Earlier this week at an event hosted by the White House, I listened as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) youth told compelling stories about the challenges and triumphs of living at the intersections of race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity.
I heard stories about the heartbreak of being rejected by families who felt that being LGBT was against culture or religion, about teachers and counselors not being prepared to work with LGBT students of color, and about constant bullying and harassment from other students who often combined racial and homophobic slurs and taunts to further isolate and marginalize their fellow students.
And I heard stories of reconciliation with families, of organizing to strengthen gay-straight alliances, of leading campaigns for safe school policies and laws, and of learning self-worth and respect through programs designed to specifically serve LGBT AANHPI youth. The stories were about courage, resilience and empowerment.
These were the experiences of 19 LGBT AANHPI youth who gathered for a White House AANHPI LGBT Pride and Heritage Event. The youth came from all across the nation, including from Minnesota, Indiana and Missouri, representing the diversity within the AANHPI and LGBT communities.
The common denominator among them all is leadership. Each and every youth who attended is a leader in their own right, pushing to ensure that the issues and concerns of LGBT AANHPI communities are being addressed in their schools, communities and at all levels of government. I am inspired by each of them and their experiences and leadership.
Hosted by the White House Office of Public Engagement and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the event brought together LGBT AANHPI youth with representatives from the Departments of Education, Justice and Health and Human Services so that they could incorporate the specific needs of this community into federal anti-bullying, comprehensive sex education, and HIV preventions programs. A handful of advocates working with LGBT AANHPI youth also shared specific recommendations in these areas.
The stories that were told underscore the experiences of LGBT AANHPI people who live at the intersections of race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, class, immigration status, age and so many other characteristics. That’s why I feel honored that as an openly gay Filipino-American serving on the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs that I have been given a unique opportunity to bring all of who I am to the Commission’s work to serve AANHPI communities.
As we continue to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and as we prepare for LGBT Pride celebrations that often occur in June, the notion of “Pride & Heritage” has special meaning. It presents the opportunity for me, and the entire LGBT AANHPI community and allies, to celebrate and recognize all aspects of who we are. This is a part of the American experience that isn’t often heard but in a rare and unique moment was given voice to at the highest levels of our government.
Hector Vargas serves on the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.