Catalyst Awards celebrates ‘champions’ of the Asian LGBT community

Dennis Chin and Clara Yoon. Photos by Bing Valencia

Awardees Dennis Chin and Clara Yoon… Photos by Bing Valencia

…and Gabriela USA as represented by Candice Sering and Jo Quiambao. The FilAm photo

…and Gabriela USA as represented by Candice Sering (right) and Jo Quiambao. The FilAm photo

By Cristina DC Pastor

A Korean mother of a transgender teen, a Filipino-American women’s organization, and a public policy advocate were honored on March 28 for being LGBT “champions” in the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community.

This year’s Catalyst Awards were given to Clara Yoon, Gabriela USA, and Dennis Chin for their work in improving the lives of API’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender population. The awards were created by the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA), a national federation of about 40 LGBT groups.

“So many from our community are coming together to celebrate our unsung champions,” said NQAPIA Executive Director Glenn Magpantay.

But more outreach and education needs to be done, he said. The past couple of years have seen gains for the LGBT community, beginning with the passage of marriage equality law, but the LGBT people are still not as visible in their communities, their workplaces or their churches.

“Why are our LGBT leaders not Bengali or other Asians?” asked Magpantay in his opening remarks. “Why are we still in the back seat of the bus?”

Clara Yoon, a Korean immigrant mother, said it took her and her husband about a year and a half to come around to the fact that their son is a transgender/bisexual. catalyst first

“I was afraid of losing my son,” she told the audience of about 320 advocates, supporters and family members, realizing much later that she and her husband “made the right decision.”

“I’m proud of my son and I love him so much,” she said in an emotional speech.

“He is now in college,” she reported beaming with pride.

Yoon is the founder of the API Project in PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People) in New York.

The struggle for acceptance is an issue that continues to confront some gay API. This resonated in a video presentation on ‘AAPI Parents Who Love Their LGBT Kids.’

“It is not an easy journey,” came a testimony from one parent. “It’s hard to find very, very courageous parents willing to speak about their children.”

Dennis Chin, another awardee, is a long-time advocate for the API community from his time at the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence, where he now sits on the board, to his political action work for various organizations, such as the Gay Asian Pacific islander Men of New York. He is currently the director of communications at the Center for Social Inclusion, a public policy organization that develops strategies for and promotes racial equality.

Chin dedicated his award to his family, who occupied a table during the gala ceremony at Grand Harmony Restaurant in Chinatown. His parents are Hong Kong immigrants.

As a young gay Asian growing up in New Jersey, Chin said he was at one time in a place of “deep hurt.” He has since managed to overcome the sense of isolation and is now in a “place of love, transformation, and change.” His family, especially, has shown him nothing but patience, love and understanding, he said.

NQAPIA does a lot of work with a “focus on families,” although the struggles with isolation and social acceptance are not exclusive to Asian communities, Board Member Vivian Chung told The FilAm. In some cases, LGBT individuals reach out to NQAPIA member organizations at different stages in their lives, and such organizations make sure to invite families in their discussions.

Chung talked about the Asian Pride Project, a video narrative of families sharing their “coming out” experiences in support of an LGBT son or daughter. The APP is available in several Asian languages.

The grassroots-based alliance Gabriela USA was honored for its work advocating for Jennifer Laude, a transgender woman who was killed in Olongapo in 2014 by a U.S. Marine serviceman. Candice Sering, chairperson of Gabriela USA, and Jo Quiambao, her counterpart in Gabriela D.C., received the award.

“Systemic violence and aggressive hate is a reality for LGBT people,” said Quiambao in her speech. “Transgender people, such as Jennifer, suffer from unspeakable violent acts and human rights abuses on every day.”

They reiterated their call for justice for Laude and urged an “end to all hate crimes against transgender people.”

The event managed to raise $15K for NQAPIA, according to organizers.

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