I was in disbelief when my friend told me the news about Orlando’s Pulse this morning. It felt surreal, remote. I may struggle with the eloquence others have expressed, but I can at least try. It feels jarring when just yesterday I was at Boston Pride, a moment of community and celebration.
Today we mourn.
With 50 confirmed dead and many more injured, there is a wake of many familes and friends who are heartbroken today. What must it feel like if you didn’t even know your loved one identified as lgbtq? How many families are reeling in the confusion and hurt of it all? Make no mistake – this was an act of hate. It was a latinx night at Pulse so I can only imagine how many QTPOC lives were lost or in the limbo. What felt so remote, suddenly felt so personal. This could have so easily been me or any of my friends. It has been repeated, but lgbt clubs aren’t like “regular” or straight clubs. They are a place where we feel we can feel unpolgetically free, a place of radical self-love and celebration.
I have built my community on the dancefloor. QAPA has organised countless events at clubs, and I’ve made my share of closest friends at Queeraoke or Milky Way. For someone to violate that kind of sacred space, for someone to steal and hurt so many lives, it is a heartbreaking tragedy with a rippling effect everywhere. Where can we be safe? What does it mean to be safe? Can we ever be safe?
I also want to take this moment to discourage any Islamphobia rhetoric that will consequently make those of that faith unsafe. Many of our LGBTQ+ are also Muslim or Sikh and will be unfairly targeted for how they appear or what they believe. Hate has no religion. Think about all that hurts even more lives than the lives lost at Pulse. For us, Pulse is a visible body count. But the pervasive transphobia, homophobia, police brutality, racist immigration policies, and more takes so many more lives than we can even grasp. To the LGBTQ+ youth that we lose to suicide from immense bullying and in the face of domestic policies that turn the other way. To the QTPOC lives and futures we lose to police brutality, incarceration, or deportation. Just because your politician didn’t use a gun doesn’t make them less guilty of the blood on their hands.
Please mourn for the lives we lost in Orlando. We will feel this heartbreak, but please also understand this is not a simple incident and it only represents the work that remains for us to do. Hold each other gently, love fiercely, and work hard to make sure this never happens again.
So yesterday I watched the Mass House of Representatives debate and ultimately pass HB 1577, a bill we affectionately call the Trans Equal Access Bill. I have worked on this bill for over 6 years, and I have spoken about it at length before. This bill would protect transgender people from discrimination in all public accommodations, a legal term for spaces like libraries, restaurants, hospitals and parks. In short, every place that isn’t your home, workplace or school.
Those spaces also sometimes include locker rooms, and often times include bathrooms, so of course it has been derided as “The Bathroom Bill” by the opposition. They argue that predators posing as transgender women would use this bill as a cover to prey on women in bathrooms. They forget that criminal activity perpetrated by anyone in a bathroom is already a crime. But the root of their fear is the passive crimes: peeping or upskirting, and ultimately the most dreadful, exposure of male anatomy in a women’s bathroom.
I sat in the gallery of the state house and watched the parliamentary procedures. It can be a dry process, and this day was long. As guests to the proceedings, the gallery is not permitted to interrupt, cheer, applaud or offer commentary in any form; doing so would be a cause for ejection. This bill was the only thing on the schedule, and it still took 7 hours to go through all THIRTY SIX proposed amendments. I live updated to Facebook for the entirety of the proceedings.
Most of the 36 amendments were attempts to remove the heart of the bill and limit the basic protections that the legislation provided. With each proposed amendment, an opposing legislator would get up and talk about what is essentially transphobic fear, coupled with a sexist righteousness to be protector of women’s modesty and virtue. After several hours of listening to the rhetoric, I quite frankly became numb to the monotony of white cisgender men droning on, and thankfully, each and every amendment was voted down, and by large margins.
But the board looked way more green than red, and the count was quickly rocketing up.
We picked up a lot of steam once we got to the last few proposed amendments. Speaker DeLeo made a sneaky return (having abdicated several hours of procedural work to his deputy Patricia Haddad) and we cruised into the vote. It happened so fast I almost didn’t realize it was happening. It took confirmation from the vote board turning green to realize THIS WAS THE VOTE. And then it happened. We had expected the vote to pass, because our own polling numbers showed we had more than a majority of votes. But the board looked way more green than red, and the count was quickly rocketing up. The final tally was 116 votes in favor of the bill, and 36 opposed. One hundred and sixteen. That’s TWELVE more than a super majority, and a Governor’s veto, the thing we were all afraid of, was no longer a possibility. In the din of the applause and back slapping, I quickly ran outside, stating “Time to go to work” to my friend James who was sitting in the gallery with me.
Our plan was to form a line and thank the legislators as they exited. To cheer them on for doing the right thing and as they say “stand on the right side of history.” But I came to a screeching halt because the opposition had already beaten us to that exact plan.
A wall of people were standing there, holding signs and chanting “Shame!” to the legislators exiting. I was completely taken aback and afraid of what looked at first glance, like a riotous mob. The signs were pretty vile, they depicted the men’s glyph peering over the bathroom stall wall at the women’s glyph and said “No Bathroom Bill.”
And to my great shame, most of them were East Asian.
We did our best to drown out their chants of “Shame on you” with our own applause and cheers of “Thank you.” The hall with it’s marble finishes quickly became a cacophony of echo. The media was whirring, taking photos and grabbing 10 second interviews from anyone who wanted to step in front of the camera. I saw my friend Bobbi who also serves with me on the MTPC Steering Committee engaging with someone from the opposition. Bobbi, who I have always thought of as a pacifist looked like she was going to strike the man who was forcefully shoving his sign in her face and vacillating back and forth between “You’re confusing.” and “You’re just confused.” with “what about the children.” I walked over to Bobbi and gently tried to get her to disengage from the confrontation, knowing the lights and cameras were focused on us. Bobbi added “I am a parent too, what about protections for my child” and walked away.
it was very clear that when she thought about the transgender menace, she was not thinking of transmen. And she most certainly wasn’t expecting someone who was East Asian.
The crowd started to thin, and I saw the heart of the opposition and their terrible signs. And then I did the thing that I told all of our constituents not to do. I walked up to one East Asian woman and said “I’m transgender, do you want me to use the women’s room?” The look on her face was alarming. She did not try at all to hide the fact that she was judging me. But it was very clear that when she thought about the transgender menace, she was not thinking of transmen. And she most certainly wasn’t expecting someone who was East Asian.
This was a modern day battlefield.
I squared my body, put my hands in my pockets and locked slanted eye with slanted eye. Here is my loose memory of the things she said to me.
“I’m thinking about the future generations.”
“We need to protect the children. I don’t want my five year old daughter exposed to male anatomy.”
“You need to be stronger. I think you are too easily offended.”
“Are you Chinese? Where were you born?”
“What do your parents think of you?”
As I write this, I want to tell you that I refuted every one of her arguments with tact and grace. But it’s been less than 24 hours and I cannot remember the exactness of the exchange. I hope that I remembered to smile and be polite and respectful. I think I kept my voice to a non threatening decibel level. I was very aware of my body movements.
I tried to explain to her that I am indeed a strong transgender man and that I don’t belong in the women’s room. I told her that my parents love and support me and give me the strength and mandate to fight for my rights. And yes, I am Chinese, my father was born in Hong Kong.
But really, the lights, the screaming, and the setting were never correct for a civil discourse. There was no moderator, clock, or footnotes. This was a modern day battlefield. In action movies I always thought it seemed so farfetched that every single combatant from side A would square off against one combatant from side B. But here we were. The rest of the room melted away, just extras and set production, and it was just the two of us locked in the world’s most polite fight of whose feelings were more important, who was right, who was wrong, and why.
This to me seemed the most ridiculous and illogical of all her arguments.
She repeatedly said “I want you to know that I love you,” and kept touching my arms with both her hands. It seemed a strange exchange. I live in a world where you don’t touch another person without their consent, but I know she was trying to connect to me as a human being. It was a small way that her Christianity was manifesting. But even though it was a loving touch, and her words were meant to be kind, her eyes, and her heart were patronizing and condescending. It reminded me that until recently my own experience with Christianity had not be pleasant, but imperialistic with tones of superiority. I was also keenly aware that after almost 10 years of testosterone, I am very much male bodied, and men do not touch women that they do not know. I kept my hands in my pockets and was grateful for my suit jacket.
She also kept saying, “This isn’t personal.” This to me seemed the most ridiculous and illogical of all her arguments. Of course this was personal. Why else would we both have spent hours at the statehouse listening to parliamentary procedure. No one does that in their free time. And unfortunately, our society has made going to the bathroom, something that is very personal, into a public activity. Yes, this is personal.
Mason, my ED, was circling our tete-e-tete and I finally pulled away. I asked if she wanted to converse further. She just kept reiterating her beats, “I want you to know I love you,” and “this isn’t personal.” I walked away wondering if this conversation could ever be resolved, and knew that there could never really be a victor.
What if I could have spoken to her in Mandarin?
So many emotions are swirling in me right now. If we had more time, would I have been able to convince her that trans people aren’t threats? Would my chances have been better if I was wearing something different? What if I could have spoken to her in Mandarin? If my mother was standing next to me, would she have gotten into a fight with her? Would she have gotten into a physical altercation with this other mother?
In my preparations I was expecting the legislators to be horrible. I knew it would be a long day of assaultive language veiled in savior complex. But the hours of procedure left me completely unprepared for the opposition. And then to meet an opposition that was both vitriolic and had my face was like stepping into a bad twilight zone episode. And I am left hurting, wanting and confused. We may have won that vote yesterday, by several touchdowns, but there is still so much more to do in our own communities.
Queer Asian Pacific-Islander Alliance (QAPA) is in solidarity with community members at the Boston Spirit Magazine’s LGBT Executive Networking night. Boston Spirit Magazine has elected Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker as their keynote speaker despite the stalemate political climate with legislation (House Bill #1577, Senate Bill #735) to protect our trans, gender non-conforming, and agender friends and family in public accommodations.
This is so much more than a bathroom bill. Public accommodations include any place outside of the safety of home, work, or school. This bill passing will protect LGBTQIA friends and family in public parks, hotels, public transportation, restaurants, medical facilities, theaters, malls – it is all encompassing. Yes, as it stands right now, in “liberal” Massachusetts, these places can legally discriminate and throw someone out of any public accommodation with no legal recourse. Too often people forget that this does happen in “liberal” states, and it will continue to do so if we do not have these legal protections. We could tell you to check yelp for places around town who have discriminated against folks, but we should not need to rely on these kind of resources to find out where we can be safe. Our LGBTQIA family should feel safe everywhere.
The road towards justice is long and winding. We still have to fight against deportations, police brutality, and perhaps apparent tonight you will see the clear disparities between our QPoC folks and non-PoC LGBTQIA folks. While many QPoC and immigrant folks are struggling for survival, there is an executive networking night for their privilege. Our presence is not only for folks impacted by this accomodations bill, but to show that our QPoC community is united and will not be silenced.
We urge everyone to show your solidarity. Show that we are here, we’re not going anywhere, and we demand nothing less than full protection for everyone.
Many of you here know that besides my work with QAPA, I am also involved with a the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition. We advocate and educate of behalf of transgender people in MA. It is work that I am incredibly proud of.
For the past year the LGBTQ community of MA has been working to pass a bill that would protect transgender people in all places of public accommodations. Yes, that includes bathrooms and locker rooms. But it also includes grocery stores, movie theaters, public parks. The MBTA. Hospitals.
Many of you have heard me talk of this exact bill before. Many of you have come with us to the State house to ask for these protections. Many of you have written and called your legislators. Thank you.
And I will confess, that I did not want to talk to you tonight about this bill. It is late March and I had hoped with all my hopes that we would have been done with this bill and able to move on to so many of the other topics that affect our diverse community. Issues like poverty, healthcare, youth homelessness, and immigration.
But it hasn’t passed.
And I have grown weary. I have seen up close and personal what it means to be part of the political system. It is a big clunky system which systemically oppresses marginalized people. People of color. Transgender voices. We have repeatedly asked legislators what piece of paper, which business owner, or which brave human being they need to hear from in order to pass this bill and give us these BASIC protections. And time after time, we have provided that testimony, or statistic. But yet they keep asking for more. They keep moving the goal posts.
It’s been exhaustive work. And I don’t want to do it any more.
But we have to. Because my friends right now we are under attack. Transgender people are being targeted with open hostility at every level of our society. Transgender women of color are being murdered. An Arizona transman with Aspergers was shot and killed by police, in his own home. In the past three months alone, bills which dehumanize trans people have come up in South Dakota, and Tennessee. And just the other day in North Carolina, the home state of my mother, their state government made it law that forces a transgender person to use the facilities of their birth certificate. And even though I stand here with a mustache and baritone voice, I do not have a birth certificate that matches my gender identity. So does that mean I use the men’s room knowing that I am breaking the law and could be arrested. Or do I use the women’s room and face violence.
It’s confusing, it’s dehumanizing and it’s wrong. And it scares me to death when the system creates institutionalized ways to oppress me and discriminate against me and those I care about. Every one of these attacks means we have to invest more resources into playing defense. Rather than working on so many other issues that need our attention. Issues like poverty, healthcare, youth homelessness, and immigration reform.
So I am asking you again. In your program is a postcard. On the table is a pen. It a gift from QAPA. It is the most powerful tool that we could ever give to you. Lend us your voice. We must tell Governor Baker that Massachusetts is NOT North Carolina. And that transgender, gender queer, gender non conforming, and non binary people have the right to live full lives. Because public spaces are our spaces. And our lives are your lives.
Given by Maxwell Ng
@ QAPA’s Community Catalyst Awards Dinner, 3/26/2016
China Pearl, Boston
Way back when I was just coming out, I was confused. Of course there was the usual internalized confusion of “what,” but I was also struggling with the ever looming question of “how.” How was I going to come out to my parents and stare down their expectations. Coming out means coming to grips with that, and I hadn’t the faintest idea how to do it *and* keep my family intact. Yes, I had queer friends in my support network; they were all white; we went to Boston Pride together.
And that is where I was standing, 20 deep in the sea of people casually observing from the sidelines when the folx from QAPA marched by. One of them saw me, and aggressively pushed through the crowd in order to flyer me. It was the only time I enjoyed being racially profiled.
Seeing them frolic down the street was the very definition of “Pride.” They enjoyed being with each other and painted an enviable picture for a happier future. A future where I could be BOTH Queer AND Asian, something that I had simply not even considered.
It’s been 20 years since that experience, and QAPA still serves that valuable and necessary link to community. In fact QAPA has been getting it done for almost 40 years. Decades of shared coming out stories over dumplings and dim sum. Hundreds of hours discussing the intersection of race, gender, sexuality and religion over a hot bowl of congee. And thousands upon thousands of origami cranes, tenderly folded over appletinis.
In a couple of weeks, members of QAPA, past and present from across the country, will gather to celebrate. We celebrate the work that was done then, and the work that continues to get done. We will assume our place in queer history as the oldest LGBT API organization in the United States. Come to our gala. Honor our past. Celebrate the “we.” Be part of history.
The dinner will feature a 10-course traditional chinese banquet, performances, dancing and most of all YOU!
We are especially looking to connect with as many past QAPA/AMALGM/BAGMAL Steering committee members as possible. This is a great opportunity for a reunion AND to connect to the current QAPA members. Let’s embrace our multi generational strength! If you are a past QAPA/BAGMAL/AMALGM Steering Committee member, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more info about the Catalyst Dinner, check out our event page.
Spread the word!
QAPA and MASALA are collaborating on a Halloween party Saturday at Club Cafe. Check out our Meetup or Facebook page for more info.
Also, Bean posted this really great article about Appropriation vs Appreciation. A great article to read before the costume season begins. I am far blunter and just want to smack you on the head with rage.
On sale now at http://www.melsenink.bigcartel.com/
A landmark decision from the Supreme Court of the United States.
Yes indeed today is a landmark day in terms of gay and lesbian rights. Here in Massachussetts, the right for same sex couples to get married was awarded to us in 2004. And now, with the SCOTUS decision, as President Obama has reminded us “We are all created equal… and people should be treated equally regardless of who they are or who they love.” Same sex couples now have access to over 1,000 rights and benefits afforded at the state and federal levels. Same sex couples can now protect their foreign born partner through marriage.
But yet there is still work that remains to be done. To quote our friends at HBGC, “As a civil rights community, we must tackle the growing distance between “legal equality” and “lived equality” by ensuring that legal and policy protections improve the daily life and experience of marginalized and vulnerable individuals—particularly people of color, people living with HIV, immigrants, undocumented people, and low-income people.”
Let us take the moment to celebrate this hard fought and well earned victory. And then let’s get back to the fight.
Sorry for the technical difficulties folks. Despite the error messages you may have gotten when coming to this site, we are and continue to be a force to be reckoned with. Some recent happenings for QAPA in the area:
- Hosted a screening of the film “Documented” at MIT.
- Ran a charity 5K with ATASK
- Spoke on a few panels about being queer and API
- Went to a play
- Went to New York
- And in general met and chatted wth so many wonderful people.
We’re getting ready for Boston Pride, and our annual summer BBQ. So please come out and say hi!