OPINION: LGBT+ people must be a visible part of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

by David Yu | Human Rights Campaign
Tuesday, 21 May 2019 08:21 GMT

Two women hold a rainbow flag together while marching in a gay pride parade in San Francisco, California June 28, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Like many Asian and Pacific Islanders in the LGBT+ community, I have to constantly choose between the uncertainty of visibility and the safe-seeming obscurity of staying in the closet

David Yu is senior major gifts officer at Human Rights Campaign

I still remember that flight a few years ago. I was on a business trip to California, and the man sat next to me was deep in prayer for most of the six-hour ride. Two-thirds of the way cross-country, he paused to strike up a conversation.

Over the roar of the plane engines, he talked about baseball and his pick for the World Series. Seeing a wedding ring on my finger, he asked me about “the Mrs”…unaware that he was actually referring to my husband back at home.

I paused to consider my response. Should I correct him, come out and invite a dialogue or simply let it slide? Do I risk an awkward conversation and even my personal safety by telling the truth to this stranger – or do I just ignore it?

Being a gay Chinese American immigrant, these are the questions our world forces me to consider every day. Like many Asian and Pacific Islanders (APIs) in the LGBT+ community, I have to constantly choose between the uncertainty of what visibility can bring and the safe-seeming obscurity of staying in the closet.

In that moment, I made a choice to be visible. Shouldn’t my real identity arm me with a unique perspective to change opinions…to move hearts and minds?

In a quiet conversation with a stranger 30,000 feet above Denver, I shared my story and I made a difference. And as we left the plane, the man turned and wished me and my husband well.

Many gay and transgender API people who are out to their friends and coworkers may not be entirely out to their families. Traditional values and family lineage are some of the complex issues that make it difficult — if not dangerous — to be truly open and honest with everybody.

Young people often fear being ostracised and chased out of their homes and communities. Adults and elders dodge reality to make family situations more bearable and less contentious. Many of us tend to hide, to assimilate and to blend in.    

As we mark this Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I hope others will join me and those out LGBT+ people who have come before me to use the power of your voice to speak up and out for the gay and trans API community as a part of it or as an ally, and to be heard everywhere — from airplanes to rallies to voting booths.

With more and more visibility, LGBT+ API people can be in the driver’s seat for change — helping families become more accepting and affirming to our gay and trans youth and open to the loved ones we bring into our lives, building and fortifying new traditions, and redefining being LGBT+ and Asian and Pacific Islander.

By living openly and with integrity, by celebrating our achievements and by bringing our full selves to our everyday lives, we can build a better world for everyone – one person and plane ride at a time.