by Namita Chad, Program Officer
This July, I was excited to attend Astraea grantee partner National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliances (NQAPIA) national conference Presence, Power, Progress in Washington, DC. The largest yet, the conference brought together 350 queer Asian and Pacific Islander (API) activists to build skills and strategize together on key community issues.
Journalist and immigrant rights activist Jose Antonio Vargas moderates intergenerational plenary, Tracing our History, at Presence, Power, Progress.
While the model minority myth continues to spread and misinform U.S. public policy, key segments of the API community remain starkly underserved, including undocumented immigrants and low-income communities. Southeast Asians (including those of Thai, Lao, Hmong, Vietnamese and Cambodian descent), in particular, are disproportionately poor, face elevated high school dropout rates, unemployment, and criminalization. These communities concurrently face high rates of trauma and alcoholism, legacies left on communities who entered the U.S. to escape genocide created by the wars in Southeast Asia in the 1970s.
NQAPIA supports the API queer activist groups who meet these communities needs on very limited resources. The majority of NQAPIA member organizations are entirely volunteer-run groups with budgets of less than $50,000. Presence, Power, Progress focused on capacity-building specific to volunteer-run groups: fundraising, effective meeting strategies, and navigating conflict in order to shift organizational culture.
While there, I heard firsthand about a broad range of work queer API folks are advancing. Shades of Yellow held a workshop on Southeast Asian perspectives on marriage, in preparation for their work mobilizing the Southeast Asian community against the upcoming marriage amendment in Minnesota. I also met several South Asian organizations collaboratively launching the first Queer South Asian National Helpline this summer. Philadelphia-based hotpot! spoke about their organizing efforts around LGBTQ immigration in collaboration with DreamActivist Pennsylvania. I also heard from courageous undocumented activists from around the country putting an API face to the Dreamers movement.
I was particularly inspired to see the launch of QSEA Networks A Census of Our Own: The State of Queer Southeast Asian America. QSEA Network is comprised of Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice grantee partners PrYSM, Shades of Yellow, and Freedom Inc. This unprecedented report explores the intersection of experiences facing LGBTQ Southeast Asians nationally. It is also the first study to be designed, driven, and compiled by the community itself. At a workshop about the census, the QSEA Network led conversations on the many issues highlighted in the report, including the dire need for culturally appropriate services targeting these communities.