This summer I attended the 2014 Young Leaders Institute (YLI), a leadership development program hosted by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT). The Young Leaders Institute is an opportunity for undergraduate university students to build leadership skills, connect with fellow activists and advocates, and explore social change strategies around issues that affect South Asian and immigrant communities in the US. This year, YLI focused on LGBTQ justice and allyship. The theme of this year’s Institute perfectly coincided with an intersectional LGBTQ and Asian student group that I founded a few months prior, Penn Queer & Asian (Penn Q&A).
The Young Leaders Institute taught me about LGBTQ issues in some communities that tend to be overlooked and underserved in the broader Asian and Pacific Islander American (API) movement. For example, I learned about the roles that different genders, sexes, and sexualities played throughout the course of South Asian history. At the end of the leadership training, YLI student leaders had to create projects to enact social change in their communities. For me, it only seemed natural to develop and expand the role of Penn Q&A.
Just a matter of weeks ago, the University of Pennsylvania welcomed its students, staff, and faculty back to campus for the start of the 2014 fall semester. For Penn Q&A, the start of the school year meant getting down to business and publicizing our student group to the greater Penn community. Penn Q&A aims to provide a safe space for the support and empowerment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and allied individuals interested in addressing issues surrounding the queer Asian community. As one of the co-founders of Penn Q&A last spring, I attended multiple student activities fairs with my Q&A peers, providing informational flyers, sign-up sheets, and snacks to Penn undergraduate, graduate, and transfer students. We networked at orientation events sponsored by various queer student groups and Asian student groups in order to increase the overall awareness of our organization. By the end of the first week, Penn Q&A had accomplished its outreach goals—I was pleasantly surprised when our listserv expanded to include over fifty queer and Asian-identified members, considering Q&A’s relatively recent establishment and rather niche target population!
As the hectic ‘“welcome” and “welcome back” events began to wind down, I realized that Penn Q&A needed to jump through a number of bureaucratic hoops before the student group could properly serve its expanded constituency. As a result, Q&A board members convened early on a Saturday morning to hammer out, scour, and polish our Constitution. Once completed, we submitted our application for official University student group recognition. Just last week, the Office of Student Affairs granted us an official status on the Penn student group roster! Even the Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn’s student-run daily newspaper, recently featured Q&A as one of the campus’ new intersectional organizations.
Now a University-certified student group with a website, various social media accounts, and a formidable physical presence, Penn Q&A looks forward to joining student umbrella groups on campus. These umbrella groups provide funding, outreach, and political power for many minority organizations on campus. In the near future, we hope to apply for membership to the Asian Pacific Student Coalition, which oversees Penn’s Asian-interest organizations, and Lambda Alliance, which oversees Penn’s LGBTQ+ organizations, amongst others. Penn Q&A can more readily achieve its mission of supporting queer Asian students by joining these larger student group alliances.
Penn Q&A also has a few things planned for this academic year. Internally, we look forward to holding informal mixers for our members, many of whom wish to maintain confidentiality outside of Penn Q&A. In line with what I learned at YLI, Penn Q&A may host workshops to address the intersectionality of South Asian and LGBTQ identities. Externally, we would like to invite speakers and media icons to campus. Penn Q&A has currently planned a collaboration with the Penn Philippine Association to bring Jose Antonio Vargas, a gay, undocumented immigrant, to speak about his intersectional experience of coming to and coming out in America. We also hope to invite Staceyann Chin, a spoken word artist and political activist, and AJ O’Day, a popular YouTube entertainer, to perform and speak to the Penn and greater Philadelphia communities sometime in the future. On a more regional level, I hope to see Penn Q&A holding get-togethers with queer Asian student groups on other campuses and community organizations in the area.
Fundamentally, Penn Q&A exists so that queer-identified and Asian-identified individuals know that they are not alone, whether they are in the closet, in the process of coming out, or have already come out. We want to offer our members the opportunity to chat with others about how to deal with sticky situations regarding family expectations, religious tensions, and any other obstacles that arise. At the end of the day, I co-founded Penn Queer and Asian because a handful of queer Asians at Penn wanted to create a safe space for others to feel comfortable in embracing their identities.
University of Pennsylvania