intentions, they’ve also suggested that I’m being a bit too loud.  I hear their argument too but you do what you gotta do right?

The words “gay” and “Asian” together are like an oxymoron to many Asian people, particularly parents.  Do you agree that the LGBTQ API community has a harder time coming out and being themselves?

It’s never good to generalize but I do tend to think that APIA have a more difficult time coming out for sure…the lack of visibility is what really makes it tough.  If we think about the gay icons of America: Elton John, Ellen DeGeneres, Rachel Maddow…. notice what they have in common-they’re all white!  The L Word? No Asians playing major roles.  The influence of media on a group of people is immense… and the lack of queer Asian representation in real life as well as in films/TV shows has clearly taken its toll on the queer APIA community.

Another part of it is cultural stigma.  As my mother recently said to me, “I never saw a gay person growing up in Japan. There were probably many gay people but they knew it was better to be in hiding.  We just thought it was something that wasn’t supposed to happen.”

Lastly, although this is also a generalization, I think that Asian kids might feel more obligated to their parents or relatives, whereas white parents might be more willing to accept their child’s independence.  To come out to your Asian parents is not only to “lose face” for yourself, but also your parents’.  Betrayal, shame, pride…these are some words that I think of when I hear about the reactions of Asian parents’ to their children coming out.

Speaking of visibility, or lack thereof, let’s talk about gay role models.  October is GLBT History Month.  Who are your  LGBTQ role models or idols?

My queer celebrity role model is definitely Margaret Cho. She doesn’t give a crap about what people think about her you know? She just goes ahead and does and says what she wants! And she’s funny. I love her.

He’ll probably blush if he sees this, but Elisha Lim who I interviewed for Out and Successful would definitely make it on my list of role models too! As a successful queer artist, Elisha has taught me a lot about the heart and soul of activism through art.

Of course there are many more LGBTQ role models in my daily life, and thank goodness for that.

Oh and yeah, LGBTQ idol? Definitely Jenny Shimizu….

Wasn’t Jenny a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race?  Anyway, back to a serious question.  In California a large group of the API community advocated for the passing of Prop 8 at the time of the initial ruling (more than 6,000 in San Francisco and more than 4,000 in San Gabriel Valley in LA).  Not only did they simply turn out en masse to protest for Prop 8, they circulated hateful propaganda depicting gays as pedophiles and sexual deviants.  How do you respond to this and what do you think we can do to combat their incorrect and dangerous views of homosexuality?

I respond to this violently.  I mean it’s so so so unbelievably devastating.  What we can do is get our people out there, and get the right message out!  What we can do is to believe in love.  If every queer APIA came out, I think we’d have a pretty different turn of events.

photo courtesy of API Equality - LA

What we need to do is to stop talking about what we can do and just do it!

The recent spell of suicides of gay teens is beyond sad and definitely enraging.  These kids obviously didn’t have an outlet for support or even a shoulder to cry on, which I would guess is an issue for API youth.  Have you worked with any gay Asian youth or know of any organizations or support groups for them?  How can we reach out to gay kids in our community to make sure they’re doing okay?

Oh gosh, it’s ridiculous.  I think we all need to think about this seriously right now.  With the growing acceptance of homosexuality, it’s been so shocking to hear about all of these suicides.  I haven’t worked with any gay Asian youth per say but I try to be open about my sexuality no matter how old the audience is.  When I was a guest speaker in an English class at a Japanese high school this March, I was inevitably asked if I had a boyfriend to which I answered in the most matter of fact way, “Nope, but I have a girlfriend.”  Despite the laughs and general discomfort I initially sensed from the students when I said this, we then proceeded to talk about homosexuality in general, allowing the students to ask any question they wanted.  I think that candid conversations about sexuality are the crux of the matter.

Additionally, I think we need to increase visibility.  Knowing that you’re not the only one-this is So important in determining how you feel about your own sexuality.  Knowing that there’s nothing wrong with the way you are.  As for organizations I know of that support APIA youth, I have a whole slew of them on the Asian, Gay and Proud Links and Resources page.

That’s great Miyuki, thanks for listing the resources page.  Okay, we have to end on a light note.  If there were an Asian L Word show, who would play the “Shane” character?

Jenny Shimizu. Period. haha

Also, can there PLEASE be an Asian L Word? That would make my world. :)