Untold stories of Asian & Pacific Islander LGBT Elders: “I think the need to be accepted overcame their need to be themselves.”
Three things to know as May ends and we look towards June:
- May is Older Americans Month.
- It’s also Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month.
- And I work for the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults.
So, what does this mean?
Well, for me, it made me really think: What are the stories being told about older LGBT AAPI people? Are they even being told? Outside of the amazing George Takei, I can’t think of another prominent openly gay Asian American older person. Can you?
I am Puerto Rican, gay and not yet 30 years old, so the stories of older LGBT AAPI people are not my personal story. Therefore, it was important that I find individuals who could tell and share these stories… And that was difficult.
For starters, it took me some time to locate older LGBT AAPI people who were willing to share their stories publicly. Even at The SAGE Center, located in a diverse city that is generally LGBT-friendly, I found this to be true. After speaking to a number of people, I quickly learned that silence and visibility are issues within this segment of the community.
For example, I heard:
“I wish I could speak with you about my older gay Cambodian cousin, but my aunt would kill me.”
“I am not surprised by your inability to find many, if any, LGBT Asians to speak to… Most in my generation felt they had to follow what their families and peers expected of them. Because of the Asian culture’s intensive need to ‘belong,’ they would rather sublimate their real selves in order to ‘fit in.’ I think the need to be accepted overcame their need to be themselves.”
“Later when I asked him about the survey, he said that the ten API [gay] men he approached did not feel comfortable sharing details about their service needs, even when they understood their responses would be anonymous. He reiterated, ‘They just don’t feel comfortable.’”
While silence can be an issue amongst older LGBT AAPI people, there are those who are breaking the silence, raising visibility and challenging stereotypes. I want to share the stories of two such individuals and provide a glimpse of what it can mean to be an older LGBT AAPI person in the United States.
Michelle Alcedo is the Director of Programs at Openhouse and a trainer at SAGE’s National Resource Center on LGBT Aging. She is a Pinay (Filipina) queer immigrant. Read what she has to say about the older LGBT Filipino community by clicking here.
Dion Wong is a 69-year-old Chinese gay man. Retired since 2002, Dion was a middle school teacher for over 34 years in San Francisco and was married in Canada in 2006 to his partner, Benjamin Aquino, Jr. They have been together for 18 years. Read his experience as a gay Chinese man and his views on the broader older LGBT AAPI community by clicking here.
Bryan Pacheco is the Communications & Community Advocacy Associate at Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE). The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.