Queer, Asian and Proud

YLI_VictoriaThis 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