By Shelly Chen
During my 2nd year of college, an organization called API Equality-LA came to my school to conduct a training. They were advocates of LGBT rights in Asian and Pacific Islander communities, and I remember being simultaneously intrigued and terrified; excited that such an organization existed, but afraid of anything that might expose my queer identity.
Fast forward a few years. I was going through what some might call a quarter life crisis – I was a senior, I had dropped the career path I’d been on for years, and I had no idea what I was going to do after graduation. After much reevaluating, I concluded that: 1. Being queer and Asian American were integral parts of my identity, and I wanted to do social justice work in those communities, and 2. In order to be myself and do the work I wanted to do, it was important for me to come out to my parents before I graduated.
During my last semester of college, I signed up for a class taught by an L. Lopez. Fortuitously, Lori Lopez was a member of API Equality-LA and had facilitated the training I attended two years before. She brought a flyer for API Equality-LA’s Coming Out Workshop to class one day, and I immediately took it as a sign. It was a month before graduation, and here was this workshop just for queer APIs who wanted to come out to their families. I resolved to take the first step towards coming out and attend.
Once there, I felt extremely overwhelmed, but in the best possible way. Being surrounded by queer API folks was empowering in itself, especially because many of the queer spaces I’d been in before were predominantly white. Although it was an unfamiliar room full of unfamiliar faces, I felt more at home there than I had anywhere else in a long time.
I came out to my parents a few weeks later, just before my self-imposed deadline. It didn’t go well, but it went as well as I could’ve hoped, and that’s largely thanks to the workshop. In addition to the network of support and community API Equality-LA provided, I’d been given the opportunity to think through critical questions, participate in discussions, and hear personal stories of coming out, which were all crucial in preparing me to talk to my parents.
It’s been a year and a half and I still doubt whether I made the right decision. I’m glad I was able to be honest with them, sad because I know they’re struggling and haven’t accepted who I am, and hopeful that they will with time. Whatever the final outcome, I’m grateful for the support I’ve found in API Equality-LA.
I interned with them soon after I graduated, and during that summer, my fellow intern Hertz Alegrio and I started a project which has now become QASpace.org, the first coming out website for LGBT APIs. The idea was to take what’s offered at these coming out workshops and make it accessible to everyone. I feel very fortunate to have been able to attend that workshop during my senior year, and I hope this site will help people in the way that API Equality-LA has helped me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Shelly Chen is a queer second generation Burmese-Chinese American from Los Angeles, CA. She graduated from Scripps College with a BA in organismal biology and currently works as a community organizer at the Asian American Drug Abuse Program. In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering with API Equality-LA and playing with her adorable dog, Noodle.