In 2014, as a fellow in an LGBTQIA center in New York City, I wad told – not asked – to vacuum the floor. Cleaning has never been an issue for me; coming from a country where every staff of the organization I led had to multi-task because of lack of staff (and lack of budget to hire more people), doing as much of the everyday stuff to keep the organization going was a “norm”.
But then I noted that the center’s (former) head who – among others – arrived late almost every day, left before everyone else, didn’t even attend the events organized by the center she headed, didn’t help out in doing the “menial” tasks in the office, etc. So I asked my supervisor, the project officer (the second in command): “Why isn’t she helping out, too?”
Their answer: “But you’re Asian.”
I was aghast.
It didn’t matter that the center’s head was, basically, my equal (i.e. I became a fellow there, after all, because I already helmed my own LGBTQIA organizations in the Philippines). For these queer “leaders”, I was automatically “less” than them, “worthy” of only doing tasks they won’t do, because of my ethnicity.
This wasn’t the first time I experienced being looked down within the LGBTQIA community because I’m Asian.
In Sydney’s Oxford Street (the LGBTQIA thoroughfare), I’ve heard White gay men yell “Go back to your country!” to my direction. In Toronto – while attending World Pride as an Asian jpournalist, imagine that! – there were times when LGBTQIA speakers won’t call me to ask questions; in two occasions, White people had to call the attention of these White speakers who were ignoring me just to say that “this Asian dude here has been raising his hands since forever!”. In Newcastle (Australia), New York (US), Los Angeles (US) Manila (Philippines), etc, I’ve been told by some White LGBTQIA people I’ve encountered that “your English is good… for an Asian.”
Various studies have looked into discrimination of minorities within the already discriminated minority LGBTQIA community.
In 2007, Niels Teunis wrote about sexual objectification on gay en of color (i.e. non-White), which “blind White gay men to the harmful effects of sexual objectification”. Sadly, “discussing negative effects of objectification is met with considerable resistance”. Sulaimon Giwa and Cameron Greensmith noted in 2012 that “intergroup and broader systemic racism infiltrates the (LGBTQIA) community, rendering invisible the lived experiences of many (LGBTQIA) people of color”. Carmen Logie and Marie-Jolie Rwingema, for their part, noted in 2014 that “White privilege constructs whiteness as normative and central to LGBQ identities and is reproduced through social norms, media representations, and daily interactions”. And in 2018, Stonewall UK found that 51% of Black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBTQIA people said they’ve faced discrimination or poor treatment from the wider LGBTQIA community.
Study-wise, I’m barely scratching the surface here; though the harsh fact remains the same that even those who get discriminated can do the discrimination themselves.
You may ask me what we should be doing about this. And frankly, I don’t have a ready answer.
But I know these…
We can start by being aware of our privileges… and our blinders. Every time you talk about LGBTQIA “Pride”, and think it’s only a “party”, then yes, you’re discriminatory. You’re lucky to be able to afford to “party”; other LGBTQIA people not in your social circle are battling for the right to work, get education, etc.
We need to let minority people talk; and when they do, we listen. When a PLHIV says he’s having a hard time accessing ARVs because of the government’s bad response, don’t think (or say) he/she’s “over-acting”. In the world we live in now, this is their truth; let them tell it, and you need to listen.
We need to police ourselves – e.g. that time you belittled dark-skinned LGBTQIA people, or those who speak with Bisaya accent, or call out the “old and ugly” LGBTQIA people you don’t want to have sex with, etc. All these promote “othering”, the creation of hierarchies that presuppose your “superiority” over others when, really, we’re supposed to be in this fight together.
We need to be aware we’re NOT immediately non-discriminatory just because we’re LGBTQIA people. Like excusing “No Blacks or Asians, please!” in Grindr or Romeo as due to “preference” instead of racism. Or thinking ALL Asians are “bottoms” because, hey, they’re Asians. Or seeing Black gay men as mere appendages. Or – when seeing multicultural LGBTQIA couples – that the Asians are, automatically, gold diggers.
Otherwise, if we don’t start looking at this issue more closely, then the LGBTQIA community becomes similar to the very system we seek to destroy.