APIA Scholars is proud to celebrate the LGTBQ+ community this June. More than 19% of our scholars identify as being part of the LGTBQ+ community and we strive to provide a safe and creative space for them to share and grow and where they can be recognized for their contributions. I would like for a moment to reflect on some of the very significant events that accelerated the pursuit of equal rights for individuals in our community and beyond.
The LGTBQ+ civil rights movement in the United States is filled with many moments of inspiration and hope, as well as frustration and loss. Amidst all the highs and lows, changemakers from a range of identities, including many AANHPI individuals, have left far-reaching impacts.
Tamara Ching, a transwoman of Native Hawaiian, Chinese, and German background, is one of the many AANHPI activists who has made a lasting mark. In 1966, Ching and others fought against police brutality in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District at The Compton Cafeteria, a restaurant safe and welcoming to drag queens. The uprising led to increases in transgender advocacy programs in San Francisco, and the event parallels the historic Stonewall uprising that would occur three years later. Ching’s activism over several decades surrounds issues relating to transgender anti-discrimination, support for transgender Asian immigrants, and HIV/AIDS education.
Vince Crisostomo is another AANHPI civil rights leader who was involved in work related to HIV/AIDS. He is known for being the first publicly “out” HIV-positive Chamorro at World AIDS Day in 1991. Crisostomo has been engaged in HIV/ AIDS work in Guam and advocacy across the Asia Pacific region.
In more recent years, we’ve seen significant strides in LGBTQ rights and federal policies. Several of these rulings were driven by AANHPI organizers. California Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage, was originally passed in 2008 then overturned in 2010. Among the plaintiffs whose lawsuit ultimately deemed Prop 8 as unconstitutional were Stuart Gaffney and his partner John Lewis, both outspoken advocates in the Freedom to Marry movement. Gaffney’s family history is deeply connected to the issue of marriage equality; his parents experienced their own struggle as an interracial Chinese and English/Irish couple. Gaffney and Lewis continue to bring awareness to marriage equality through public speaking and their non-profit work.
In 2011, another landmark decision relating to LGBTQ rights occurred, which was the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” federal policy. DADT was a ban on gay and lesbian service members in the U.S. military, and its repeal was catalyzed by events surrounding Dan Choi, a Korean-American former Army officer and Iraq War veteran. Choi publicly came out as gay in 2009, which quickly led to his dishonorable discharge. In response, Choi and other service members protested by handcuffing themselves to a fence at the White House in 2010. Choi played an instrumental role in highlighting LGBTQ discrimination in the military, and he was ultimately invited to attend the bill signing that ended DADT.
Today, AANHPI individuals continue to champion for the LGBTQ+ community and engage in work promoting visibility and equal rights. One of the many voices in the conversation is Alok Vaid-Menon, an author, artist, and nonbinary activist of Indian and Malaysian background. Vaid-Menon uses their platform to urge people to critique their understanding of gender and examine notions of masculinity, femininity, and standards of beauty.
These AANHPI activists whose work spans several decades are just some of many individuals dedicated to the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. Their commitment to advocacy and change, both as individuals and members of a larger movement, offers hope and a reminder of how far the movement for LGBTQ+ rights has come. But also, how much work remains for us to do.
While APIA Scholars celebrates the ongoing work toward LGBTQ+ equality, we also challenge you to consider how you can engage in deconstructing oppressive systems while pushing for continued progress.
Noël S. Harmon, PhD
President & Executive Director
President & Chief of Staff Intern