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Workshop discusses LGBTQ acceptance in Asian families
by Liz Baudler

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As part of its continuing initiative this month on behalf of LGBTQ families of Asian and Pacific Islanders, the National Queer Asian and Pacific Islander Alliance ( NQAPIA ) hosted a workshop about Asian family acceptance May 22. Held at the Lake View Lutheran Church, the workshop was a joint partnership with local organization Invisible to Invincible: Asian and Pacific Islander Pride of Chicago ( i2i ).

Glenn Magatapy, NQAPIA's executive director, thanked local organizations like i2i for helping bring workshops like these to Chicago, and I-li Hsiao, from i2i, commented that NQAPIA helps unite different groups from the API ( Asian/Pacific Islander ) community.

Marsha Aizumi—who helps run an API PFLAG in California and is the mother of a transgender son, Aidan—facilitated the program after a brief introduction from Magatapy. She talked about Aidan's childhood. Her son was a tomboy, she said, who withdrew in middle school when he realized neither his male or female classmates would accept him. First out as a lesbian, Aidan was subject to intense bullying and was diagnosed with agoraphobia, eventually coming out as trans.

As an Asian mother, Aizumi said she didn't feel welcome in either her community or at a mostly white PFLAG meeting. "I felt like I was dishonoring my family," she said. She struggled with fear that Aidan would be judged or never find a job. Yet Aizumi added that she clung to loving her son and wanting to maintain a good relationship with him. "If I got myself educated, I would be less fearful," she explained.

Joanne Lee's presentation about her son, Skylar, moved some to tears. An activist involved in movements like Black Lives Matter, Skylar, who was trans, took his own life as a teenager. "I kept things inside myself," said Lee, who is Korean and said she grew up Christian. She wished that she could have understood Skylar's feelings about being trans. In closing, she quoted her son's words about intersectionality: "it is not justice if we leave behind members of our community."

A Southern Baptist preacher who often counseled young adults to pray the gay away, Pastor Danny Cortez conceded he used to be part of the problem. Eventually, through meeting people like a gay neighbor who took him to visit an HIV clinic in West Hollywood, Cortez felt his opinions shifting.

While listening to Macklemore's "Same Love" with his son in the car, he expressed his support for the LGBTQ community. His son responded by coming out to him. The resulting shock waves caused Cortez to have to decide between his church and his family. Once he confessed his support for LGBTQ rights, Cortez said 40 percent of his parishioners left and his congregation was stripped of its Southern Baptist affiliation.

"I'm sorry for making you feel less than human," Cortez apologized to the room. He and his family now advocate for LGBTQ rights, including speaking at a gay Christian conference.

Aizumi opened the floor to questions after the speakers concluded, and eventually the group coalesced into a discussion circle. Participants recounted being met with confusion by their families, who as immigrants may have had their ideas of about LGBTQ people in Asian culture frozen in time. They also expressed the desire to help educate their families.

Aizumi concluded the circle by having each person say a word describing how they felt. The top choices were "inspired," "acceptance" and "love."

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