Norman Watkins is a co-chair of HRC’s AANHPI & Proud working group.
Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing demographic group in the United States — and yet, for complex historical reasons, we have been underrepresented in American politics, culture and society. As a result, AANHPI people have been particularly isolated and vulnerable to hateful rhetoric and violence, especially during the pandemic and beyond.
The Human Rights Campaign is actively addressing challenges that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer AANHPI people face in this country.
HRC has long recognized the inherent problems of underrepresenting the AANHPI community, and in 2019, staff members, board members and volunteers launched a concerted effort to increase AANHPI visibility and representation both at the organizational level and within the LGBTQ+ movement more broadly.
Of course, representing and organizing the AANHPI community is no easy task. According to the last U.S. Census, over 20.6 million people in the United States identify as AANHPI, or 6.2% of the population. An extraordinarily large diaspora, we trace our roots back to more than 50 countries in East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent as well as island nations spanning the Pacific — all with diverse languages, rich histories and fascinating cultures. In less than two generations, by 2060, the AANHPI population in the United States is expected to rise to 46 million people.
Many cultural myths also make organizing among AANHPI communities difficult. That AANHPIs are a monolithic group is a widely held misconception. So, too, is the notion that AANHPIs comprise a “model minority” — a singular group that came to the United States in the “right way,” successfully assimilated into American society and are now overrepresented at prestigious universities and more highly educated and financially prosperous than other minority groups. Such myths and stereotypes serve white supremacy and obfuscate why there is a lack of visibility, representation and power for AANHPIs.
Chunkit Fung, a member of the HRC’s Board of Governors, relates an observation that many AANHPIs can identify with: “Growing up, I stayed quiet and put my head down whenever I experienced racism and discrimination. I didn’t make waves or speak up, because this was the myth that perpetuates harm to AANHPI people and other marginalized communities — conform and keep quiet.”
And overcoming such myths is slow, hard, and critically necessary work.
The AANHPI & Proud working group at HRC began informally with conversations between David Yu, HRC senior development officer, and Betty Pei Ching Sun, a member of HRC’s Board of Directors, in 2019. They had identified a need to increase the number of Asian and Pacific Islander faces and voices in HRC fundraising dinner programming and other outreach activities where similarly diverse groups were already well represented. HRC responded to Yu and Sun quickly, thoughtfully and enthusiastically. And today, AANHPI faces and voices are well represented across HRC’s programming and outreach efforts.
Two years later, after the shocking and tragic Atlanta spa shootings in March 2021, Yu and Sun gathered AANHPI staff, board members and volunteers to formally establish “AANHPI & Proud” as a new affinity outreach group at HRC.
“Growing up, my parents always said I needed to keep my head down, excel in all that I do and not make waves,” said Sun. “For too long, voices of the AANHPI community have been muted. My passion and vision in helping found the AANHPI & Proud working group are to elevate ALL voices that have been muted, and lift the inner pride we have for our heritages and the love of our resilient, awe-inspiring community.”
The working group developed a vision paper, or roadmap, to increase AANHPI visibility and representation within the HRC membership and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole. We also aimed to recruit more HRC members and supporters in order to expand the political power of the LGBTQ+ movement for future successes.
“Not only would our outreach and recruitment efforts help HRC to represent the current needs of all LGBTQ+ people; they would also help to ensure the viability of the organization’s long-term growth goals,” said Brittny Pham, manager of HRC’s state and municipal programs and AANHPI & Proud co-chair.
Carrying on the tradition of HRC’s grassroots activism, the AANHPI & Proud group has been holding regular online and in-person events for the membership, creating space for AANHPIs and allies to foster visibility and representation and to organize and take actions for change.
Kelley's wife Becky George, U.S. Rep Pramila Jayapal, and HRC President Kelley Robinson
Betty Sun at Asia Society in June 2022
AANHPI Committee in March 2023
Pride March in 2022
In fact, as soon as AANHPI & Proud took the stage at HRC, its key directive has been, “Action!”
“Diversity, equity and inclusion require direct action — and that means showing up and rising up,” said Jay Kuo, a member of HRC’s Board of Directors. Kuo helped to found the AANHPI & Proud working group in order “to show others with intersectional identities that we are here, we are making a difference and we are building excellence in leadership.”
The group’s first event was in September 2021, when we held our first online reception in conjunction with the “HRC in Action'' national virtual event with actor and activist George Takei. An unexpectedly large turnout signaled the need for an organization like AANHPI & Proud within the larger LGBTQ+ movement.
In February 2022, the working group held another successful event, our first virtual summit: “AANHPI & LGBTQ+ Change Leaders: The Power of Intersectionality.” It featured George Takei; Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., former co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus; Evan Low, assembly member from California; Jennifer Lu, executive director, Taiwan Equality Campaign; Marsha Aizumi, author, educator and LGBTQ+ activist; Schuyler Bailar, trans activist and former NCAA Division I athlete; and Priya Shah, member of HRC’s Parents for Transgender Equality National Council; with entertainment from Broadway leading man, Telly Leung.
In addition, AANHPI & Proud has been holding quarterly community forums, based on “hot topics” that grew out of the virtual summit: “Flexing Our Political Muscle,” “Cultural and Social Biases in the AANHPI Community,” “Creating and Fostering Allyship” and “Growing AANHPI Visibility in LGBTQ+ Groups.”
The first community forum, on “Flexing Our Political Muscle,” featured remarks from Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., and Lieu Anh Vu, HRC Global Innovator and former executive director of ILGA Asia. One of the key takeaways from the community forum was the need for AANHPI members and supporters to act in coalition with other groups, much like HRC’s “Greater Than Hate” coalition whose members include Asians Fighting Injustice, Equality Federation, Everytown for Gun Safety, the NAACP, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the National Education Association and the National Women’s Law Center.
The working group has broad ambitions, said Yu. “We’re excited to get the entire LGBTQ+ community involved so we can stop hate crimes and elect people who support common-sense gun reform, reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ protections and not harassing trans kids,” said Yu.
The AANHPI & Proud working group also works closely with the other affinity outreach groups at HRC: the B.L.A.C.K. Council, HRSí and Women LEAD. Their collective mission is to create a movement where all of us can be seen and to fight for full equality and liberation for everyone. That involves facilitating effective strategic outreach to local communities across the country and growing HRC’s base of members and supporters from all backgrounds, including the incredibly diverse identities within AANHPI.
“There are countless opportunities for collaboration,” said Chloe Vasapoli, HRC’s manager, grants, and AANHPI & Proud co-chair. “There are a lot of cross-cultural and borrowed cultural aspects between, for example, people in the Philippines with Asian and Spanish influences. When we create events or spaces, we always have a sense of intentionality and intersectionality in mind.”
In addition to working with other HRC affinity outreach groups, the AANHPI & Proud working group is also continuing to build relationships with people and organizations outside of the HRC family. During the last two Pride months, for example, we co-hosted events with the Asia Society and Museum in New York City — events that featured Michelle Wu, mayor of Boston; Joshua Franquez Tenorio, lieutenant governor of Guam and the first openly gay lieutenant governor in the U.S.; Alan Muraoka, celebrated actor from the Emmy-winning Sesame Street; Rep. Takano, the first openly gay person elected to Congress; and Lea Salonga, acclaimed actor and star of the new Broadway musical, Here Lies Love.
While the working group develops new opportunities for collaboration, we remain focused on recruiting new members and supporters for HRC and preparing for next year’s critical election in which voters will determine who controls the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, the White House and statehouses across the country.