LGBTQ Asian Pacific Islander Activists Mobilize for Racial Justice, Immigrants’ Rights & Trans Liberation

Conference attendees in front of our step and repeat (photo by Lanny Li)

More than 650 LGBTQ Asian Pacific Islanders from around the world are meeting in San Francisco this weekend to hone skills, build community, and celebrate achievements.

The attendees are in the Bay Area to take part in “Growing Home,” the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance’s National Conference. The conference is host to more than 100 workshops on racial justice, immigrants’ rights, LGBTQ equality, trans justice, religious acceptance, youth organizing, sexual liberation, and more.

This year’s turnout is unprecedented — more than twice the number who attended the previous NQAPIA National Conference in 2015.

“After relentless attacks, our community must come together to heal from political trauma, support each other, and strategize for our movement,” said Glenn D. Magpantay, NQAPIA’s Executive Director.

M Lin speaking to a crowd at the NQAPIA conference (photo by Lanny Li)

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, APIs are the nation’s fastest growing racial group and the largest segment of immigrants — both legal and undocumented — coming to the United States. The Williams Institute at UCLA also found that the LGBTQ immigrant population is disproportionately API.

Even as more and more LGBTQ API people come out of the closet, they still face invisibility, isolation, and stereotyping within both API and LGBTQ communities. Sometimes they are profiled as terrorists, gang members, or spies for China. Their needs are often overlooked. NQAPIA’s National Conference provides a starting point to address these challenges, by bringing together the LGBTQ API community to brainstorm and plan collaborations toward social and political change.

“In my queer inclusion and intersectionality work…I am consistently urging folks to normalize and center queer people of color,” said Naushaba Patel of the Montrose Center in Houston. “I can’t even imagine how healing it will be for my psyche to be surrounded by hundreds of queer API folks. I hope that it will help me find a sense of true belonging within my own complex identities.”

Welcome reception attendees at the conference (photo by Lanny Li)

Affirming parents of LGBTQ kids and religious leaders of inclusive congregations are also attending the conference to organize and build power in support of the LGBTQ API community.

Karen Murakami, a mother of two gay sons, recently moved to Texas, where she said the political climate and attitudes toward LGBTQ people are different compared to when she lived in California. At the NQAPIA conference, she said she is hoping to reconnect with other parents who are also pushing for LGBTQ acceptance within API communities and religious spaces.

“I’m most excited to hear what they have been doing in their local areas, so I can continue to be inspired and take that energy back to Texas,” Karen said. “I believe if we can change just one heart, it has been worth it.”

The presenters at NQAPIA’s National Conference represent a multigenerational group of leaders and community members from across the Asian and Pacific Islander diasporas. They include Malaysian LGBTQ activist Thilaga Sulathireh, Virginia Commonwealth University student Khudai Tanveer, Hollywood producer Christopher Lee, and Rev. Danilio Cortez, an ordained Southern Baptist Minister and proud father of a gay son.

For many of the LGBTQ attendees, the conference is an opportunity to relish in a sense of home and commune with a chosen family that some may not have thought was possible.

Workshop Attendees (Photo by Lanny Li)

Neo Veavea, an LGBTQ activist of Samoan descent, said he remembers going out to the Castro neighborhood in San Francisco as a young man and being double-carded by bouncers, ignored by bartenders, and ostracized by the mostly-white crowd.

In response, Neo helped start United Territories of Pacific Islanders Alliances (U.T.O.P.I.A.), a community group for queer and trans Pacific Islanders, in 1998. U.T.O.P.I.A. has since expanded to chapters in Hawaii, Seattle, Portland, New York, and San Diego.

Neo, who recently turned 61 and is running for city office in San Francisco, said he is most excited “to be surrounded by leaders of our community and youth who are eager to learn” at the conference.

“I know it’s going to be a powerful, positive gathering,” he said.