Guest Blogger

Going to the White House for AAPI Heritage Month

Filed By Guest Blogger | May 28, 2011 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: AAPI, Asian-American, Ben de Guzman, Obama Administration, Pacific Islanders, White House

Thumbnail image for  BDG.jpgEditors' note: Guest blogger Ben de Guzman is the co-director of The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance.

OK, I know history gets made in Washington DC. No doubt about it. But this week it was also my community's history.

On May 23, nineteen LGBT youth and advocates from Asian American, South Asian, Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities around the country converged in Washington DC to hold our first unprecedented meeting with senior level officials from the White House, the Obama Administration, and federal agencies to talk face-to-face about issues of concern to us.

The White House Office of Public Engagement and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders hosted an "AAPI LGBT Youth Pride and Heritage Event" in recognition of May as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Another first - and if it doesn't thrill you, let me tell you, it thrilled me!

The White House AAPI LGBT Youth Pride and Heritage Event included a roundtable focused on policy issues with representatives of federal agencies, and an inspiring discussion about leadership and public service with AAPI LGBT appointees from the Obama Administration. Youth and advocates made recommendations on issues such as anti-bullying initiatives, health/HIV and sex education.

Openly gay Asian American appointees shared stories on what it means to be involved in public service from their unique perspectives. Hector Vargas, the openly gay member of President Obama's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders wrote a blog about the event on the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Web site.

The youth participants represented an amazingly diverse group of organizations from around the country, including: Shades of Yellow (an LGBTQ Hmong Southeast Asian organization in St. Paul, MN), Asian Pacific Islander Coalition for HIV/ AIDS, Asian Pacific Islander Equality - Los Angeles and Asian Pacific Islander Equality - Northern California, the Gay and Lesbian Leadership Institute, as well as local organizations such as the DC Center (DC's LGBT community center), and schools such as the University of Maryland - College Park and the University of Pennsylvania.

Working in partnership with the White House, NQAPIA played a critical role in identifying the youth participants, and organizing the event, along with AAPIP, which leveraged financial support necessary to bring the participants to DC, and the API Wellness Center, which provided administrative and logistical support.

Vinita Chaudhry, a student at Washington University in St. Louis who took part in the event, said it felt like "the opportunity of a lifetime to be able to speak at the White House about my experience and to have my voice actually be heard by people who are working to create change -- it was amazing. I am so grateful for the opportunity, and hope that future youth can benefit from the work that was started with this dialogue."

This is history in the making for our AAPI/LGBT communities. There has never been a gathering like this where openly AAPI LGBT youth were not only able to speak their truth to high level government officials, but to turn that truth into action for change.

They really expanded the dialogue about the most urgent issues in our communities. By defying the traditional categories of race, ethnicity, sexuality and gender, they transformed the policy landscape where the government representatives in the room work.

Alice Y. Hom, Director of the Queer Justice Fund of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, said that LGBT communities often find themselves as an afterthought - either the underrepresented gays in the AAPI movement or the invisible ethnic minority in the LGBT movement.

'It's appropriate that the youth in our community shake up that framework and I'm inspired at how the youth in that room today forced Washington, DC insiders and policymakers to re-examine the impact their work has on real people," she said.

DC's local community rolled out the red carpet to welcome the youth and to celebrate AAPI Heritage month. NQAPIA's local member organizations in DC hosted a reception for the youth participants to celebrate their historic White House meeting as part of their annual Pride and Heritage Celebration.

White House representatives, local community leaders and national partners attended the festivities and gave the youth and me a moment that we will never forget.

Marsha Aizumi, a parent whose own activism is inspired by her transgender son, Aiden, took part in the event as well. As she notes in her blog:

Each of us who are standing up for equality, whether LGBT, straight ally or Asian Pacific Islander... each LGBT individual courageously living their life as their true selves, bring hope not only to those in our nation, but those around the world.

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mad props to Ben and NQAPIA for repping at the White House! W00T!

I'm so glad to hear about this. Kudos to the White House for including the queer AAPI community, and to the community for speaking up about these important issues.