Five years ago, Clara Yoon’s child came to her with an announcement: he was transgender and bisexual. The 15-year-old had identified as female up until that point, so it took her by surprise as can often happen. But for Yoon, the adjustment occurred on a separate level because of her heritage: Yoon is Korean.
“There’s still a lot of misinformation out there about being LGBTQ in Asian languages,” said Glenn Magpantay, executive director of the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA). “Parents still think that maybe their kids became lesbian because they moved to the U.S. or that they turned gay because they had gay friends who live in the big city, like Atlanta. Being transgender is still being described as a pathology.”
That’s why NQAPIA is presenting a national workshop tour that’s coming to Chamblee on June 18 where Magpantay will moderate a discussion with Yoon and two other parents of LGBT children to help shed light on the topic and remove some of the cultural barriers in place for both those in the Asian Pacific Islander (API) community who identify as LGBT and their parents.
The path to PFLAG mom
While Yoon and her husband’s love for their son was never in question, she admits, “Like many other parents, that’s not something that you expect your son to be. It took us about one year to get our heads around it and make a decision to support his transition.”
The environment the family was in played a big role. Yoon works for a Fortune 500 company in New York City with an impressive diversity and inclusion policy, her manager was gay and they had gay and lesbian friends and neighbors. But they didn’t know much about the transgender community, which they chalk up to lack of information and negative portrayals of transgender people in the media. So they got busy learning.
Yoon and her husband started going to monthly meetings for parents of LGBT kids at their local LGBT center, then started going to similar monthly meetings put on by their local PFLAG chapter.
“We started meeting other families and realizing we were not alone and that’s how we were able to overcome our fear and our misconceptions and lack of knowledge and come around to support my son,” Yoon tells Georgia Voice.
It’s that mentorship role that Yoon has now taken on herself. She is the founder of the API Project at PFLAG NYC, serves on the board of directors of PFLAG NYC and is a member of the LGBTQ Network Steering Committee at her company.
‘Gay Asians often suffer in silence’
Yoon will be joined at the workshop by Michelle Honda-Phillips, a fourth-generation Japanese-American with a transgender nine-year-old daughter (pictured) and Barbara Acuna-Taylor, a Filipino mother of a lesbian daughter. Honda-Phillips’ father, Congressman Mike Honda (D-Calif.), made headlines last year when he tweeted out a picture of himself with Malisa, his transgender granddaughter, with the message, “As a proud grandpa of a transgender grandchild, I hope she can feel safe at school without fear of being bullied.”
But Magpantay, Yoon and others realize that that can be an atypical outcome for many API kids in the LGBT community, and it was a no-brainer for them to include Atlanta on the 12-city tour since Georgia has one of the nation’s fastest growing API communities.
“These parents are all straight and they all have LGBT kids and they’re going to share their stories of struggle, of shame, of acceptance and understanding,” Magpantay says. “And for Asian kids who want to come out to their parents who are often immigrants or are limited English proficient, how do I do that? I don’t want to shame my family, I want to respect the ancestors but how do I do that?
“Gay Asians often suffer in silence and our parents have sacrificed greatly for us. They came to a new country, they worked two to three jobs, but we also want them to celebrate their LGBT kids and we’re providing them an opportunity to do that.”