LGBTQ Southeast Asian Youth Build Solutions
A small cadre of impassioned youth formed Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM) and for nine years they have been redirecting youth from gangs toward school and activism and have built strong ties between their community in Providence and the countries of their roots. Over time, the need to address homophobia within families and in the macho-gang youth culture became apparent. PrYSM began an integral project, Southeast Asian Queers United for Empowerment and Leadership (seaQuel), to build the leadership skills of queer youth and to begin a cross-cultural and intergenerational dialogue about sexuality in the Southeast Asian community.
Community-building events have become a hallmark of seaQuel (and PrYSM), regularly gathering more than 400 community members from Providence and the New England area, and opening a dialogue about gender and sexuality. seaQuel also transformed the National Day of Silence (when students nationwide protest LGBTQ harassment in their schools) into a culturally relevant event held on the Khmer and Laotian New Year’s celebrations. Through an art exhibition, pamphlets and one-on-one conversations, seaQuel reached more than 1,500 people about the importance of organizing against racism, homophobia and sexism. The group has also built connections to LGBTQ communities in Southeast Asia by producing a solidarity video and holding a fundraiser to support a new LGBTQ organization in Cambodia.
In addition to building links across borders, seaQuel is also building networks across the U.S. In July 2010, seaQuel members traveled from Providence, Rhode Island, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to attend the first-ever Queer Southeast Asian Conference. Along the way, they stopped in Chicago to visit a memorial dedicated to the victims of the Cambodian genocidean important opportunity to process and honor the past. Supported by Astraea, the conference was a groundbreaking collaborative effort of the newly formed Queer Southeast Asian Network, an association of seaQuel and four other organizations that have united to advocate and share strategies. The members, not just the leaders, of all five organizations were involved in planning and facilitating workshop sessions. Over three days, they developed the links necessary for joint national strategies while expanding seaQuels Queer Southeast Asian Census, which gathers empirical data on the unique challenges facing their communities.
In the year ahead, seaQuel will continue its work on cultural, educational and policy fronts. To further develop leadership around issues that affect their lives, LGBTQ and straight youth will organize together to pass two groundbreaking pieces of legislation. The first effort ensures that Rhode Island schools and public institutions develop an accurate count of distinct ethnic populations to assess their needs. Second, they will pursue legislation to reduce racial and gang profiling of youth. seaQuel will also launch a political education curriculum, release a report on the findings of its census, and reach thousands more with its public events.