Friday, July 23, 2010

Do Asian Americans hate gay marriage?

Originally posted on the Washington Blade

Korean Americans Hate Gay Marriage Most, Poll Reveals.The headline reeled me in, but it was the blogger’s assertion that “it’s been known for some time that Asian Americans are the ethnic group most opposed to gay marriage in California” which got me going.

First of all, Asian American is not an ethnic group. Rather, it is a catch-all for Americans who can trace their roots to East Asia, Southeast Asia and South Asia. Secondly, the Field Poll report that the writer cites only discusses three Asian American subgroups: Chinese Americans, Korean Americans and Vietnamese Americans. Finally, the article that he links to his generalization quotes a couple of experts, a political consultant and an executive director of a Chinese American nonprofit, who were sharing their opinions on what happened in November 2008, when Barack Obama and Proposition 8 prevailed in California.

The results of an exit poll conducted Nov. 4 that year revealed that 64 percent of Asian American voters in Los Angeles voted against Proposition 8. Likewise, a survey by professors Patrick Egan and Kenneth Sherrill showed that 52 percent of Asian Americans in California voted against the ballot initiative. Moreover, their report concluded that a voter’s party identification, ideology, religious affiliation and age had a much bigger impact on the decision to vote for or against Proposition 8. The academics explained much of the difference among racial and ethnic groups to varying levels of religiosity. It has little to do with race and more to do with how often a voter worships.

Cuc Vu, a Vietnamese-American who works closely with immigrant communities, disagrees with the contention that all Asian Americans oppose same-sex marriage. She is not surprised, however, by the Field Poll findings about Korean and Vietnamese Americans.

“Koreans are the most conservative among Asians on marriage equality because of the Baptist tradition that large segments of Koreans follow. For Vietnamese, the Catholic Church is very influential.” She points out, however, that “that younger Koreans and Vietnamese have different views than their more traditional and religious immigrant parents or grandparents.”

Although one cannot say that all Asian Americans hate gay marriage, the reality is many do because of their faith traditions, age and political and social ideologies. They form a sizable bloc of voters we need to convince of our fundamental right to fair and equal treatment under the law. So how can we change the minds and hearts of more conservative Asian Americans?

I think the onus is on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Asian American people and organizations who need to reach out to their communities. Vu points out that “one of the reasons why I think you saw a majority of Asian voters in California voting against Prop 8 is because of Asian Pacific Islander LGBT leaders in California making themselves visible in key spaces — like marching in the annual Chinese New Year Parade. That would be the equivalent of black LGBTs having a strong presence at the annual Black Family Reunion.”

“API LGBT leaders also housed API Equality, which has been working on marriage equality for years, in the offices of Chinese for Affirmative Action, a respected local civil rights organization in the Bay Area. Integrating LGBT issues in a community-based civil rights organization recast LGBT issues as part of the Chinese community’s civil rights issues.”

“Both of these strategies are about engaging straight allies,” Vu emphasizes. “And stepping out of our LGBT bubble and into spaces where we might face rejection. But API LGBT leaders in California have put themselves out there consistently, year after year, and that’s why I think you saw API voters behaving differently than black and Latino voters.”

Filipino-American Hyacinth Alvaran, co-chair of Asian Pacific Islander Queer Sisters, agrees.

“I think being visibly present, supporting API community activities is important. This is where API LGBT groups can come in, to help speak on behalf of API LGBT people and build the trust with other API organizations, especially those that serve the immigrant community. Whether it be helping organize, participating in, or humbly but proudly serving at citizenship workshops, cultural events, events where critical community services are being provided, etc., we can interact with members of the community in a way that shows that we are out and that we are proud to be both LGBT and API. We alone as API LGBT people can’t change the attitudes of our larger API communities, but if we build trust with key community leaders and organizations who can help us do that, it’s a start.”

It is a start, not only for queer Asian Americans, but for all of us.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A continuing plight

Originally posted on the Washington Blade

Last week, U.S. Reps. Luis Gutierrez, Mike Honda, Jerrold Nadler, Jared Polis and Mike Quigley came out in support of an LGBT-inclusive immigration reform at a press event in the Rayburn House Building.

“The underlying part of any comprehensive immigration bill is family unity and I am here today because I think we need to speak more clearly, more articulately, and more frequently that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and same-sex couples and their binational relationships, are part of families,” Rep. Gutierrez said.

He emphasized the difficulty that thousands of lesbian and gay bi-national couples face.

“Right now, too many same-sex, bi-national couples face an impossible choice: to live apart or to break the law to be with their partners, families, and children. That’s not good for them and it is not good for the rest of us, either. That’s why I think the provisions of [the Uniting American Families Act] must be part of any comprehensive immigration reform bill.”

I was invited to share my own story as the foreign-born half of a bi-national couple. After the event, John Henrehan, a reporter for Fox 5 WTTG interviewed me. Over the weekend, his segment on immigration reform and same-sex couples was published online and played during local news broadcasts.

A few friends have seen the clip and have been very supportive. Many were unaware of the predicament my husband and I face. Although we have been together 12 years, registered domestic partners in New York City for six years, and now a married couple in the District, he is unable to sponsor me for permanent legal residence simply because we happen to be gay. Immigration is a federal matter and our union is not recognized by current U.S. immigration laws. If we were an opposite-sex couple, getting a green card would not be such a hurdle.

I have lived in the United States for two decades and this is home for me. This is home for both of us. Unfortunately, once I complete my doctorate and my student visa expires sometime during the next couple of years, we may need to leave the country — unless immigration reform which includes LGBT families is passed.

“I thought they did a great job with the story! Hopefully y’all won’t have to move!” posted a friend on my Facebook page.

“Excellent interview. I hope and pray that the laws will change,” wrote another.

Conversations about immigration and the plight of same-sex, bi-national couples are important. I appreciate the concern and well-wishes, but I also challenge my friends and allies to act.

Now that you are aware of this issue, talk to everyone about it: your neighbor, your colleagues, your friends and family, and especially your representatives and senators. Tell them you’d like immigration reform to be LGBT-inclusive and that you’d like immigration reform to happen this year in this Congress.

“You are not going anywhere. We are fighting for our full rights until the end,” vowed a gay friend.

I’m counting on that.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Same-sex binational couples in the news

Last Thursday, Immigration Equality organized a press event at the Rayburn House Office Building during which Representatives Luis Gutierrez, Mike Honda, Jerrold Nadler and Mike Quigley advocated for the inclusion of same-sex binational couples in immigration reform legislation. I was invited to tell my story as the foreign-born half of a binational couple which led to an interview by a local reporter.

Although the story had been preempted by a power outage at Reagan National Airport then by the very minor earthquake in the D.C. area, the piece was finally aired during local news broadcasts over the weekend. Here's the video clip:

This has started some conversations which I hope will lead to action on behalf of LGBT binational families and immigrants in general.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Gays in 2050

Originally posted on the Washington Blade.

The Smithsonian magazine is marking its 40th anniversary with a special issue that tells us 40 things we need to know about the next 40 years.

The issue covers the environment, population issues, medicine and science, arts and culture, and technology. Scientists, experts and thinkers predict that by 2050, jellyfish will have taken over our oceans, electric cars will be given away for free, World War III will be fought in space, and medical innovations will enable us to regrow severed limbs. President Obama, who penned a short article, remains “full of hope about what the future holds.”

But what about us? Where will we be 40 years from now?

Like the president, I am rather optimistic about the state of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. By mid-century, Americans and citizens of other developed nations will be scratching their heads wondering what the big deal was about granting a minority group the same rights, privileges and standing as anyone else. We will be in the military and our families will be recognized. We will not be anxious about getting fired because we happen to be queer. We will not fear getting raped, beaten or killed because of how we look, speak or act. We will be full citizens.

Part of my hopefulness rests in changing demographics. A couple of decades from now, the generation that is most uncomfortable with non-heterosexuals will be gone, as will their antiquated notions, undue influence (especially in government and policy), and resistance. They will be replaced by people of my generation who tend to be more comfortable with difference and who have lived, worked and loved openly gay and transgender women and men.

By 2050, the United States will be home to at least 400 million people and will be far more diverse. We will have learned to live with plurality. More than 50 percent of the population will be of color: about 29 percent Hispanic, 13 percent Black, 9 percent Asian and 2 percent American Indian/Alaska Native. Immigrants and their U.S.-born descendants will account for most U.S. population growth. Countries like Mexico, China, India, the Philippines and Pakistan will lose citizens migrating to the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy.

This flow of people results in a flow of ideas. Those receiving immigrants will be exposed to different cultures just as those sending émigrés will also have their traditions challenged by expatriates remitting much needed dollars and Euros. Women who leave children, husbands and families to find work in another land will become empowered and expect more respect and autonomy. Queer individuals who come out and succeed away from confining and repressive families and societies will refuse to stand in the shadows and remain silent.

Ideas and culture will also spread through technology, particularly through the web and mobile devices. People in less developed and more oppressed nations will learn about equality, freedom and opportunity. The younger generation will realize that their lives are not predetermined by caste and religion. Women will demand parity. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will aspire for the freedom enjoyed by their counterparts in the West.

We are already seeing this happen, slowly but surely. Unless a major catastrophe or total economic meltdown occurs, when fear will again rule rather than reason, I think that life can only get better for all of us. Until then, we continue the struggle. We come out, we reach out, we change hearts and minds. We create the future we deserve.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Image by Sucheta Das/Associated Press.