Friday, 10 May 2013

Asia-Pacific Heroes

The USA is celebrating Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The influence of these communities and cultures have reached around the globe. Each of these cultures has a unique character in their lgbt community which is often not fully understood, or even known, to people with a strong European-based heritage.

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), based in New York, has produced this leaflet of 9 lgbt heroes from all walks of life and professions who are active in lgbt campaigns or have provided a valued contribution to society.

I’d like to add my own list of 10 more notable Asia-Pacific lgbt heroes from around the world and throughout history. Some you may have heard of, some you may not. (I’ll be producing a separate list of lgbt Asian-Pacific scientists later this month).

Xiaoai, Emperor of the Han Dynasty (27 BC- 1AD)
and Dong Xian (c.23 BC- 1 BC)
Xiaoai, or Ai, was emperor of the Chinese Han dynasty for 6 years from the age of 26. His relationship with Dong, a minor official who quickly rose in power and influence, is generally believed to have been homosexual. The legend of Ai cutting off his voluminous sleeve rather than wake the sleeping Dong Xian who had rolled over onto it, has become a by-name for homosexuality – the Passion of the Cut Sleeve.

Togo Ken (1923-2012)
At the time of the growing gay rights movement in the USA in the 1970s Togo Ken was almost single-handedly championing sexual rights in Japan. He left his wife and children to start a gay bar and even campaigned for election to parliament. Togo was unashamedly effeminate, wearing kimonos and make-up, even on his election broadcasts. Despite his legendary status in Japan his place as a pioneer in the freedom of sexual expression is largely unknown elsewhere.

Georgina Beyer (b.1957)
When she made her maiden speech in the New Zealand parliament in 1999 Georgina pointed out that she was the first transsexual in the world to be elected as an MP. Of Maori descent she has spoken on racial and civil union rights and environmental issues, and has been a keynote speaker at many international lgbt conferences, including several Outgames conferences. Sadly, Georgina has recently been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease.

Margaret Cho (b.1968)
Margaret’s career has covered many varied areas – stand-up comedy, writing, fashion design, acting and song writing. She grew up in San Francisco where she began her stand-up career in the clubs around her immigrant-Korean parents’ bookshop. Margaret has appeared on many American shows, being nominated for an Emmy award in 2011 for her guest appearance in “30 Rock”. The openly bisexual Margaret has often spoken on lgbt rights and racial issues.

Louisa Wall (b.1972) – Last month New Zealand legalised gay marriage. The original bill was introduced into parliament in May 2012 by the openly lesbian MP Louisa Wall. Louisa is of mixed-race heritage, having both European and Maori ancestry. The passing of the same-sex marriage act was, she said, like winning a World Cup final – she should know, she won the 1998 women’s rugby World Cup as part of New Zealand’s national team.

Gok Wan (b.1974)
Gok has carved out a niche on British television as the only “cool” fashion stylist, having several shows running concurrently and appearing as a guest on many others. Growing up in Leicester of mixed English-Hong Kong Chinese parentage, Gok suffered racial abuse at school, causing him to gain weight and attempt suicide. Since his career took off he has gained confidence and lost weight, and has promoted positive self-body-image attitudes in schools.

Dan Choi (b.1981)
Iraq veteran and New York National Guardsman Choi was discharged after coming out on US television. Choi, of Korean descent, immediately wrote to President Obama criticising the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy banning open homosexuality in the US military. Choi campaigned vigorously to have the policy repealed, and formed Knights Out, a support group for lgbt military personnel. When President Obama repealed the policy in 2010 Dan Choi was present at the official signing.

Johnny Saelua (b.1988)
Jaiyah, or Johnny, Saelua made history last November when he played for American Samoa in the 2014 World Cup preliminaries against Tonga. Johnny became the first ever Third Gender soccer player. As a member of the Samoan male-born, female-identified f’afafine community Johnny believes the acceptance of his gender in his country made it easy for him to be accepted as a footballer on the national team. He also made history by playing in the first American Samoan team to win a match.

And finally, being about as topical and up-to-date as I can …

Amini Fonua (b.1989)
Just a couple of days ago this New Zealander of Tongan and English heritage (and of distinguished Tongan ancestry) came out publicly. He was already out at college in the USA and made his announcement in response to criticisms of his college being one of the most homophobic. As one of 2 Tongan athletes given wild card entries into the 2012 London Olympic Games Amina proudly carried his nation’s flag at the head of the 3-person Tongan team in the opening ceremony.

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