JR Tungol 「The Most Influential LGBT Asian Icons」

Posted on October 29, 2012
While interning for HuffPost Gay Voices I have, for the past month, had the pleasure of researching, writing and ultimately sharing an LGBT icon every day in honor of LGBT History Month. Though I’ve been fortunate enough to go through grades K-12, college and grad school, I was never taught LGBT history in all those years (California is the only state that requires LGBT history in its curriculum), so this has been an incredible opportunity to recognize and educate myself on these extraordinary human beings. When I was in the closet, I relied solely on gay media as my source of information on LGBT people, issues and stories. Where I am in my life now, having grown up a bit (there’s still some growing up to do!), and having come out to my parents at 22 and lived in wonderful cities like Chicago and New York City, I still find myself constantly intrigued by our community, yearning for more knowledge about things like the Stonewall riots, the origins of Pride and, honestly, how RuPaul become such a fierce queen. Each icon I’ve discovered has instilled in me a sense of pride and even greater hope in the upswing of our civil rights movement.

HuffPost Gay Voices Senior Editor Noah Michelson reminded me to make sure that we reflect the diversity within our community when choosing our LGBT history icons for the month. That includes lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender men and women and LGBT people of color. So as we started compiling our list of people, I, for the life of me, could only think of George Takei to represent the Asian LGBT community. This disappointed me, because I’m a first-generation Filipino American. I felt like I should know more. (Maybe my Asian card, or more specifically my “gaysian” card, should have been taken away.)

So here’s what I came up with: 54 LGBT Asians — count ’em! — in media, the arts, fashion and politics. From familiar faces such as Margaret Cho and BD Wong to perhaps lesser-known individuals such as Urvashi Vaid and Kim Coco Iwamoto, there are certainly many Asians in the LGBT community for us “gaysians” — and everyone else — to look up to.

While I absolutely love our icons and admire the progression of LGBT rights and visibility here in the U.S., including the growing number of gay couples in mainstream television, I can’t help but notice that virtually none of them are people of color. Rob Stephenson, professor of global health at Emory University and a fellow with the OpEd Project, points out this very fact in a blog post for The Huffington Post. Although he specifically talked about the lack of black gay couples on television, the issue resonates with other racial minorities.

Cuc Vu, the chief diversity officer of the Human Rights Campaign (and someone featured in this list), talks about “gayness” being equated with “whiteness.” Vu says:

Our diversity is one of our greatest assets and we must showcase it if we want to dispel the perception that gay is white. LGBT people come from every walk of life, but most people wouldn’t know it by what they see and read. The prevailing images of LGBT people are celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, elected officials like Barney Frank, and organizational leaders who are mostly white. All of these individuals are exemplary representatives for our LGBT movement. Taken as a whole, however, you can be sure that the first observation people of color will make is that these leaders are all white. Whether we like it or not, this image of a racially homogenous LGBT leadership feeds the perception among people of color communities that LGBT people are not Black, Latino/a or [Asian Pacific Islander].

Quite frankly, I’m happy she said this, because I feel the same way. My ethnicity trumps my sexuality. In other words, I’ve always felt that my being Asian dictated my comfort level with my being gay. And what I love about Gay Voices, and what’s so beautiful about it, as Noah Michelson has pointed out, is the fact that The Huffington Post is the only mainstream news outlet with an entire section dedicated to LGBT stories. That’s profound! So it’s imperative that we fully represent ourselves to a mainstream audience and perhaps break down cultural barriers when it comes to LGBT acceptance and understanding.

With that, and with LGBT history month coming to an end, I hope this slideshow of LGBT Asians inspires young gay Asians (or just anyone!) looking for a role model, and even older people. It certainly has given me some inspiration.

George Takei
Takei, 75, is a fierce advocate and voice for the LGBT and Asian communities. The former Star Trek star, who played Captain Hikaru Sulu, is a Los Angeles native of Japanese descent.
Takei recently world-premiered 「Allegiance」, a musical about Japanese-American internment camps, in September 2012.
Kim Coco Iwamoto
Kim Coco Iwamoto became the highest-ranked openly transgender official in the U.S. when she won a seat on Hawaii's Board of Education in 2006. Iwamoto, of Japanese descent, has continuously advocated and worked with LGBT youth as a licensed therapeutic foster parent, lawyer and public figure.
BD Wong
Chinese-American actor BD Wong is well-known for his roles both on the small and big screens (「Law & Order: Special Victims Unit」, 「Jurassic Park」, etc.). He received the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation's Davidson/Valenti Award in 2003 and the Family Pride Coalition's Family Tree Award in 2005. Both honors salute his LGBT advocacy.
Jared Eng
30-year-old Jared Eng is the founder of heavily visited pop culture website justjared.com and justjaredjr.com.
Eng grew up in Queens, N.Y., where he was raised by his Chinese-American parents. Eng made the prestigious “Out 100” list in 2011.
Margaret Cho
The hilarious, lovable and self-proclaimed “fag hag” Margaret Cho once wrote a blog on The Huffington Post in which she said that the word “queer” is the “most fitting description” of her.
Cho, 44, was born in San Francisco and is Korean-American.
Helen Zia
Award-winning author-journalist Helen Zia advocates for many causes, including gay rights, women’s rights and Asian-American visibility.
Zia, who married her wife, Lia Shigemura, in 2008, wrote in the Amerasia Journal, “With each individual who comes to realize that there are Asian queers and queer Asians, that space where the gay zone meets the Asian zone opens up a little more.”
Dan Choi
Dan Choi became the face of “don’t ask, don’t tell” when he first came out on 「The Rachel Maddow Show」 in 2009. Lt. Choi, who’s Korean-American, was an Arabic translator in the Army National Guard and was discharged under the discriminatory policy that barred openly gay and lesbian soldiers from serving in the military. DADT was repealed in 2011.
Sutan Amrull
Sutan Amrull, perhaps better known as Raja, won the third season of 「RuPaul’s Drag Race」. The Indonesian-born drag performer, makeup artist and entertainer was also frequently seen on 「America’s Next Top Model」.
In October Amrull participated in the L.A. launch of 「Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay」, sharing his life story with an audience at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center.
Telly Leung
Broadway star Telly Leung got on our mainstream radars when he played Wes, a Dalton Academy Warbler, on 「Glee」. Leung, who’s Chinese-American and a native New Yorker, has had roles in 「Wicked」, 「Rent」 and 「Godspell」 and currently stars alongside George Takei in 「Allegiance」.
Bai Ling
Chinese-born actress Bai Ling has made appearances on hit shows such as 「Lost」 and 「Entourage」. She spoke about her bisexuality in a 2009 Examiner.com interview.
Prabal Gurung
Fashion designer Prabal Gurung dresses everyone from Hollywood stars to members of the D.C. elite, including fan Michelle Obama. Gurung, who was born in Singapore but raised in Nepal, won the Council of Fashion Designers of America's Swarovski Award for Womenswear in 2011.
In a 2010『Elle』magazine interview, Gurung said his story was the “typical gay designer” one, having started sketching at just 11 years old.
Alec Mapa
Comedian, actor and self-proclaimed “America’s Gaysian Sweetheart” Alec Mapa was born and raised in a Filipino household in San Francisco. Mapa, 47, who’s appeared on shows such as 「Desperate Housewives」 and 「Ugly Betty」, is an LGBT-rights activist, working with the Human Rights Campaign and the Matthew Shepard Foundation, among others.
Jose Antonio Vargas
Journalist Jose Antonio Vargas declared in a 2011『New York Times』post, “I’m done running. I'm exhausted. I don’t want that life anymore,” referring to his undocumented immigrant status and his life story, which involves leaving the Philippines at 12 and growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Vargas spent most of his professional career with『The Washington Post』and was with The Huffington Post for less than a year. The openly gay Filipino started Define American, an organization that seeks to shed light on America’s immigration system.
John Yang
John Yang is one of only a few openly gay newscaster-journalists. The 54-year-old first-generation Chinese American contributes to all NBC News properties, including 「NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams」 and 「Today」. Prior to joining NBC, Yang was with ABC and『The Washington Post』.
Quenton Allan Brocka
Filipino-American Quenton Allan Brocka is an award-winning director. His LGBT-focused work, including the popular 「Eating Out」 series and 「Rick & Steve, The Happiest Gay Couple in All the World」, have won Brocka numerous honors from LGBT film festivals. The openly gay Brocka is the nephew of Lino Brocka, a famous Filipino director who often incorporated LGBT themes in his movies.
Mark Kanemura
「So You Think You Can Dance」 alum and Lady GaGa dancer Mark Kanemura has Japanese blood (hence the last name) and spoke with『Out』magazine in 2011 about his LGBT community ties.
Joe Zee
Joe Zee, a self-proclaimed pop culture junkie, was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Toronto. Zee has made a name for himself in the fashion industry as『Elle』magazine’s creative director.
Pamela Ki Mai Chen
In August President Obama nominated openly lesbian Chinese-American Pamela Ki Mai Chen to serve on a New York district court. This marks the fifth nomination by the Obama administration of an openly LGBT person to the federal bench. This also makes Chen the second Chinese-American female judge in U.S. history.
Alexander Wang
A native San Franciscan, Alexander Wang launched his fashion career when he moved to New York City to study at the famed Parsons The New School for Design.
Wang, who’s Taiwanese, opened up his first flagship store in SoHo in 2011. In 2010 Wang won the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Swarovski Award.
Jenny Shimizu
Openly lesbian model-actress Jenny Shimizu has graced the covers of『Vogue』(Australia and Singapore editions) and has also had roles both on the small and big screens.
Shimizu, who is of Japanese descent, was named to『A』magazine’s “100 Most Influential Asian Americans of the Decade 1989-1999” and received the Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival 2006 Lesbian Icon Award. The 45-year-old is also well-known for her relationship with Angelina Jolie.
Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla
Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla, born in Kenya and of Indian descent, is an acclaimed author and filmmaker, bringing LGBT storylines to the forefront of South Asian culture in books like『Ode to Lata』(turned into a movie) and『The Two Krishnas』.
The activist co-founded the South Asian program for the Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team and is one of the founding members of SATRANG, a support group for LGBT South Asians in Los Angeles.
Manvendra Singh Gohil
Since Manvendra Singh Gohil appeared on 「Oprah」 in 2007, the openly gay Indian prince has become an LGBT-rights activist, founding Lakshya Trust, an organization that supports Indian sexual minorities, and frequently speaking at public events.
Staceyann Chin
Poet-performer Staceyann Chin (who’s written many blogs on The Huffington Post) was born in Jamaica and is half-Chinese. Chin has received many accolades. Some of her awards include the Human Rights Campaign’s 2007 Power of the Voice Award, the 2008 Honors from the Lesbian AIDS Project and the 2009 New York State Senate Award.
Jason Wu
Taiwanese-born designer Jason Wu further made a name for himself when he designed First Lady Michelle Obama’s inaugural gown.
Wu, 30, started his career designing clothes for dolls. Wu produced his first collection in 2006 and won the Fashion Group International’s Rising Star award in 2008. He was also nominated for the Vogue Fashion Fund award that same year and earned the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Swarovski Award in 2010.
Sab Shimono
Japanese-American actor Sab Shimono has had numerous roles. Some of those include Broadway shows 「Mame」 and 「Pacific Overtures」, small-screen appearances on 「Friends」 and 「Seinfeld」 and movies like 「Gung Ho」 and 「The Sensei」.
Shimono married his husband, Steve Alden Nelson, in a civil union ceremony in 2008 in San Diego.
Avant-garde violinist and performance artist Hahn-Bin, 25, seeks to bring mainstream attention to classical music. The young classical prodigy studied under famed violinist Itzhak Perlman and has performed at the Grammy Awards and at Carnegie Hall.
Although he hasn’t claimed any labels, Hahn-Bin donned the rainbow flag as a cape in a May performance just shortly after Obama’s same-sex marriage announcement.『Out』magazine named the artist to its 17th annual “Out 100” list.
Magdalen Hsu-Li
Openly bisexual singer-songwriter Magdalen Hsu-Li initially started her career as a painter. Now she’s one of the first Asian Americans (she’s Chinese) to burst onto the alternative college music scene. Hsu-Li released five albums with Chickpop Records.
Richard Chai
Richard Chai is a Korean-American designer based in New York City who was inducted into the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2007 and won the council’s Swarovski Menswear Designer of the Year in 2010. Chai, who’s openly gay, also designs womenswear and studied under Donna Karan and Marc Jacobs.
Thakoon Panichgul Thakoon Panichgul
Thai-American fashion designer Thakoon Panichgul didn’t start his career making clothes. He earned a business degree from Boston University and worked as a writer-editor at『Harper’s Bazaar』for four years before launching his designing career.
The designer, who studied at Parsons School of Design, debuted his first ready-to-wear collection in 2004 and was one of three recipients of the Council of Fashion Designers of America Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund.
Nong Ariyaphon Southiphong
Nong Ariyaphon Southiphong was known as designer Andy South on season eight of 「Project Runway」. Southiphong, of Laotian ancestry, came out as a transgender woman in September.
The young fashion designer said, “I am blessed to be so accepted and welcomed just the way I am. May that love flow through me and onto many others. Live in love for the world needs it.”
Irshad Manji
Irshad Manji is an openly lesbian human rights activist and New York University’s director of the Moral Courage Project.
Professor Manji is a reformist Muslim, writing books (『The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith and Allah』,『Liberty & Love』) about her religion and its role in today’s society. The scholar was born in Uganda and is of Indian and Egyptian descent.
Karl Westerberg
Better known by his drag name, Manila Luzon, Karl Westerberg came in second place to Sutan Amrull (Raja) in season three of 「RuPaul’s Drag Race」.
Westerberg, whose drag name reflects his Filipino heritage, said in an October interview for a Canadian blog site, “Hopefully what I offer to the movement is by being a positive figure of the gay community.”
Vern Yip
Chinese-American designer Vern Yip can be seen on many shows including HGTV’s 「Design Star」, 「Bang for Your Buck」 and TLC’s 「Trading Spaces」.
Yip has two children, Gavin Joshua Mannox and Vera Lillian Beatrix, with his partner Craig Koch.
Ifti Nasim
The late Ifti Nasim was an openly gay Muslim Pakistani poet, human rights activist and Chicago radio host. Nasim, who was 64 when he passed away in July 2011, founded SANGAT/Chicago, a South Asian LGBT organization, and also wrote『Narman』, the first believed book in Urdu that centered on gay themes.
Cuc Vu
Cuc Vu, an immigrant from Vietnam, is the chief diversity officer of the Human Rights Campaign. Her vision is to ensure HRC’s commitment to diversity and inclusion at all levels of the LGBT-rights organization.
Vu married her wife, Gwen Migita, in Washington, D.C., in 2010.
Airline Inthyrath
Airline Inthyrath, the beloved drag queen Jujubee, finished as second runner-up in season two of 「RuPaul’s Drag Race」, where he spoke about being gay and Asian.
Christopher Cabaldon (D-Calif.)
Mayor of West Sacramento Christopher Cabaldon was the first mayor directly elected by voters in 2004 and then reelected in 2006, 2008 and 2010.
Cabaldon, who’s Filipino-American, publicly came out to his constituents in his annual State of the City address in 2006. Logo featured Cabaldon’s story in an episode of 「Coming Out Stories」.
Mark Takano (D-Calif.)
Mark Takano would be the first openly gay person of color to serve in Congress if he wins this fall election.
Japanese-American Takano was born and raised in Riverside, Calif. and is one of eight openly LGBT candidates running for the House of Representatives (the most ever). He's also one of 23 Asians running for office.
Parvez Sharma
Filmmaker-writer Parvez Sharma directed and produced the award-winning and thought-provoking documentary 「A Jihad for Love」, which won the GLAAD media award for best documentary in 2009. The film explores the lives of LGBT people in the Middle East.
Sharma is an openly gay Indian Muslim who frequently blogs on The Huffington Post.
Jeff Sheng
Los Angeles-based photojournalist Jeff Sheng is responsible for the powerful images of closeted military personnel in his “don’t ask, don’t tell” photo series, which was featured in major news outlets including『The New York Times』and CNN. Another project that got Sheng attention was his “Fearless” series of openly LGBT student athletes.
The Chinese-American activist was named to『The Advocate』’s “Forty Under 40” in 2011.
Kiyoshi Kuromiya
Kiyoshi Kuromiya was an AIDS activist who passed away from the disease in 2000 at the age of 57. Kuromiya, who was Japanese, was born in a Wyoming Japanese internment camp and eventually made his way to Philadelphia, where he went to school, started his gay rights activism and provided services like internet access to AIDS patients.
Jim Toy
Chinese-American Jim Toy is an LGBT activist and pioneer in Michigan. Some of Toy’s achievements include being a founding member of the Detroit Gay Liberation Movement and establishing the University of Michigan’s Lesbian-Gay Male Programs Office (the first of its kind to address sexual orientation issues in a higher institution of learning).
Urvashi Vaid
Urvashi Vaid is an author and attorney who’s committed her career to civil and LGBT rights. The Indian-American activist has served in various capacities with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, including as its former executive director.
Evan Low
Evan Low made history in 2006 as the first Asian American (he’s Chinese), elected to the city council in Campbell, Calif., as well as its first openly gay person and the youngest person (he’s 23). Low later was elected as mayor of the city, making him the youngest Asian-American mayor in the U.S.
Sunil Babu Pant
In 2008 Sunil Babu Pant became Nepal’s first openly gay parliament member. Pant founded the Blue Diamond Society, a group that advocates for Nepalese LGBT citizens.
Pauline Park
Pauline Park was born in and adopted from Korea and has become a pioneer for transgender rights. Park came out as a transgender woman after moving to New York City and co-founded and chairs the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy. The advocate also founded the Queens Pride House and Iban/Queer Koreans of New York group.
In 2005 Park was the first openly transgender grand marshal for New York City’s Pride parade.
June Millington
Sixty-four-year-old singer-songwriter June Millington was born in the Philippines and emigrated to California when she was 13. Along with her sister, Jean, and two other bandmates, Millington was a part of Fanny, the first all-female rock band to be signed by a major label (Warner Brothers). The lesbian musician and her group were dubbed the “Godmothers of Chick Rock.”
Jimmy Nguyen
Jimmy Nguyen was born in Vietnam and has become a vocal LGBT rights activist, frequently writing blog posts for『The Advocate』, where he talks about the intersection of the gay and Asian communities. Nguyen, a lawyer, was named to『The Advocate』’s “Forty Under 40” list in 2010.
Faisal Alam
When Faisal Alam was 19, he founded Al-Fatiha, an LGBTIQ group for Muslims and their allies. Faisal is Pakistani-American and tours the nation talking about his faith and sexuality. He’s received numerous recognitions, including being named to the Equality Forum’s “40 Heroes.”
Patrick S. Cheng
Patrick S. Cheng is an openly gay Chinese ordained minister with Metropolitan Community Churches, an LGBT-affirming Christian church. Cheng also started Queer Asian Spirit, a faith- and religious-based support group for LGBT Asians.
Cheng is the author of『Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology and From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ』. He also frequently blogs on The Huffington Post.
Margarita Alcantara
Queer Filipina Margarita Alcantara is an advocate for women’s and LGBT rights. In 1995 she started her own self-published magazine,『Bamboo Girl Zine』, where she wrote about race, sex, gender and other issues. Alcantara ended the publication to focus on her acupuncture business based in New York City.
Vidur Kapur
The pioneering stand-up comic Vidur Kapur says he has “three strikes” against himself. He’s openly gay, Indian and an immigrant. Kapur brings his act across the U.S. on college campuses and frequently appears on television. He was nominated for a NewNowNext award for his Logo comedy special.
In a recent blog on The Huffington Post Kapur writes: “I’m one of the first out gay South Asian comics, and I know that I will not be the last, because amidst the jokes and laughter, I know that I can and will inspire someone else — an LGBT person, a South Asian or anyone who’s never seen someone like himself on television before — to realize that no road is closed off. Including comedy.”
Ryan Ong Palao
Ryan Ong Palao, widely known as drag queen Ongina, appeared on the first season of 「RuPaul’s Drag Race」.
Palao, who emigrated from the Philippines in 1994, revealed his HIV-postive status on the hit show and has since hosted webisodes “HIV+ME” and “HIV+US” on Logotv.com.
Jay Nicolas Sario
「Project Runway」 season 7 contestant Jay Nicolas Sario made it all the way to the top four. The Filipino designer got his start in fashion working at Gap Inc. and debuted his first collection in New York Fashion Week in 2010.
Sario, who's openly gay, resides in New York City where he works on his own label, JAY NICOLAS SARIO.

Correction at 5:03pm ET on October 29: In an earlier version of this slideshow, David Henry Hwang was identified as LGBT. He is actually a straight ally.

Follow JR Tungol on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jratungol

JR Tungol
NYC-based media professional
JR is a journalist based in New York City who used to work as an engineer in Detroit, where he's originally from. A Midwesterner at heart, having lived in Chicago before the Big Apple, JR graduated from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and now interns for HuffPost Gay Voices, a news outlet he read constantly and admired before working there. (You've got to follow your passions!) In his spare time, JR enjoys reading, spending time on the couch watching Netflix, schlepping around the city (trying to be social) and being Filipino. Follow JR on Twitter @jratungol.

Author: JR Tungol/Date: October 29, 2012/Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jr-tungol/lgbt-asians_b_2026330.html