The Williams Institute reports that more than 325,000 LGBTQ Asians and Pacific Islanders live in the United States.
Khudai Tanveer of the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance
- NQAPIA lives at the intersections of queer, South Asian, and Muslim identities. Hear Tanveer’s unique perspective on efforts to promote inclusion and acceptance of LGBTQ people within the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.
Ellee Pai Hong: According to data from the Williams Institute, 2.8% of Asian Pacific Islander Americans identify as LGBTQ. Largely an immigrant population, the AAPI community originates from a variety of countries and cultures with varying attitudes toward LGBTQ people. Hello and welcome to Comcast Newsmakers. I'm Ellie Pai Hong.She is membership organizer for the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, and she joins me to talk about this community. First of all, thank you so much for coming in. Appreciate your time today.
Khudai Tanveer: Thank you for having me.
Ellee Pai Hong: You know, I think coming out for any ethnicity can be a very difficult task, but add to that an immigrant population, an Asian population, there's a lot of added stigma about it because, historically, not much talked about, not very talked about and not accepted in those cultures.
Khudai Tanveer: I will say that I think often we are ignored within the conversations, partially because of how culture is set up. I will not say that it's necessarily only because of the lack of acceptance. I think because of the way narratives are shaped in the US, we're often just left out of the conversations.
Ellee Pai Hong: That's really what you want to change with the organization that you're very involved in because you, yourself, are at the intersection of queer and Muslim and South Asian. Could you talk to us about your experience?
Khudai Tanveer: Yes, absolutely. Coming out to myself as any one of those identities has taken a really long time, whether that be coming out to myself as a South Asian person, who had newly immigrated to US and was navigating assimilation while navigating culture, or coming out to myself as queer as, like, a Muslim person who had been raised within the South Asian culture, has all been really, really intense throughout the years. It's all been grounded in finding folks and finding community to really affirm and people who look and exist in all these intersections and all of their integrity and truth.
Ellee Pai Hong: Dealing with your family has been a difficult hurdle as well because, as we talked about, traditionally, that's not something that's usually accepted.
Khudai Tanveer: Yeah, absolutely. I come from a Muslim family, and I think there was different signals that I was sticking into my head as we started the coming-out process, one of which was, "Oh, I'm going to get disowned. I'm not going to be able to live at home anymore. My parents are going to accept this. I'm never going to be able to talk to them again." Because that had been what was fed to me over media and so many other conversation that I've had with folks. But as I talked to more community members and as I actually navigated the conversation around family, what it looked like was that it was just going to take a lot of time, a lot of understanding, a lot of language barriers to overcome. A lot of conversations around boundaries and just what it looked like to exist in this truth. Whether this was something that we had gained from the assimilation of the western world, or whether this was something that truly was something that we've grown up with, was something that was inside of us.
Ellee Pai Hong: Another challenge I know where you talked about prepping for this interview is you don't see role models to follow or to look up to. When you hear things in the news about Muslims, it's pretty much bad news that you're hearing about.
Khudai Tanveer: Yeah, absolutely. Over the last few years, but also over just generations and centuries, Islamophobia has taken a really toxic turn in the media and culture of the US. I think that really perpetuates so much of the toxicity around Muslims and how hard it is to find good role models within media and mass media and how hard it is to see yourself in these spaces existing in your whole honesty. The current administration isn't helping with a lot of that as we continue to really push Islamophobia on folks. Then we're you're dealing with those intersections, something that you often see coming up is if you're sitting there as a queer Muslim child, the thing that you're thinking about is, oh, whenever there is any kind of terrorist alert or bombing or shooting or, etc, you're just praying, praying, praying, praying to God that it's not a Muslim person because you know that the entirety of your ummah, like, the entirety of the people that are in your community are going to have to suffer for the mistakes of one person. You know you're going to be blatantly blamed for all of that. Then when you're a queer child, and the queer child that exists within these intersections, you're both afraid of finding out if any of those folks have been proclaimed terrorist or etc, and also to be erased from that narrative altogether. I think we've seen this over and over again within these last few years, right? Pulse was a really good example of this. Pulse was a really important moment in my life, at least, as a queer Muslim person, when the shooter was a Muslim person.
Ellee Pai Hong: Then when you're a queer child, and the queer child that exists within these intersections, you're both afraid of finding out if any of those folks have been proclaimed terrorist or etc, and also to be erased from that narrative altogether. I think we've seen this over and over again within these last few years, right? Pulse was a really good example of this. Pulse was a really important moment in my life, at least, as a queer Muslim person, when the shooter was a Muslim person.
Khudai Tanveer: Yes, yes. June 2016. Pulse is really, really important and intense moment where the shooter was someone of Muslim descent who was being outed as gay, who is being outed as multiple capacity, who had done this awful tragic thing to another part of our community as queer folks, right? So, there is this immense intersection clashing where neither parts of the community truly wanted to accept the other, right? Whether if you were Muslim, it was, like, "Oh, gay folks don't exist. Queer folks don't exist." This is like he's not ... "This is it. This wasn't for us. I don't know what happened here." For queer folks, it's, like, "Oh, there are no Muslims in our community. They don't exist. What's happening?" So, really existing in that intersection in that moment and so many moments after that have just been so hard on our folks.
Ellee Pai Hong: I know you have launched a public campaign to really get the word out that you do exist, that positive role models do exist, and you're incorporating family members into this message. Tell me about this.
Khudai Tanveer: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Part of the thing that we've seen within API communities is that because of our immigrant status, because of how important and rooted culture is within our community, we don't want to take and adhere to this concept of just leaving your family behind, or they're just going to disown you, etc. We really want to put in the work to see what barriers we can cross together to really bring forward our community and bring forward our family. What that looks like is putting out these amazing PSAs so we've had in multiple languages, right? So if folks do choose to come out, which does not ... Coming out does not incorporate the entirety of your validity, but if folks do choose to come out, eradicating at least one of those barriers, whether that's language or presentation. One thing that we did with Asian Pride Project was come out with these beautiful TSA YouTube videos that you all could find online that have amazing queer families within different API countries come together to really accept and honor their children, right?
Ellee Pai Hong: Wonderful.
Khudai Tanveer: Yeah. It's beautiful. One of the biggest things about it that makes it unique is it's in language, so it is not within just the English language, but if it's ... like my parents, I speak Urdu, I [inaudible] everybody else. Like, here is someone who literally speaks your language, telling you that they love and care for their child, and this is a representation of where I want you to be at right now.
Ellee Pai Hong: So, it's an easier way to connect for them as well.
Khudai Tanveer: Absolutely.
Ellee Pai Hong: And the website?
Khudai Tanveer: NQAPIA.org. N-Q-A-P-I-A.org.
Ellee Pai Hong: Perfect. Thank you so much, Khudai. I appreciate your time today.
Khudai Tanveer: Of course. Thanks a lot.
Ellee Pai Hong: And thanks to you for watching. For more great conversations with leaders in your area and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Ellie Pai Hong.