Post submitted by Sula Malina, Children, Youth & Families Program Coordinator
This month, HRC sat down with Sameer Jha, an HRC Foundation Youth Ambassador from Fremont, California, to learn about their experience as an LGBTQ South Asian activist.
After being bullied throughout elementary and middle school, Jha at age 14 founded the Empathy Alliance to make schools safer for LGBTQ youth. As the first person to come out in their local Indian and Pakistani community, Jha works hard to challenge the stereotypes of LGBTQ people held by many immigrants.
Jha recently made Entity’s “30 Under 30” list of international activists and was named one of Mashable’s “10 trans and gender-nonconforming youth activists of color changing the world.” Jha is the author of “Read This, Save Lives: A Teacher’s Guide to Creating Safer Classrooms for LGBTQ+ Students,” which provides a young person’s perspective on how educators can make schools more inclusive.
What inspired you to become an HRC Youth Ambassador?
I want to show other South Asian LGBTQ+ youth that there are people like them out there and to show the general South Asian community that queerness isn’t just a Western concept. I grew up not seeing anyone who looked like me on TV, let alone queer people who looked like me. In my largely South Asian elementary and middle schools, this lack of representation along with silence around LGBTQ+ topics led me to be bullied for years.
What has been one highlight of your experience as an HRC Youth Ambassador?
At the past two HRC Foundation Time to THRIVE conferences, I've been a part of a non-binary panel. I think it's amazing that I get to share lesser-known identities and issues non-binary students face with teachers around the country. I think once we get people discussing and learning about LGBTQ+ identities and issues, a lot of the stigma and fear will go away.
This month, HRC released its API LGBTQ Youth Report, based on responses from the 2017 LGBTQ Youth Survey. What resonates with your experience as a young API LGBTQ person?
A figure I noticed in the report was that only 17% of parents of queer API youth get involved with the larger LGBTQ+ community. I’m super lucky to have such supportive parents who are always willing to share their own journeys of acceptance with other parents.
However, I have noticed that even after API parents come to terms with their child’s identity -- which can be rare itself -- they are often very reluctant to openly talk about it. I hope that by sharing my story with API parents and showing that my family is strong, loving and proud together, we can help break down this wall of silence.
What's your message to other API LGBTQ youth?
First of all, you're not alone! It's easy to feel like there's no one else like you, but there are hundreds of thousands of queer Asian Americans being their true selves! Second, your ethnicity and culture don't have to conflict with your queerness. If your family isn't affirming of your identity, know that you don't have to give up your culture to be yourself. There are queer-inclusive places of worship, cultural organizations and even families who will welcome and love you.
The HRC Foundation Youth Ambassadors are a group of inspiring young people from across the country who show courage in sharing their stories and demonstrate a commitment to speaking out about issues facing LGBTQ youth. As Youth Ambassadors, they represent the HRC Foundation, using their voices to raise awareness about HRC’s youth-focused programs. Learn more here.