Hmong American LGBTQ Mental Health Research

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There is a lack of research when it comes to behavior health within the Hmong community, especially the Hmong LGBTQIA community. Are you Hmong American and do you identify as LGBTQIA? Would you be interested in being apart of this research? Please send an email to jher@uw.edu to schedule an interview. You must be 18 and over to participate in the research. For your time and participation, you will have a chance to win a $20 Amazon gift card. Furthermore, this study aims to begin to fill a gap in the academic literature by providing insights into the unique challenges that LGBTQ Hmong Americans face in the U.S.


IWRI 1James Her is from Sacramento, California. He is the first in his family to obtain a professional degree. He received his undergraduate degree in 2014 from Humboldt State University in Sociology, and Criminology and Justice Studies. Currently he is a Master of Social Work (MSW) candidate at the University of Washington. He is in the process of completing his master’s thesis on Mental Health Within the Hmong American LGBTQ Community. He is currently interning at Asian Referral Counseling Services (ACRS) as a behavioral health therapist. He is also a research assistant for the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute (IWRI) and an active member of South East Asian Education Coalition (SEAeD). Upon completing his MSW he would like to go into direct practice and hope to pursue his PhD in the near future.

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Opening Doors: Sacramento Hmong LGBTQIA Meet-Up

juliadee

Someone once told me, “You can empower and educate yourself to the fullest extent, but your community will remain the same.” As an organizer, this quote stuck to me. I have always wanted to build a space for Hmong Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual (LGBTQIA) people to create awareness, education, and take action for a healthier community. I have only lived in Sacramento for 3 years, so I was unsure where to start because California is a huge state and the small amount of Hmong LGBTQIA I knew were living in LA. My other goal is to secure dialogue to keep Asian Pacific Islander (API) and Hmong organizations accountable for LGBTQIA persons and to keep LGBTQIA organization accountable for API and Hmong individuals. My amazing friend Mai Yaj Vaj contacted me about her aunt who share a similar vision and that’s when I met Julia Ann. Julia Ann Yang and I did a call out via social media site such as Facebook, MidWest Solidarity Movement, and Tumblr for any interest. We estimated 5-10 participants then decided to launch a video. Within days, we had more than 30 RSVP participants interested in the meet-up.

Why specifically Hmong LGBTQIA? They encounter intersectionality which is the concept of oppression and discrimination of overlapping social identities. This means, they are the minorities of White people and also of the Hmong community. They face racism from the mainstream and homophobic prejudice from their own community. Also, if they identify as a woman, they experience sexism. To truly understand themselves and the Hmong community, they need their own space to learn, grow, and reflect their own identities.  In fact, I remember in high school and college, I joined the group People Respecting Individual Diversity and Equality (PRIDE) to meet people like myself who wanted to learn and understand sexuality and gender. To me, I always felt like PRIDE was a hidden acronym because college administrator were not going to approve LGBTQIA or Queer student org. Oddly, despite the name and being one of a couple people of color within the group, I struggled with the idea of what it means to be queer in my own minority community especially one that holds true to traditions. Mainstream LGBTQIA organizations and clubs fought so long for Marriage Equality which is beneficial, but often forgets the LGBTQIA family and relationships of minorities–which include people of color, disabled, women, and many more.

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I believe Hmong LGBTQIA escape from the Hmong community because of deep rooted gossip, reputation, and inadequate support. How do we, as a community, change that? How can we help Hmong LGBTQIA feel safe in their community? As an organizer, I believe in building conversations and connections when speaking about the issue. Let’s not speak about it behind closed doors, but to truly understand how to build healthy Hmong families. As Hmong LGBTQIA, let’s not judge the whole community due to the lack of education and support. We are the people who need to support one another and our community. We should bridge and build a space for concerned parents and closeted Hmong LGBTQIA. Unfortunately, the Hmong community has obstacles; it is common for Hmong elders who are often set in stone in their ways it become a challenge to open their hearts and minds about Hmong LGBTQIA. On the other hand, many Hmong people I know say we should wait till the generation dies off. Furthermore, another obstacle I believe is people in general are reactionary so they do not want to learn or understand the issues of intersectionality until they are faced with it. For example, many innocent Black children died because they are being racial profiled by the police officer when the mainstream society strives on White privilege and racial stereotypes and thus created Black Lives Matter. In short, equality does not happen overnight, but we can work on ways to understand one another in better ways.

At the Hmong LGBTQIA Meet-Up, we began with introductions, ground rules, facilitated an education portion about how there is no word for Gay in the Hmong Language. Next we moved on to our discussion portion, where we asked four questions. First question was have they felt out of place in other LGBTQ spaces. They expressed how they felt sexualized, objectified, and sometimes the space was unhealthy filled with drugs and alcohol. Also, the space was no safe and it catered to white privilege. Second question, if they were to come out today, would parents will accept if they came out. Most of the folks who were already out to their parents are in denial and it will pass because it’s just a phase. In addition, one participant expressed in order to save face they will not tell their parents about their sexuality. Third question was how the Hmong culture is a barrier for Hmong LGBTQIA. For example, I expressed that as a daughter I cannot practice anything in the Hmong culture because my father won’t teach me because I’m a woman. They expressed that the Hmong culture is rooted in patriarchy and why can’t women xwm kab, we have male and female shamans. The last question was how to be break down these barriers and make the Hmong culture benefit us. They talked about education especially for our parents, that being LGBTQIA is not a phase, creating a safe support to tackle issues like suicide and death. We need more culturally competent resources and services to serve Hmong LGBTQIA youth and families and for allies to step up and educate other allies. Lastly, their sexuality is not who you are but part of you.

Julia and I will continue building dialogue and friendships with Sacramento Hmong LGBTQIA and parents so assist those who are in need of support then hopefully expand from just Sacramento. We also have amazing allies like Mai Yaj and Laura Vu organizers from  Hmong Innovating Politics who are willing to help. We hope to create change by educating and empowering within the community. Hate and prejudice should not be what the Hmong community represents. Change is needed especially when the lives of Hmong LGBTQIA youth are on the line. To be Hmong, means to be free, but are we free in our own families to express our own sexuality and gender?


12466048_10153947787388083_2287745413439177237_oDee is a 26 year old workaholic living in NoCal. An organizer for many causes such as MidWest Solidarity Movement (MWSM), Building Our Future (BOF), Asian Pacific Islander Queer Sacramento (APIQSC), and Sacramento Hmong LGBTQ.

Please feel free to contact Dee at dee@mwsmovement.com

AAPI LGBTQ Pride: Refugee’s Baby Memories

kong pic 1

Existing in ruptures, I suppose that is the consequences of living life. In 1993, my family went aboard an airplane that would bring us to the United States. It was not an easy flight, and as I know now, nothing about this life is ever easy. The dizzying pain of the shuttering noise overwhelmed me, leaving pungent ailments, vomit all over my own shirt. I was from a refugee camp, which my tender memories leave only with it, a vision of sipping chocolate aid milk.

In this queer refugee life, I am always imagining the sweet escape, thinking of its landscapes as close enough, to enjoy its everlasting moments. And I linger in these fantasies that wretched my birth and travels to America. Imagining back on my queer life, the blockades of anguish, mixed with sweetness always had a fervent flavor. At the earliest onset, my feelings of queerness, of loving and desiring, were nothing but strange, familiar, and true. And yet, I myself could not fathom its sweetness, which I mustered as anguish. I must perpetually compete with these recurring cleavages in this realm of life. These continual exigencies are what makes life meaningful, interesting at the least, I suppose.

kong pic 2

“I realize now,
Those moments of eery chaos,
Will always thwart my memories,
I realize now,
That illusionary specter of joy,
Were my only hopes of life,
I realize now,
Those discolored ambiences of life,
Were the containment of all which is never to be had,
I realize now,
Those remnants of glimmer,
Was and can never be consumed, and,
I realize now,
The unsettled visions that outline the shallow spirals,
Can liberate me from my desperation,
I realize now,
The protruding anger of my soul,
Was always the symbol of my emancipated queer life,
I realize now,
That moment of desolate altercation,
Is it not the emblem of my refugee life,
I realize now,
Never to let go of the blemishes of my imagination,
It is to be happily queer in a world of deformed chaos.”

That moment is funny to me now. It is as clear as that window that shows the first signs of storm clouds. And yet, that moment exists only as a remnant of memory, driving down that dark, suicidal road. That moment of desperation, I realized, that despair is not death, but the languishing hunger to master life’s most miserable grandeurs. I suppose now that the drive, the run, the escape, the realization, the return, all were leading to this moment in my gay, my queer, my Hmong, my refugee, my bizarre, my funny, my beautiful life.

Ruptures in the human heart, physically and emotionally, are inevitable consequences of living. This discursivity in my happiness will settle itself. Living an unsettled life, of queerness, and embracing all of its exigencies, its messiness, of loving that man, of hating myself, of loving myself, I like the view from this focal point. For now, I will allow the intermittent episodes of my life to encapsulate itself into an everlasting nothingness, to be sorted out in other spaces and times unknowable.

 


Kong Pheng Pha is a writer from Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota.me in sf

 

Celebrate June PRIDE Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI LGBTQ PRIDE Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI LGBTQ and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com


 

 

AAPI LGBTQ Pride: Learning to Choose Who to Love Wisely

A couple of years ago, I met someone I really wanted to be with and it was love at first sight. When I confessed to her my feelings, she told me she liked me as well but was too afraid to fall in love with me. We saw each other for a month then she stopped talking to me and I didn’t understand what I did wrong. It made me feel like a fool.

Ever since I was young, I suffered from deep depression and it continued into my twenties. After we stopped seeing each other, my depression returned. I drowned myself into music and did not understand why we couldn’t work. I also began throwing my heart to people who I knew weren’t interested in me. Through my depressing Facebook posts, a close friend contacted me and I came out and confided in her about my relationship troubles. After we talked, I collected myself and compiled this list that helped me get through my breakup and depression.  I also wanted to share my personal reflection thoughts that helped me through my process of working through a breakup. I hope my reflections will encourage people to also make time to reflect if they are experiencing depression or in the midst of looking for themselves.

There were many warning signs that our values and relationship practices didn’t align, but I was swept away into the “love at first sight” so I kept telling myself she was “the one.”

I’m glad the break up happened and I had friends who were there to talk and support me through the process, and now I’m thankful that she is no longer in my life.

MY PERSONAL REFLECTIONS

  • My previous actions were not “stupid” (whether I was broken hearted or not). It was a learned experience for my own self growth.
  • Watch out for warning signs, if someone says they are “too scared to fall in love” or “think we are moving too fast” regardless if they say they like you a lot, thank them and move on. My friend stated, “You don’t want to be with someone for two years then they cheat on you and say I wasn’t in love with you till you kept chasing me.”
  • Don’t feel stupid after following your intuition (whether I was broken hearted or not), if you think someone might like you and confess to them, and in the end they didn’t like you. It’s fine. You saw the correct signs and took action based on it.
  • It is okay to leave your heart on your sleeve, that’s just the person you are. You just keep loving and if that person brings you down, it wasn’t meant to be. At the end of the day, you need to pick yourself back up and start over.
  • Find someone who compliments your life, not someone that brings it down. (Throughout my dating experience, I’ve always fallen for people who were “broken” and their actions were probably unclear, they never complimented my life. They made it more complicated.)
  • Keep continuing on the journey to self-love.

Dee is a 26 year old workaholic living in NoCal.dee

                                                                                                                                                                 

Celebrate June PRIDE Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI LGBTQ PRIDE Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI LGBTQ and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com


AAPI LGBTQ Pride: I Am My Father’s Son & My Mother’s Daughter

TOU FONG LEE

My secret dwelled deep. I asked myself if I could live in my secret forever. I am a Hmong gay man and a Hmong Drag Queen. I am my father’s gay son and my mother’s drag daughter. I am both a man and a woman and at the same time neither a man or a woman. I do know that I am Hmong, no matter if I identify as a man, woman, or neither. My gay identity made me “less” of a man, according to my family and my culture.

As the oldest son of four children, I was told that Hmong men are expected to grow up, attend college, get a career as a doctor, marry a wife, and raise a family. I was expected to carry on the family name and become a role model to the rest of the younger generations. I have lost count to how many times my father and uncle told me to “man up.” I was expected to be the leader of my household and one day have beautiful kids to carry on my family name.

At age 18, however, these expectations became a great failure to my parents. On graduation, I revealed my biggest secret to my parents that I am gay. I was known as the “lady boy” of my community. Gay to my parents, and perhaps to many Hmong parents as well, meant that I was transgender, confused, a prostitute, and it meant a loss of hope. To them, being gay meant that I want to be the other “gender.” The only definition of what my parents know to be gay was what they heard and a few times seen growing up as kids in the country side of Thailand. To them, I defied the Hmong culture. I went against every hetero-normative belief and I went against the only life they ever knew, the life of Hmong. To them and to everyone else before them, I was known as the sick and a sexual “lady boy”; someone who they falsely think is cursed and preyed on young boys, capable of converting people to my “lifestyle.” On coming out as gay, Hmong people think I will never have a family, a career, marriage, and life. This my parents feared.

Before coming out, I never knew how much my Hmong identity and my gay identity would conflict. All of a sudden my sexual identity became the only identity Hmong people saw me as. I faced great hatred and prejudice from my own culture. I faced racism from non-Hmong people and discrimination and prejudice from my own people, my own family, and the rest of the community. I present myself as a Hmong man, not a gay person. When I put on heels, makeup, and perhaps a dress to imitate the art of drag, I become my mother’s daughter, my brother’s sister, and another Hmong person to challenge the authorities of what “men” and “women” ought to do and not ought to do.

At age 19, I became one of the few Hmong Drag Queens in America. I can literally count on two hands how many Hmong Drag Queens there are in this country. I go to school events in drag, I volunteer in drag, I speak to groups in drag, and I am in drag when I do classroom and university workshops and discussion. I started my life as a Drag Queen not because I identify as transgender but because I identify as myself.

The first time I started drag was the first time I felt so free and so liberated. As a kid I knew I was gay. As a kid growing up in a house with girls, I was always fascinated with how my sister did her hair and how she wore pretty long dresses in the summer time. I always loved how my mom had flowers in her curly hair and the way her eyelashes were bridge long. I started drag as a way of entertainment. Soon enough it became a stress reliever. The way I transformed myself into a different character leaves behind the challenges I faced as a Hmong gay man. It delivered me from the stressful daily tasks and stresses I remember from school and work. However, it was not long before I wanted to be more than entertainment. Being a drag queen meant, to me, being my mother’s daughter. I suddenly became the daughter my mother never had and for a moment in my life it felt acceptable. It felt acceptable to be in drag and to “feminine” household chores. When I put on that wig and transformed myself into an Asian lotus flower, the gay son she so felt bad for was gone.

My identity means more to me than some funky drag show with a few dollars to tip for the night. My identity as a drag daughter is a political symbol, it is a way of self expression and a way for me to bend the gender binary that so unfortunately still exist in both my Hmong and American identity. The art of drag is to imitate the gender norms of the other “gender.”

When I come across other Hmong people I get treated differently. Hmong men do not want to talk to me in fear of association of being gay and Hmong women only talk to me because of my “gay” or “drag” status. I become a sick fantasy for some women to have a need for a “gay” best friend. You see, to my friends I am their “gay friend.” To my cousins I am their “gay and overly feminine” cousin. To my community I am an embarrassment. I come to embrace all parts of my identity and no longer have time for shame or embarrassment. So I like to wear a dress. Some say I enforce the social construction of gender expectation in the Hmong culture. Some say I fight against it. I say, I fight for me.

I am my father’s son and my mother’s daughter. I am just his gay son and I am just her drag daughter. To my parents, I am just their child. No labels, no hatred, no prejudice, just simply their kid.

 


Tou Fong Lee is currently a Junior at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee pursuing a double degree in Psychology and Religious Studies with an interdisciplinary in Hmong Studies. Tou’s primary emphasis is in clinical depression and how external and internal factors influence the way we perceive ourselves and the world. He uses pronouns he//him/his and uses pronouns she/her/hers when he is in his drag form. Tou serves as the Executive Assistant and Pride Discovery Camp Coordinator for the UWM LGBT Resource Center and is participating in a research team. Tou created his university’s first Hmong Safe Space Training Program and is currently working on a project to create a Hmong Queer Campaign to raise awareness to target the Hmong queer stigma. He plans to graduate from his undergraduate studies and pursue his graduate and doctoral work. You can contact Tou Fong Lee on Facebook.

Celebrate June PRIDE Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI LGBTQ PRIDE Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI LGBTQ and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com


 

Celebrating our AAPI LGBTQ Pride

June is the time of the year that PRIDE month is celebrated across the United States and the world. A time for our LGBTQ and ally community to engage in festivities, parades and march with pride to remember those who came before us, who we are now and where we want to be. Through the celebrations and fun, we must remember that our fight to end discrimination and oppression is long from over. Our LGBTQ family and community, we still face persecution based on our sexuality, gender, ability, class, faith and immigration status. Often our experiences as LGBTQ Asian American and Pacific Islander are silenced and dismissed in which MWSM collective will be highlighting six narratives for the this June 2015.

With each individual who comes to realize that there are Asian queers and queer Asians, that space where the gay zone meets the Asian zone opens up a little more.”- Helen Zia, Writer, Journalist, Scholar

Never forget. Happy Pride Month!

-Maica

Raising UP YPX I Want To Be An Inspiration to Hmong LGBT People

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Story #37

YPX is a 16 year old, identifies as a Gay Hmong American male and resides in Minnesota.

I notice that I was attracted to the same sex “male to male” since I was twelve years old. I felt that it was a lot of struggle for me because I can’t express my feelings to anyone or my parents. During that time in middle school, I felt really left out at school. The boys would not play with me, and say that I’m gay. I only sit with the girls but who cares anyway because I have best friends who are girls. They don’t really care or mind, and they respect me. As I am growing up, I always have this attraction towards guys because I think they are cute, handsome, and sexy.

I think one of the issues that Hmong LGBT face are fitting in at school. There were times when things come falling down on me. So I think of suicide because I feel really sad, and not happy with who I am. I was not born in the right body/person, and deep inside my heart I know who I am which really is a “girl”. Although, I didn’t end up killing myself because I think that is the not best way to solve my problems. I think that life is very fragile and competitive because you have to compete to be able to survive. I don’t ever think of dying soon. Life is very fragile and can be too short, because you don’t ever know when you gonna go today or the next. To avoid these obstacles, I watch videos of transgender people that inspires me. They give me the courage and hope that I will reach my destiny of becoming a woman, and not think of killing myself. They are my role model and inspiration..

I’ve not heard of any Hmong LGBT stories before, and I’m not really sure. Even though I don’t have much knowledge or experience in being Hmong LGBT, I would like to help and inspire others who feel different about themselves.

©Linda Her and MidWest Solidarity Movement, 2011 – 2014. All rights reserved. Unauthorized distribution with the intent to sell, use and/or duplication of these images, audio, video, stories, blog posts, and materials on this blog without express and written permission from this blog’s authors and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links as stated by MidWest Solidarity Movement members may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Her and MidWest Solidarity Movement with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.