By JEAN HODGES, PFLAG National President
The following speech was given on May 19 during PFLAG San Gabriel Valley Asian Pacific Islanders’ five-year anniversary luncheon at Centenary United Methodist Church in Little Tokyo.
Good afternoon, PFLAG friends. It is my profound pleasure to be invited to help PFLAG San Gabriel Valley celebrate their five years as the first Asian Pacific Islander chapter.
To prepare for this special event, I decided to do some homework to increase my understanding of the API community. I needed to learn more in order to connect with you who share a cultural identity that is different from mine. I think that task is imperative so that all of us in PFLAG can stand tall TOGETHER! Here are some things I learned.
Asian Americans, South Asians, and Pacific Islanders (APIs) are among the nation’s fastest-growing minority groups. More and more lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) APIs are coming out of the closet, yet they still face invisibility, isolation, and stereotyping. The good news is that in response, many LGBTQ API organizations across the nation have formed.
I also learned that the media are now covering the lives, stories, and issues of LGBTQ people more frequently, and often in a fairer, more accurate, and balanced manner. Repeatedly, however, Asian Pacific Islander LGBTQ voices, perspectives, and opinions are left out of the picture.
Because I am only one of many persons who don’t know enough about the API community’s LGBTQ perspective, I chose as my theme for today’s speech “Losing the Cloak of Invisibility.”
How many of you are familiar with the Harry Potter series of British fantasy novels for all ages by J.K Rowling? I only read the first five of her books, but I remember that among Harry’s magical powers was the safety he found in disappearing inside “a cape of invisibility” to protect himself from danger. I’m sure many of us have moments when we could encase ourselves in such a protective covering.
But the problem of invisibility is a double-edged sword. When we are afraid and feel unsafe, we choose to be invisible either by not showing up or not speaking up. We sit quietly and smile benignly and hope no one notices us. It is natural self-protection but it is also isolating and cuts us off from trusting others or meeting someone who understands us. Your five years of coming together tells me that you are overcoming that obstacle in San Gabriel Valley.
The other side of this sword is when media attention focuses on mainstream LGBTQ persons, it imposes a cloak of invisibility on those who are racially and culturally different. Out of sight, out of mind leaves us all in the dark. We remain ignorant and unaware of one another’s issues so we don’t know how to create understanding and learn ways to support one another by embracing our differences.
Invisibility is not where self-respect thrives. Invisibility is not where community is celebrated. Invisibility is not a PFLAG value. The way of PFLAG is to accept people where they are. We celebrate differences. We learn from one another. We search for what we have in common. We create spaces where unconditional love can grow.
My next insight into the API world is that language itself can be a barrier to acceptance and creation of a caring community. Building bridges of understanding is nearly impossible when we don’t share a common language. When a gap of direct communication exists, there is another form of invisibility for anyone who is not multi-lingual.
The third important thing I learned in my journey for better API understanding is that API people have often been overlooked and marginalized by racism and anti-immigrant bias in the gay community and homophobia in API communities. Overcoming traditional thinking about human sexuality and gender identity and expression is a significant obstacle in all traditionally grounded families.
It’s hard to overcome centuries of teaching, both religious and cultural, that stands in the way of unconditional acceptance of differences you were taught were fundamentally wrong. Choosing family loyalty over ingrained traditions is a struggle of the soul to choose love above all. Family members in turmoil come to PFLAG to share their stories, knowing they will find others who will understand. In San Gabriel Valley you have demonstrated the warm blanket of unconditional love that is open to all who reach out to your chapter members.
We must strengthen our resolve to be allies by standing up and speaking out — with love, not anger or name-calling. “Inspire, don’t incite” is the PFLAG way. Sharing your stories with those who hold anti-immigrant positions is our challenge. Love of family revealed in our personal stories is a powerful tool to change minds and hearts.
No one is better at this than Marsha Aizumi. Her passion that drives her to organize API PFLAG groups across the country is fed by her love of her son Aiden. She tells the same story over and over and moves herself and everyone who listens to her to tears! She inspires us all!
“Our invisibility is the essence of our oppression,” wrote Jean O’Leary, who was an ex-nun and a pioneering LGBTQ activist who helped to start National Coming Out Day. She said, “Until we eliminate that invisibility, people are going to be able to perpetuate the lies and myths about us.”
As I join you in celebrating five years of growth, let me challenge you to continue to grow by helping to throw off the cloak of invisibility. Move beyond your comfort zone to show up, stand up, and never give up! Thank you!
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