That was the message at a panel discussion with several LGBTQ Asian American-Pacific Islanders (AAPI) on Wednesday at the Center for Civil & Human Rights in downtown Atlanta. The event, which drew about 50 people, also marked Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Alex Wan (second photo far left), executive director of Horizons, was the moderator for the event. Wan was the first gay man and Asian American elected to the Atlanta City Council.
“A lot of times our community just ends up getting lost or being invisible in terms of representation and even in terms of societal dialogue,” he said.
Amazin LeThi (second photo middle), founder of the Amazin LeThi Foundation, said that media representation of AAPIs is a major issue.
“We still make up only one percent of leading Hollywood roles,” she said. “We need to look at how we’re represented and how the stereotype of being Asian is shown in the media.”
LeThi, whose foundation hosted the event with the LGBTQ Institute, said the media representation issue even affects the dating lives of LGBTQ AAPIs.
“People see us as LGBTQ, but there’s that stereotype of Asian people in the media, with Asian women being so sexualized and Asian men being so desexualized,” she said.
In January ahead of the Super Bowl in Atlanta, LeThi took part in a panel discussion on LGBTQ inclusion in sports.
The success of the 2018 film “Crazy Rich Asians” was important, according to several members on the panel.
Stan Fong (second photo second from left), board chair for the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, said he was happy to see a gay AAPI character in the film.
“For [my friends], this is the first time they have seen another gay Asian on screen. That’s so important,” he said. “To be able to see gay Asian people on TV and to meet other gay Asian people, it’s life-changing and it makes me feel like I’m not alone.”
Traditional Asian culture presented issues for some panel members when they came out.
“Part of my journey has been coming out to myself not only as a gay person, but as a gay Asian person,” Fong said.
He said he got pulled out of school and left his family “for a while” after coming out, and he never thought he’d see them again.
“It took years of reconciliation to realize that love is love,” Fong said.
'This is our House as well'
State Rep. Sam Park (top photo), a Democrat from Lawrenceville, became the first openly gay man and first Asian American Democrat elected to the Georgia legislature in 2016. The excitement over the win was tempered after a Korean newspaper mentioned he was gay.
“My family in New York and California found out I was gay through the newspaper. They were shocked,” he said. “It was bittersweet. Being able to experience that and endure it allowed me to overcome it.”
Park attended a Korean event in Alabama after he was elected, but organizers asked him not to include his sexuality in his event biography.
“It has been challenging to balance the two [being LGBTQ and AAPI], without a doubt,” he said. “But being myself allows those bridges to be built.”
Park said having an LGBTQ and AAPI presence in the legislature impacts other lawmakers.
“I am reminding them that this is our House as well,” he said.
The rise of LGBTQ AAPIs in Georgia appears set to continue. The number of AAPIs in Georgia grew 136 percent between 2000 and 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“The demographic is changing,” said Stephanie Cho (second photo second from right), executive director of Asians Americans Advancing Justice. “The Asian American demo is coming of age.”
But coming out is key, Park said.
“The beauty and brilliance of Harvey Milk’s ‘Come out, come out wherever you are’ [speech] was the realization that there are gay people everywhere,” he said. “Well, there are gay Asians everywhere too. You can’t underestimate the impact you have on others by being who you are.”
“That collectively is what makes true progress — by changing people’s perspective,” he added.