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

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AAPI LGBTQ Pride: To Be Me

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Growing up in a Hmong family with 3 other brothers and 1 sister was a real struggle to get by as my parents and close family members expected so much of me to succeed just like my uncle. I was born the second son in our family of 7, including my parents. Here is my story… Ever since I could remember, my family had always praised me to be the brightest, and a person who would always listen to their parents. With this in mind, I couldn’t bear to disappoint them by telling them that I like boys. I, along with close family members and friends, had always knew that I was different.

Having only one sister in the family, my mother had always spoiled her since she was the only daughter. My mother was always buying her pretty dresses, jewelry, makeup products, and all the accessories little girls loved. Of course, you can pretty much guess how jealousy had just taken a hold on me. So, I questioned myself about why I felt this way. I hated myself and I wanted to cry because being a boy, I can’t have girly things.

 

During second grade, I knew I had feelings for other boys in my class. I wanted to only hangout with them, to be put in the same group as them, and wanted to spend my entire day with them. This was all I could ever think about. Sadly, I didn’t understand my feelings at the time and I kept thinking to myself if this sensation of infatuation, only  a phase. I thought I was living a normal life. As I got older, I understood the term gay and that was when I started to label myself as gay. Although, I was still unhappy with the term gay because it didn’t suit me well. I hid myself in the dark corner of my mind and even persuaded myself that I was not gay. Afraid to be known as feminine, I would exclude myself from society and my classmates throughout my entire grade school education. Every friend I made, knew or assumed that I was gay due to my feminine voice, while at that time, I never knew that I wanted to become a woman.

When I was 20 years old, I was introduced to the term transgender and increased my vocabulary to define myself. The moment I heard the word, I immediately searched and googled the term many times. The feelings I received from knowing transgender was so overwhelming and I couldn’t wait any longer, because that was the day my life as a boy ended. From there on out, I considered myself as a woman and I have been living as a woman since that day.


Kimora Cha is 26 years old and identify as a Hmong transgender woman from Sacramento, California.

 

 

 

 


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’m Hiding the Best of Me

Phiengtavanh was born in Vientiane, Laos in 1981; her family immigrated to the U.S when she was 4 years old to escape communism.  She is the eldest sibling with two younger sisters, and a brother. She grew up in North Minneapolis.  At age 17, she enlisted in the military for personal and professional goals; and pursued college at Saint Cloud State University while continuing her service to the MN Army National Guard.  In summer of 2005, she was placed on a  “stop lost” for a deployment to Iraq with the 134th Red Bulls Brigade Support Battalion.  She honorably served over 10 years in the military and took pride in her duties as the Human Resources Specialist.

My name is Phiengtavanh and I am a lesbian
Yes I said it
Not only am I gay
I’m many things and I don’t want you to just remember me as being a gay person
Or the characteristic stereo types
That were supposed to be embedded by social media
Or society that this is how we should be
For those that know me and who has not, well
I’m 32
I’m a veteran
I’m a current student
I’m a daughter, a sister, an aunt
I’m a step-parent
And I have a loving partner
And yes I am also a pet owner, I have a little puppy, he’s a Chiweenie
Being is gay is just a part of who I am
It doesn’t really define the whole me
So when I look back at my previous years
I was hiding the best of me when I’m not who I am
So being a lesbian completes the whole identity of me


IMG_3714Phiengtavanh is currently living in Ramsey County – employed as the data entry specialist to the Family Health Division of Ramsey County Public Health and working part-time as a Private Charter Screener for G2 Secured Staff.  In her spare time, she continues to enjoy time with family and friends while participating in various events with the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.  Phiengtavanh is one of the recipients of the Minnesota 25 Veterans’ Voices Award in 2013 for her accomplishment within her community and society.

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 Heritage Month: I was Out, Proud, and Did Not Care what I Had to Lose

Guinness World Records largest human rainbow held in Philippines from Polytechnic University – Source: noypicollections.blogspot.com

I am a queer, Filipina womyn of color. I was born and raised 17 years of my life in the Philippines and migrated to the United States in 1999. During my college years in 2002, I realized I was attracted to womyn and identified as a lesbian. Having the language, such as the word lesbian enabled me to talk and explore my sexuality and humanity.

In my time, the Filipino culture at large considers being LGBTQ or homosexual a taboo and was not talked about, and religiously considered a SIN. At the same time, we are also accepting of the Gay (men) community such as gay men fixing our hair and beauty or butt of the joke. There is also the notion of, “If it’s not in my family then it’s okay.” The Philippines was colonized by Spain from 1521-1898 that lead to the introduction of Catholicism. I too was Catholic and I had to denounce my religion because it doesn’t match with my values and have done harm to my humanity and relationships.

I realized that to fully embrace my sexuality, I had to prepare myself to accept that I will lose my family, my Filipino community, and my religion in the limbo. I was out, proud and did not care what I had to lose. Those who care will be there from the start or join you when they’ve grown up spiritually and realize they’ve pushed you out for ignorant reasons.  

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Further critically reflecting and exploring my sexuality, I have realized that this attraction started when I was in sixth grade. Ms. U was my English teacher and I always sought her attention. I was happy to see her and I volunteered with whatever she needed help with. I had a huge crush on her. Then my sophomore year, I felt the same way with my neighbor that was seven years older than me. Besides the physical attraction I was attracted to her fierceness as a womyn. A womyn with her own car, professional image, serious attitude and stature, and not caring of what people think about her. That was admirable to me and I was just happy and content to look at her from a far. Junior year, I attended a martial arts club called PHICKAJU (Philippine Combat Karate Judo) and there was a senior student that was so talented with her martial arts skills. It was the same feelings and attractions. No sexual thoughts involved, just being around the presence of these womyn made me happy and tugging at the strings of my heart. Through these past years, learning about my sexuality lead to the realizations of my humanity and these previous experiences and emotions towards womyn.

In 2002, my sister ousted me to my mother that was still in the Philippines. She added additional versions and stories that were not true. Stuff that enraged my mother to not accept me. At that time, I didn’t have the chance to tell her my story, my truth… my very personal experience and dignity that no one else have the right to tell. In 2009, I welcomed my mom to live with me and I was able to tell her my side of the story. She told me that, “No matter what you’re still my daughter.” Four of my siblings are accepting of me, one of my brother even told me that, “I already knew you were a long time ago.” I chuckled and jokingly said, “You mean I’m the only one who did not know I was gay?,” but this was with an all honest statement.

In 2008, I joined the Military to see the world and for it’s benefits and opportunities, but now I’m in a process of understanding this experience, politics and my role. At that time, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy (DADT) was alive and was the suffocation on what’s left of our, my human emotions and rights. Being in the military, you sign up your being, mind, body and transform yourself to act and be the defense and offense for government, nation and people. Regardless how much I embraced my lesbian sexuality, I felt that I had no choice but to go back into the closet because of my fear of the “what ifs”? What if I lose my job, benefits, home, citizenship, what if I can no longer take care of my family, and what if I can’t get a job elsewhere if I got reported and discharged with dishonor?” With this policy, very few selected people knew of my sexuality, because I didn’t feel safe and limited my friendships within military and my environment in San Antonio; which was made up with large military bases. Then in 2011, DADT was repealed after all the hardwork of ex-military members, family, friends, activists, and some politicians. DADT has been an oppressive policy led by homophobic, religious conservatives and their dehumanizing agenda. This has caused me struggles and barriers to find acceptance of who I am by being Out as a civilian then as an active duty service member, having to silence my dignity and go back into the closet for three years. I thought a lot about what freedom meant, because the values of protecting and serving the US are based on freedom, but I still did not feel free. I saw my family and friends who are LGBTQ, not free from from violence and discrimination, especially if they were Asian and from Communities of Color and Indigenous people. They suffered more harshly due to institutionalized homophobia, transphobia, classism and racism. A part of me was still in the closet, traumatized with the situation, and constantly battling with myself on how I should act and be. These type of violent policies does an excellent job of making us and our community police each other and how we, specifically how I should act and feel as a person. I definitely couldn’t show simple acts of affection or introduction of my partner of 3 years to anyone.

2012 Twin Cities Pride March

2012 Twin Cities Pride March

The 2012 election was the very first time I voted, and my first time marching in Minnesota’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer pride parade. Being our Commander in Chief is President Obama, I felt so liberated and powerful holding a sign that said, “Obama Pride, LGBT for Obama.”

I learned that VISIBILITY is key, and when more people empathize with our stories, experiences and struggles, more people will understand us and shift away from oppressive and conservative belief and policy.

Having to constantly come Out, constantly struggle internally and externally, constantly learning, constantly embracing the self, constantly critical thinking, constantly advocating, constantly staying involved in activism and community, constantly being informed and educating. These are some of the “CONSISTENCY” that I go through being a queer, Filipina womyn of color.


 

2015 - Marching in solidarity with Baltimore in Minneapolis Rise Up and Shut It Down.

2015 – Marching in solidarity with Baltimore in Minneapolis Rise Up and Shut It Down.

Maica is a veteran of the United States Air Force and a new MN resident. She is a full-time student studying Biomedical Engineering and transitioning from a military into civilian life. She is also rooting herself into the world of activism and social justice.

Celebrate May Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by contributing your narrative to be part of AAPI Midwest Narrative Series. If you identify as AAPI in the Midwest and want to contribute your narrative or have questions, please email Linda for more information – linda@mwsmovement.com