Ten People Breaking Barriers for LGBTQ API Representation

by HRC Staff

Post submitted by Viet Tran (he/him/they/them), former HRC Press Secretary

In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we celebrate some of the incredible people leading at the intersection of being API and LGBTQ.

Over the past several years, we have seen more Asian and Pacific Islander celebrities and leaders come out as LGBTQ, breaking down barriers and inspiring others to freely live their truths.

Asian Pacific Islanders come from dozens of different countries, making the population one of the most diverse communities in the U.S. While this may mean that cultural backgrounds vary from one person to the next, LGBTQ Asian Pacific Islanders share similar challenges and experiences.

From their coming-out experiences to navigating their communities and families alongside cultural expectations and religious backgrounds, many API individuals and youth still face challenges to living their lives openly and authentically.

Coming out is a personal choice, and the lifelong coming out experience is different for everybody. HRC’s Foundation’s "Coming Out as LGBTQ Asian and Pacific Islander Americans" resource is designed to aid LGBTQ API Americans in navigating the intersectional challenges when coming out.

In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we celebrate some of the incredible people leading at the intersection of being API and LGBTQ.

1. Cecilia Chung

Cecilia Chung is a nationally-recognized advocate for health equity and LGBTQ equality. Chung is the senior director of strategic projects at the Transgender Law Center, where she heads Positively Trans, a project that addresses the structural inequalities causing poor health outcomes and high rates of HIV & AIDS among transgender people.

2. Gia Gunn

American drag performer Gia Gunn is best known for competing on the sixth season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and the fourth season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars.” In 2017, Gunn came out as transgender on Transgender Day of Visibility, sharing a powerful video about her transition and her identity.

3. Chella Man

A genderqueer, trans and deaf activist, Chella Man is the first deaf trans artist to sign with IMG Models. Man recently has been cast as Jericho in Season 2 of DC Universe’s live-action original series “Titans.” He has contributed to multiple blogs, including Condé Nast’s Them, often writing at the intersection of gender, identity, race and disability.

4. Sam Park

In 2016, Sam Park was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives -- making him its first openly gay male state legislator as well the only Asian American representative serving in the legislature. “I’m a gay, Christian, Korean man sitting in the intersection of faith, sexual orientation and ethnicity,” Park told NBC News. “I feel that being myself, I have the opportunity to build bridges between communities.”

5. Nico Santos

An outspoken advocate for LGBTQ and Asian American representation in Hollywood, Nico Santos is one of the stars of “Crazy Rich Asians,” the first movie with an all-Asian cast and an Asian American lead since “The Joy Luck Club” 25 years ago.

6. Lilly Singh

Lilly Singh is a YouTube personality whose videos often draw from her Indian heritage and experiences as a child of immigrants, setting a powerful example for other bisexual people of color. Recently, Singh was named the new host of a late-night show on NBC, making her the first woman host a late night show in more than three decades.

7. Mark Takano

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) is the first openly LGBTQ person of color to be elected to Congress. Takano is an outspoken supporter of the Equality Act -- bipartisan legislation that would finally extend clear, comprehensive non-discrimination protections to millions of LGBTQ people nationwide. He is Co-Chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, Vice Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and the Chairman of the House Veteran Affairs Committee.

8. Esera Tuaolo

Since coming out on HBO’s “Real Sports,” Samoan American Esera Tuaolo has been an outspoken advocate for diversity and inclusion of LGBTQ people in sports. Following his retirement from professional football, Tuaolo launched Hate Is Wrong, an organization that aims to foster diversity in sports and fight against bullying among youth.

9. Eugene Lee Yang

An actor, producer, director, writer and member of The Try Guys, Eugene Lee Yang is a strong advocate for the representation of LGBTQ people of color and addressing racial issues surrounding Asian American identity.

10. Helen Zia

An award-winning author, journalist, activist and scholar, Helen Zia, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, is an outspoken advocate on issues ranging from LGBTQ equality to women’s rights and countering hate violence.