10/01/2013 09:05 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

What Do We Really Know About Asian and Pacific Islander LGBT Individuals and Same-sex Couples?

A newly released report tells us that an estimated 325,000 Asian and Pacific Islander (API) adults in the United States, or 2.8 percent of all API adults in this country, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT), and that as many as a third of API same-sex couples live in California, Hawaii and New York. All good to know. The Williams Institute has just released "LGBT Asian and Pacific Islander Individuals and Same-sex Couples," a study that provides data on a variety of social, economic, and demographic characteristics of the Asian American, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander (AAPI) LGBT community. Recognizing the lack of sufficient research on our communities, the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) commends the Williams Institute for taking this important step.

NQAPIA's work with Asian American Pacific Islander LGBT organizations around the country provides us with direct experience in these communities as well as an understanding of the implications of the information that is generated about them. Because of the diverse nature of the AAPI population, with over 18 million people representing over 40 ethnic communities, aggregate data for the community as a monolith often masks some of the realities and disparities in our community. For example, while data on educational attainment for AAPIs overall tend to indicate that it's higher than it is for other ethnic groups, this perpetuates a "model minority" myth, and we know that challenges of language access and socioeconomic status are a part of a more complex picture where groups like Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders have dramatically lower levels of education.

The Williams Institute's inclusion of separate data for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders is a welcome strategy, and while we are glad that they acknowledge the need for disaggregated data, the overarching conclusions and key findings about success for AAPI same-sex couples require a closer look at how different ethnic groups may have dramatically different outcomes. For example, language matters, and the methodologies for multilingual survey research in our communities, conducted in the languages we speak, are better able to access a more representative sample.

We welcome the opportunity that this important study provides to have a conversation about how Asian American Pacific Islander LGBT communities are viewed and understood. We are eager to engage with the Williams Institute as well as other institutions that create and use this kind of research about how best to work with our communities to get the most accurate and nuanced information possible. This report is a good start, but there is so very much more work to be done.