It has always been a challenge getting us together. Our differences — whether sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, socio-economic background, or priorities — often get in the way of working together towards our shared dream of full rights and equality.
But last Saturday, the 11th Annual Pride & Heritage Celebration showed that we can get together in spite of our differences.
The Pride & Heritage Coalition is comprised of local Asian Pacific Islander LGBT organizations. Eleven years ago, the leaders of Asian/Pacific Islander Queer Sisters, Asian/Pacific Islander Queers United for Action, KhushDC and the D.C. chapter of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum gathered and decided that it was in their best interests to collaborate and promote the welfare of LGBT Asians. In time, these women and men realized that beneath the surface, they shared much in common and enjoyed working and socializing with each other.
This commonality and camaraderie was in full display at the Pride & Heritage reception. Crammed into a church hall were lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of South Asian, Central Asian, East Asian and Southeast Asian descent. Sprinkled in the crowd were straight allies, significant others and family members, as well as a few African Americans, Latinos and whites. The main performer was Kit Yan, the reigning Mr. Transman, known for his slam poetry. Honored that evening was Ben de Guzman, co-director of the National Queer API Alliance, an LGBT activist and Filipino American community leader.
What originally brought these people and groups together — and keeps their coalition strong — is their minority status. Brian Wang, a coalition leader, recounted how he was shocked to learn that Asian faces are scarce in Washington. He had moved here from California, where Asian Pacific Americans are the largest minority. Krishnan, a board member of KhushDC, explained that the South Asian group was formed to provide a safe space for queer South Asians. And Iimay Ho emphasized the importance of groups formed specifically for queer Asian women.
LGBT Asian Pacific Islander leaders also work at maintaining their bond. Earlier on Saturday, the association held its first community retreat. Community organizers and activists convened to strengthen personal relationships and strategize next steps for the coalition.
Perhaps the wider LGBT community can learn from Pride & Heritage. Unity is possible. Difficult yes, but not impossible. In spite of all our differences, as queer people we are the minority. We need each other to win the fight for our rightful place in society. Given the chance, we might even discover that we can get along after all.
You can follow Erwin on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.