LGBTQ+ Asian American Leaders Spotlight
This Pride month, Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Los Angeles wants to highlight queer and trans Asian American leaders who have inspired us and so many others. As we celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, it is also crucial that we take the time to acknowledge artists, activists, and change makers who have brought us to where we are and continue to fight for justice. Asian Americans in queer and trans spaces have done incredible work addressing the issues faced at the intersection of identities, building community and empowering some of the most vulnerable in our communities. We are proud to celebrate the achievements, joy, and love of LGBTQ+ Asian Americans this month and year round.
Kay Ulanday Barrett
Poet, performer, and educator, Kay Ulanday Barrett, is a disabled pin@y-amerikan trans activist who speaks out about disability justice, racism, and transphobia through community-based movement building. Their work has brought them across the globe, from Musee Pour Rire in Montreal to the White House, presenting keynotes, facilitating social justice workshops, and speaking on panels. As a poet, Barrett is a fellow of The Home School, Drunken Boat, and Lambda Literary Review, and has been awarded 18 Million Rising Filipino American History Month Hero, Chicago’s LGBTQ 30 under 30 awards, Finalist for The Gwendolyn Brooks Open-Mic Award, and Windy City Times Pride Literary Poetry Prize. Their most recent book More Than Organs is “a love letter to Brown, Queer, and Trans futures” and a recipent of the 2021 Stonewall Book Honor Award by the American Library Association.
Yin Q is an educator and an advocate for Asian and migrant sex workers, serving as co-director of Red Canary Song (RCS). The Queens based organization has been building power with sex workers since 2018, and notably spoke out against the racist and gendered violence of the 2021 massage parlor Atlanta shootings. Throughout the pandemic, they have worked with RCS to provide direct aid to sex workers whosebusinesses have shut down due to COVID-19 or racism. As an educator, Q has produced multiple media pieces that highlight the experiences of Asian sex workers, from their 2017 web series Mercy Mistress, to Fly in Power, a short about Yang Song who died during a 2017 police raid. They have received a grant from NYC Women’s Fund for Media, Music, and Theatre to develop the latter into a longer documentary.
Alok Vaid Menon
Alok Vaid Menon gender non-conforming writer, performer, designer, and public speaker whose work seeks to push beyond the gender binary. Their work is internationally-acclaimed, with two books: Femme in Public (2017) and Beyond the Gender Binary (2020). Alok is also the creator of #DeGenderFashion, an effort to shift the fashion and beauty industries from the gender binary. In addition to writing on many issues that trans and gender non-conforming people face, Alok also is a fashion designer, working with bright colors and self-portrature.
As a writer, Helen Zia played an instrumental role in the response to the murder of Vincent Chin, ensuring that federal civil rights charges were brought against the perpetrators. After working as an autoworker, Zia was a journalist in Detroit who became the spokesperson and key organizer in the Justice for Vincent Chin campaign that brought nationwide attention to anti-Asian racism and the struggles of Asians in America. Zia wrote for Ms. Magazine, rejected advertisement that sought to restrict what she wrote, and covered issues concerning lesbians, women in white supremacist groups, and sweatshops. In 2010, Zia was a witness in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case for federal marriage equality, at the Supreme court. Her first book Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People was a finalist for the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize, and recently published Last Boat out of Shanghai: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Fled Mao’s Revolution in 2020 .
Kitty Tsui, in addition to being a leader of the San Francisco Asian Pacific Islander lesbian movement in the 70s, is an author, athlete, and artist. She was an editor forAsian lesbian publications, Phoenix Rising and New Phoenix Rising, and was a founding member of Asian Pacific Sisters, a group known for its ethnic potlucks. Tsui’s art ranged from performance to silk screen to literature; she is a founder of the Asian womens’ performance group Unbound Feet, had her poetry featured in over 35 anthologies, and is the first out Chinese lesbian to publish a book, Words of a Woman Who Breathes Fire. Her writing seeks to challenge stereotypes and assert the intersection of Asianness and queerness. As an athlete, she received a bronze medal for the 1986 San Francisco Gay Games and gold for 1990 Vancouver Gay Games, both in women’s physique. In 2016, Tsui received the Phoenix Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Asian Pacific Islander Queer Women and Transgender Community.
Patrick G. Lee
Patrick G. Lee is queer Korean American filmmaker telling stories about queer Asian history, LGBTQ self-representation, and Asian American coming out stories. His 2017 film, UNSPOKEN, featuring queer and trans Asian Americans reading coming out letters to their family, has won various awards including the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary Short at the Austin Asian American Film Festival. As a community builder, Lee helped organize KQTcon in 2018, the first LGBTQ Korean conference in the United States, and also produces a monthly pan-Asian drag show in Brooklyn. That same year, Lee produced a five-part NBC series titled Searching for Queer Asian Pacific America, highlighting queer Asian histories, communities, and narratives.