The month of May marks Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the people, customs and culture of the AAPI community.
This month-long observance comes at a crucial time. Recently, communities across the country have seen heightened levels of LGBTQ+ and anti-Asian violence, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
These hate crimes first saw a spike at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic due to misinformation regarding the virus that caused a world-wide quarantine. It's these ideas that led to the tragic shooting rampage at three Atlanta spas over a year ago. Six of the eight women who died were of Asian descent.
This year means it is especially important to showcase the stories and lives true trailblazers, past and present.
Get to know some of these incredible AAPI LGBTQ+ figures who shown that breaking barriers and proving taking pride in your identity is worth the fight for change.
Born in Hong Kong, Cecelia Chung moved to Los Angeles in 1984 with her family. Shortly after coming out as transgender, she has become an fierce advocate for LGBTQ and civil rights.
She is director of strategic initiatives and evaluation at Transgender Law Center. Their goal is to change “law, policy, and attitudes so that all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination regardless of their gender identity or expression.”
She is even portrayed in an ABC miniseries called When We Rise, an examination of gay and women’s rights.
Chella Man is an Asian American actor, model YouTuber, and LGBTQ activist and often shares his unique life experiences as a transgender, deaf, genderqueer, Asian, and Jewish person of color through his YouTube channel. There, he documented his transitioning journey, including his struggles with body dysmorphia and undergoing top surgery.
Meet Lt. Dan Choi, a Korean American Army veteran from Orange County who fought for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell."— Equality California (@eqca) May 12, 2021
Thank you for being a trailblazer and for your service.#AAPIHeritageMonth pic.twitter.com/cMnANFuYZ5
In 2009, during a time when openly gay people were banned from serving in the military, active National Guard member Dan Choi publicly came out as gay on The Rachel Maddow Show.
As a result, Choi rapidly became the public face of those opposing the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy and aided in the legislation being repealed in 2010. Choi now travels, speaking to universities and other audiences to help empower the LGBTQ+ community.
An veteran actor, LGBTQ+ advocate and outspoken Facebook user, George Takei wears many hats. Some might know him as Lt. Sulu on Star Trek but other believe his clever and witty social media posts have dubbed him a true pop culture icon.
After growing up with his family in Japanese American internment camps during World War II, his experieces led to him fighting for social justice, including LGBTQ+ rights and marriage equality.
Renowned journalist Helen Zia writes and speaks on issues such as humanitarian, LGBTQ+ and women’s rights. Zia, who identifies as Chinese-American and openly lesbian has always championed for
Zia even testified in the landmark case Perry v. Schwarzenegger, which challenged California’s anti-marriage equality Proposition 8.
Nasim left Pakistan for the United States at the age of 21 in order to escape persecution and an arranged marriage after coming out. He eventually settled down in Chicago where he founded SANGAT/Chicago supporting LGBTQ+ South Asian youth.
Nasim’s art included publishing poetic works in Urdu, Punjabi and English, including what is believed to be the first book of gay-themed poetry published in the Urdu language.
Additionally, he hosted weekly radio show, wrote a weekly column for a Pakistani American newspaper, serving as President of the South Asian Performing Arts Council of America which advocated for LGBTQ+, South Asian and Muslim communities.
Born in a Japanese-American concentration camp at Hart Mountain in 1943, Kuromiya would grow up to be an advocate. Whether he was walking beside Martin Luther King Jr. fighting for civil rights or helping found the Gay Liberation Front he was not afraid to join the fight for change.
However, he was most remembered for his work through the AIDS epidemic. Kuromiya founded the Critical Path Project, which sent information through newsletters and the internet, to thousands of HIV/AIDS patients, informing them of new treatments and news. He was also the lead plaintiff in Kuromiya vs the United States which fought for medical marijuana use for those with HIV/AIDS.
Manvendra Singh Gohil
Manvendra Singh Gohil is the Prince of Rajpipla in Gujarat, India and is known as the first openly gay prince in the world. After a failed arranged marriage and experiences with conversion therapy he came out to a local newspaper in 2006.
Despite being publicly disowned by his family, Gohil has dedicated much of his time to helping LGBTQ+ people in his country– founding organizations liken the Lakshya Trust, an organization dedicated to fighting HIV/AIDS and fighting to make conversion therapy illegal in India. In 2018, he opened up his palace to provide housing for displaced and homeless LGBTQ individuals.
Mark Takano is a member of the US House of Representatives for California’s 41st district. As a Japanese-American, he is the first openly gay member of color in the United States Congress.
Since coming into office in 2013, Takano has worked for legislation to address issues like bullying in LGBTQ+ youth and awareness and recognition to observances like National Day of Silence.
Bisexual comedian Margaret Cho is known for her hilarious stand-up sets that also reflect her life as an Asian American and the struggles of the LGBTQ community. Margaret has collabed with various social organizations like he National Organization of Women and Lambda Legal.
In 2004, Cho created Love is Love is Love, a website that promoted the legalization of gay marriage in the United States.
RuPaul’s Drag Race season 1 competitor (and past Drag Society hero queen) is largely known as one of the pioneering queens in drag. This Philippines-born queen chose to go against the grain of what a typical drag queen should look like by making her baldness part of her signature drag look.
Even more, she made history as one of the first reality TV stars to reveal she was living with HIV on air. Today, Ongina is recognized as an LGBTQ+ and HIV advocate unafraid to fight the stigma surrounding these conversations.
Which AAPI figures in the LGBTQ community do you admire? Let us know who we missed in the comments below!
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