"When we come out, it's not just to parents and siblings.... sometimes it's to an entire clan. "
Lunar New Year: a time for renewal, a time to promote prosperity and good luck, a time to be with family. Families from places like China, Korea and Vietnam bring a variety of traditions to bear in marking the New Year on February 3rd. Cities with large Asian American populations will welcome the Year of the Rabbit with festive parades and celebrations. We expect that President Obama will make an official statement celebrating Lunar New Year on behalf of the entire American family.
Asian Americans/ South Asians/ Southeast Asians/ Pacific Islanders (AAPI) who are lesbian/ gay/ bisexual/ transgender (LGBT) often think about Lunar New Year in a unique way. On one hand, the family and cultural obligations that come with this time of year remind us that we often create and define family in very different ways than other members of LGBT communities -- our non-AAPI counterparts. The mutual interdependence we create among our families transcends small nuclear units, and requires us to think about our lives as openly LGBT people against a large backdrop. When we come out, it's not just to parents and siblings, but sometimes it's to an entire clan.
The ways in which we are out and assert our visibility in our families and communities must be unique as well. The mantra of "We're here! We're Queer! Get Used to it!" may suit us at the Gay Pride Parade and can even be part of our demand for the full inclusion of our AAPI communities within the LGBTQ rubric. But as we engage our own racial and ethnic communities, often including our own biological families -- our parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, even great grandparents -- we have had to find different mantras and strategies that better fit into these distinct cultural contexts.
Lunar New Year parades and cultural festivals have become a flash point for activists and organizations to claim our space within our AAPI communities. Last year, a Vietnamese LGBT contingent marched with its allies in Westminster, California's Tet Parade to observe Lunar New Year despite the vocal opposition of religious conservatives and elected officials. In Manhattan's famous Chinatown, the "Lunar New Year for All" coalition convened what's considered to be the first ever-queer contingent for the historic Lunar New Year Parade there.
Our Asian American/ Pacific Islander LGBT communities work hard to figure out the best ways to come out and create visibility in all our communities. The message of "Lunar New Year for All" is not only a stirring call for unity and an end to tolerance; it unapologetically claims our rightful space in our families and our communities:
Homophobia and discrimination continue to divide Asian American families and communities. Lunar New Year is a time when families come together to strengthen ties to our communities. This year, we are joining the Lunar New Year Parade to challenge homophobia and to honor all the different kinds of families in our community.
This week then, Asian American /Pacific Islander LGBT people will observe Lunar New Year in our families and our communities in ways large and small. In cities like New York, San Francisco, and Westminster, CA, queer contingents will march with pride to recognize Lunar New Year. In Los Angeles, the LGBTQ contingent is expected to be the largest contingent of any in the entire parade. At the same time, we will make progress with our families on a face-to-face level. We may do so by giving a traditional red envelope to a loved one as part of a committed same-sex relationship, or by creating good karma for the New Year by being more open in our families. Visibility may take different forms, but it "looks" the same regardless.
As we think about our life and times at this moment of challenge and adversity, the Lunar New Year hopefully signals a fork in the road for us to take and change our circumstances for the better. We take this moment to call for our families, our communities and our lawmakers to embrace each other and us despite our differences, and sometimes, because of them.