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Houston Workshop Aims to Fill Void for LGBT Asian-Americans and Their Families

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By John Wright

Houston has the ninth-largest population of Asian-Americans in the nation, according to the US Census Bureau.

The Bayou City is also home to the eighth-largest population of LGBT people in the U.S., according to a 2015 Gallup poll.

Despite those statistics, few resources are available in Houston for Asian-American LGBT people, according to Glenn Magpantay, executive director of the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA).

“Though we have a large Asian population and a fairly sophisticated LGBT infrastructure, we don’t see very many groups that are doing that work at the intersection of race, language, and queerness,” Magpantay said.

NQAPIA is hoping to change that, beginning with a workshop Sunday, September 25, in Houston as part of its nationwide Family Acceptance Tour.

The workshop will offer guidance and support to the parents of LGBT Asian-Americans, who frequently don’t come out to their families for fear of dishonoring them, resulting in high rates of suicide and depression.

“Parents, when they look at the TV, they see these gay activists and they’re all white,” Magpantay said. “All the information about being queer is in English, so Asians think their children who are gay have succumbed to the Western influence, like divorce and alcoholism.”

NQAPAI recently produced a series of TV ads in various languages, called “Family Is Still Family,” featuring Asian-American parents who are supportive of their LGBT children.

“Coming out in our community is a little different than in the white community,” Magpantay said. “Our parents struggled for us to be here, they sacrificed to educate their children. We have to think about not just the family, but what about the people back home?”

In addition to promoting family acceptance, the workshop aims to bolster NQAPIA’s fledgling Houston chapter, Queer and Asian, and cultivate the next generation of LGBT activists, Magpantay said. He pointed to the campaign in support of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, the LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination law repealed by voters last year.

“Who did that work in Chinese? Who did that work in Vietnamese?” Magpantay said. “I have yet to see a flier that was translated, and yet the ballots are all in Chinese and Vietnamese because of the size of the population.”

OCA-Greater Houston, which is hosting Sunday’s workshop, was the only mainstream Asian-American group to support HERO. OCA-Greater Houston President Cecil Fong said the organization aims to serve all segments of the Asian-American population, but the LGBT community has been neglected.

“This is not a topic that’s being really talked about much in our community. Everything’s kind of under the radar, so to speak,” Fong said. “This program is the first one in a while that we have undertaken on behalf of the LGBT community. We want to use it as a way to open up a dialogue, and as a safe way for the community to come out and share their experiences.”

Among the speakers at the workshop will be Barbara Acuña-Taylor of Fort Worth, who is Filipino and became an advocate after her daughter, Madison, was suspended from school for kissing a girl last year.

Madison Acuña-Taylor came out to her parents prior to the incident, but they offered only lukewarm support, resulting in her becoming suicidal when she was bullied by a student who sent a video of the kiss to the principal.

“What we saw was the deterioration of this bright-eyed, happy-go-lucky, everybody’s-my-friend personality to, ‘Why won’t you let me kill myself?’” Barbara Acuña-Taylor said.

The Acuña-Taylors stood behind their daughter and fought the suspension, which led to it being expunged from her record and the principal being reassigned from the school.

“I think the main message is to know that we may not agree or want this lifestyle for our children, but they’re our children, and our children should thrive, and we should support the direction they’re heading so it’s not a negative factor in their life,” Acuña-Taylor said.

“We have to know at the end of the day that they’re our children, that we should love them, because family is family.”

Sunday’s workshop runs from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. in Room 253 of the Chinese Community Center, at 9800 Town Park Drive in Houston, 77036. To RSVP, visit bit.ly/rsvpfamilyacceptance and select “Houston” in the drop-down menu.

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John Wright

John Wright is the editor of OutSmart magazine. He has spent two decades in the mainstream and LGBTQ media. Most recently, he served as senior editor of Dallas Voice, and covered LGBTQ issues in the state Legislature for The Texas Observer. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Wright earned his bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Florida. He resides in the EaDo area of Houston, where he is currently remodeling a 1930s row house.
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