My Friends on Being Queer and Asian in America During COVID-19

It’s time we had the hard conversations with loved ones and strangers.

Image / Darwin Bell — Castro to Chinatown: An LGBTQ+ Solidarity March for Asian Lives

Since the beginning of the pandemic, harassment and violence against Asian Americans has continued to grow. Across America, there has been an enormous surge of racism and attacks in our Asian communities.

A year ago, I wrote an essay on Medium — because I was fed up with the killing and treatment–the racism, police brutality, and scapegoating of Black Americans. The murders of trans people of color and our countries continued hatred of Latinx immigrants are exhausting me. I’ve said this before: We must condemn racism and acts of hate against everyone in any form.

It’s upsetting that I’m writing about it again — that racism, hate, violence, and discrimination are facts of life in this more-often-than-not awful country. And, right now, there are no more critical voices that need to be heard than those that make up our Asian American communities, especially those coming from queer individuals.

Over the past week, I’ve been asking my friends how they’ve coped with our last president’s racist rhetoric around COVID-19. My friend and floral designer, Tyson Lee, said, “the majority of western society still does not understand and acknowledge the many types of Asian cultures that exist. He continued, adding that “these racial comments have not only been targeted at the Chinese but to all the Asian races as Americans honestly don’t know the difference.”

Philanthropist, artist, and DJ Kim Anh also had thoughts to share.

“Hearing our past president say those comments immediately brought up so much anger and frustration,” Anh said, before diving into the stark vulnerability of being an Asian American in this time: “I felt unsafe, and it was terrifying. The only way I knew how to cope with these feelings was to shift into a mindset of determination instead of helplessness.”

Kevin Nguyen, a relative newcomer to San Francisco — who’s also become a new member of my family — said, “since moving here from Texas, the demographic is drastically different from where I grew up.”

“Those remarks made me more worried about my family back in Texas than about myself,” Nguyen added.

Everyone I spoke to said the queer community has not always been kind with comments to Asian Americans. Things like, “I don’t date Asians,” “you’re tall for an Asian,” and “I’m not into Asians, but you’re hot for an Asian” all have racist undertones that people like to put under the rug of “that’s just my preference.”

Anh went on to say, “I’ve been mistaken with other Asian artists by people involved in all levels of the music industry and nightlife. At times I’ve felt invisible or had my experiences invalidated.”

One person I spoke to, who wished to remain anonymous, had experienced similar racist comments in the past.

“I have been in San Francisco for over twenty years, and I’ve only had a couple of blatant racist experiences, but just a single one is one too many,” they said. “An acquaintance of mine once referred to me as a type of Asian dish and added that they ‘don’t make this into a race issue.’”

But it was a race issue.

“I no longer interact with this person,” they went on to add. “And they’ve still yet to apologize for their comments.’

My Asian American queer friends all echoed much of the same experiences and sentiments when I spoke to them; the hardest thing for me to hear was how difficult it was to get the courage to talk about racism in this country and how it affects them; I knew this was a complex subject to open up about — and I wanted each of them to know that I care and stand by their sides.

Each of my friends shared their ideas of what a robust and racially-equal community should look like in this country — a country that doesn’t alienate entire communities.

In my interview with Anh, they waxed on how “the Asian community wants the same thing that all oppressed and marginalized groups want” and that the community, too, wants to be “seen, heard, humanized, and treated with dignity.”

“We want equality — nothing more and nothing less,” they continued. “Please don’t ignore our pain. Please hold folks accountable when they are harmful to our community.”

So, how do we get there — and equally as important, where do we go from here?

Lee asked that you shouldn’t hesitate to ask questions if there are issues on your mind: “The more we open up and speak about these issues, the more educated we are with a topic that may be taboo.”

Anh believes the same, saying in our interview that we should all try to educate ourselves about the long history of injustices against all BIPOC folks — “and practice compassion and love.”

And this actualization of compassion and love is something I strive to do every day, on every occasion. A close friend of mine told me earlier that they have learned so much from being with you at events — “you’re welcoming and will speak to anyone that approaches you.”

To make people feel welcomed and validated is inherently important; to see them for people for who they are, without any prejudice or list of prerequisites, is how we bridge together important conversations. Simply holding space for people (to be their full selves inside) is how we grow together — in strength, in unity, in stride.

“We need more of that,” my friend continued in an email. “I think we need more activities within our community that is not based on alcohol and drugs. Those marches we’ve been on, the sense of inclusivity is just incredible. Everyone is there for a goal, and the energy is pulsating.”

From now on, we need to be anti-racist. We need to hold space for our queer Asian American neighbors, friends, and family. We need to stand in an unshakable solidarity with them — right now and forever after the pandemic comes to an inevitable end.

Have those hard conversations. I know I will continue to have them.

A historical event occurs on Thursday, March 25th, from 6–7 PM — the first LGBTQ-oriented event of its kind in Chinatown. San Francisco Pride and the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco (CCC) have announced Chinatown Pride, an hour-long online fundraiser for both organizations and a gesture of solidarity between historically marginalized communities that have never collaborated on an event of this scale before.

Below are support groups, nonprofits, and organizations:

High glamour, drag irreverence, danceable beats, culinary delectables, political activism and a philanthropic heart.

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