Post submitted by HRC Welcoming Schools Project Coordinator Charles Girard
This month, HRC Welcoming Schools is proud to celebrate Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month.
There are several famous openly LGBT AAPI people, such as George Takei, Geena Rocero, Rex Lee, and Margaret Cho. While these people are important icons for the LGBT AAPI community, coming out experiences for AAPI people, particularly youth, can be intensified by a lack of visibility, racism and language barriers.
However, the visibility of LGBT AAPI people continues to increase as more people live openly and authentically.
A new film, Kumu Hina, featured on PBS, follows the story of Hina, a teacher (or a Kumu in Hawai’ian) who identifies as māhū, and her 11-year-old student, Ho’onani, who describes herself as “in the middle.” In native Hawaiian culture, people whose gender identity or expression is somewhere "in the middle" of the binary sometimes identify as māhū.
A shorter version of the film, A Place In The Middle, focuses on Ho'onani. Ho'onani dreams of leading the boys-only hula group at her school. Her teacher, Kuma Hina, helps her find the way.
While an absence of positive images of LGBT AAPI people in entertainment and media can make acknowledging one’s orientation or gender identity more difficult, films like these highlight the experiences of AAPI gender-expansive people.
"Kumu Hina recognizes that when the class lines up, boys on one side and girls on the other side, there needs to be a place, an actual physical space in the middle for Ho'onani and other students who don't naturally belong on one side or the other,” filmmaker Dean Hamer told HRC. “In the end, Ho'onani becomes an incredible force and leads the boys into the final performance of the school year, and they come to not only respect her, but really embrace her.”
HRC Welcoming Schools has two films available to discuss LGBTQ topics and youth. What Do You Know?, streaming on the HRC Welcoming Schools website, shows youth talking about LGBTQ people and how they want teachers to respond to anti-LGBTQ language in the classroom. The second film, What Can We Do?, features educators using Welcoming Schools materials and resources in the classroom to create safer and more welcoming elementary school environments for all youth.
HRC Welcoming Schools is the nation's premier program dedicated to creating respectful and supportive elementary schools that celebrate family diversity and LGBTQ-inclusion, prevent biased-based bullying and gender stereotyping, and embrace all students. We envision a day when all schools will truly be Welcoming Schools.