Challenging Dual Stereotypes: The Reality for LGBTQ AAPI Communities and How Foundations Can Help

04/25/2015 10:09 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

This piece was co-authored with Dr. Alice Y. Hom, director of the Queer Justice Fund at AAPIP.

There is a pervasive cultural myth that all gays are rich, and that all Asian Americans are overachievers. Individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) and Asian American or Pacific Islander (AAPI) are therefore often assumed to be better off, experiencing the best of both worlds. However, these misconceptions all too often mask real struggles and hardships faced by LGBTQ AAPI communities.

There are an estimated 325,000 LGBT AAPI adults in the United States. Approximately 11 percent of these adults are unemployed, compared to a national unemployment rate of 5.5 percent. While 59 percent of AAPI non-LGBT adults have completed college, only 42 percent of LGBT AAPI adults have done the same. LGBT AAPI individuals are twice as likely to be uninsured as their straight counterparts (29 percent versus 13 percent). In the face of these hardships, LGBTQ AAPI individuals and communities are creating families (more than one in four AAPI same-sex couples are raising children) and charting a more promising future for themselves.

Thankfully, there are at least seven staffed organizations (API Equality Los Angeles, API Equality Northern California, Freedom Inc., National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, PrYSM, Shades of Yellow, and VAYLA), a number of great all-volunteer groups, and a plethora of leaders working to improve the lives of LGBTQ AAPI individuals. Yet there is a dearth of financial support for their efforts. Due to limited funding, LGBTQ AAPI organizations have not been able to significantly increase their organizing, leadership development, and clout in ways that could lead to a larger impact in both the LGBTQ and AAPI movements.

Between 2012 and 2013, LGBTQ AAPI funding totaled just over $1.8 million -- a tiny portion of the more than $100 billion awarded by foundations over the same period. As such, foundations award more than $170 per person in the U.S., while they award only $2.80 per LGBT AAPI adult.

Nearly 60 percent of LGBTQ AAPI funding ($1 million) was awarded to advance civil rights. However, only $50,000 was awarded to support immigration issues despite the fact that 35 percent of documented LGBT adult immigrants are of Asian or Pacific Islander descent.

Only slightly more than $100,000 was awarded to support LGBTQ AAPI health and well-being. No grants were awarded to specifically support mental health, substance abuse, or suicide prevention, although 25 percent of LGBTQ AAPI individuals experience psychological distress. In fact, LGBTQ AAPI individuals experience psychological distress at rates more than four times higher than their straight AAPI counterparts -- higher than any other racial or ethnic group, LGBTQ or straight.

Only $90,000 (or five percent of LGBTQ AAPI funding) was awarded to support research. Currently, critical information about South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander populations gets obscured under the AAPI rubric. Without nuanced qualitative and quantitative research, certain ethnic LGBTQ AAPI communities will be left out of the analysis and continue to face economic hardships.

Between 2012 and 2013, only four funders and one philanthropic advocacy organization awarded $100,000 or more:

  1. Arcus Foundation (350,600)
  2. Ford Foundation (350,000)
  3. Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP) (177,124)
  4. Liberty Hill Foundation (172,000)
  5. Levi Strauss Foundation (108,000)

Fortunately, there are a number of things funders can do to improve the lived experience of LGBTQ AAPI communities. Funders have several great opportunities to make a big difference, including:

  • Recognizing the unique needs of LGBTQ AAPI individuals and supporting their communities;
  • Strengthening the capacity of LGBTQ AAPI organizations and promoting leadership development for LGBTQ AAPI individuals;
  • Encouraging increased cultural competence for LGBTQ AAPI communities with a focus on supporting Limited English Proficient (LEP) populations through materials printed in multiple languages and access to interpreters;
  • Funding nuanced data collection efforts for more community-based, quantitative and qualitative research that explores the lived experience and diversity of LGBTQ AAPI communities.

Of course, these opportunities are not exhaustive. For more information on how you and your foundation can best support LGBTQ AAPI communities, please reach out to either AAPIP or Funders for LGBTQ Issues.