Emerging Equality: The State of the LGBTQ Movement in Asia

SAN FRANCISCO, JULY 26 — International queer activists gathered today in San Francisco’s Chinatown to discuss the state of LGBTQ organizing in Asia.

Joya Sikder speaks at international media briefing at NQAPIA conference (photo by Lanny Li)

The activists hailed from Vietnam, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Japan, and China. They shared personal stories and political updates regarding their countries’ cultural and legal stances toward LGBTQ people.

The speakers were in town as part of “Growing Home,” the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance’s National Conference. The conference brought together more than 650 queer and trans Asian Pacific Islander people from around the globe to hear the international speakers, as well as to attend more than 100 workshops on racial justice, immigrants’ rights, LGBTQ equality, trans justice, religious acceptance, youth organizing, and more.

Amazin LêThi, a Vietnamese author and former natural competitive bodybuilder, said at the press conference that playing sports as an LGBTQ young person helped her build confidence, find community, and gain leadership skills. Now, Amazin creates sports training, business, leadership, and career development opportunities for LGBTQ youth in Vietnam through her organization, the Amazin LêThi Foundation.

“In Vietnam, unlike in some other Asian countries, being LGBTQ isn’t illegal, but it also isn’t protected by law. We were the first country in Asia to discuss marriage equality in the government, and since 2012 we have had Vietpride, starting in Hanoi. Since 2017, we’ve had 35 Vietprides across the nation,” Amazin said. “However, Vietnam is still a conservative society. There is family and social pressure to conform, get married, and have children.”

Amazin lamented the lack of social and institutional support systems for LGBTQ youth in Vietnam, mentioning that she too had experienced homelessness as an LGBTQ person.

“We have no anti-bullying programs or rainbow programs within the school system and it’s common for rainbow youth to experience discrimination and bullying. Many youth are made homeless because of their sexuality and gender identity,” she said.

Japanese activist Mamiko Moda helped start a group called Kodomap, which supports LGBTQ people who want to have kids or already have kids. There is strong cultural stigma against LGBTQ couples raising children in Japan, and same-sex couples cannot get legally married, she said.

“When my partner came out to herself as a lesbian, she was quite sad because she thought she would not be able to have kids. Because of the traditional family way of thinking, even people who are LGBTQ told my partner that it is not right to have kids as a lesbian because kids need love from both a mother and a father,” Mamiko said.

“There are so many things we need to know, and so many things to think about — like how the current laws affect LGBTQ parents and kids, what the legal risks are, how to find donors, and how to deal with clinics and hospitals since they don’t handle LGBTQ cases,” she added.

Kevin Lin spoke about the first time he met out-and-proud LGBTQ Chinese people — along with their supportive, affirming family members — at a PFLAG China meeting in 2016. That experience, he said, motivated him to become an LGBTQ activist in Shanghai.

He is now the training coordinator for PFLAG China, which has more than 3,000 volunteers to support the LGBTQ community in China.

“I want to send a message to you: China is coming out,” he said.