For those of you in the LGBTQ+ community who are Asian or Asian-American, or like me, have a partner or spouse who is Asian-American, these last few weeks have been unsettling.
There has been a rise in anti-Asian violence, gruesomely highlighted by the tragedy on Tuesday, when eight people were killed, including six Asian women, at Atlanta-area spas. President Biden and Vice President Harris, who is of South Asian descent, have been speaking out about the violence since January, when, according to CNN, the president signed a memorandum condemning the rise in attacks toward the Asian community and asked the attorney general to “expand collection of data and public reporting regarding hate incidents against such individuals.”
On Friday, Biden and Harris will both travel to Atlanta to meet with Georgia state legislators and Asian-American and Pacific Islander advocates, to listen to their perspective on the rise in hate incidents targeting Asian Americans.
Congress took up the matter on Thursday when the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties held a hearing, featuring Asian-American lawmakers, as well as actor Daniel Dae Kim, on the rise of hate crimes and discrimination against Asian-Americans.
The subcommittee chair, Representative Steve Cohen of Tennessee, began the hearing by acknowledging the pain and panic. “I want to make clear that all Asian-Americans who are understandably feeling hurt and afraid right now and wondering whether anyone else in America cares that Congress sees you, we stand with you. We're gonna do everything in our power to protect you.”
Of course, that doesn’t apply to some of the Republicans on the committee, including bigoted Texas congressman Chip Roy. In his opening statement, he conflated the issue of the hearing by proclaiming that the victims of rioting and looting last summer deserve justice. “We believe in justice,” he said. Then he repugnantly added, “There’s an old saying in Texas about ‘find all the rope in Texas and get a tall oak tree.’ You know, we take justice very seriously. And we ought to do that. Round up the bad guys. That’s what we believe.”
In an emotional response to Roy’s disgusting diatribe, New York Democratic Representative Grace Meng said, “This hearing was to address the hurt and pain of our community and to find solutions! We will not let you take our voice away from us.”
Roy’s obscene statement speaks for itself. He clearly continues to carry Trump’s racist torch. It was Trump, and his acolytes who were responsible for stoking the violence against Asian-Americans. When Trump continually referred to COVID-19 as the Chinese Flu, or “kung flu,” he put Asian-Americans in the cross hairs of his intolerant insurrectionists.
I reached out to California congressman Mark Takano, the first openly gay person of Asian descent in Congress, for some perspective. Specifically, I asked him about what led to the rise in anti-Asian crimes, what steps Congress and the president can do to help address this problem, the problematic racist rhetoric from politicians like Roy, and what we in the LGBTQ+ community can do to help.
“In my opinion, anti-Asian sentiment has always existed, and has been rising since COVID-19 originated,” Takano said during a phone call on Thursday. “It was fueled by President Trump, and by Republicans who stayed silent or who were complicit. Trump was trying to focus away from his inadequacies when the pandemic started to get out of control, so he attempted to shift the blame and attention, and started to blame China. He intentionally began calling COVID the Wuhan virus, the China virus, and very despairingly, ‘kung flu.’”
Takano remembered the first time he saw how dangerous Trump’s words were.
“He went into one of his rallies and used ‘kung flu’ with such gusto, and the crowd just ate it up, and he puffed up with such satisfaction. That was a prime example of stoking the sentiment and shifting the blame, not on a particular person, or China’s leadership on the virus, but to Asian people and Asian- Americans in general.”
For Takano and other Asian-Americans, this isn’t the first time that their race has been disparaged. “We’ve seen this before, particularly in the 1970s and 80s when Japanese automakers were outselling American autos, and a Japanese-American was beaten and killed outside of the Detroit airport on his way home, because he was assumed to not be American.”
According to Takano, generalized anti-Asian sentiment has been directed toward the Asian-American community for years, particularly for those who have Asian features, and with the rise in violence, more Asian-Americans are becoming concerned. “We have had broody feelings for a while but woke up with a sense of dread after the Atlanta murders. At the very least, the murders occurred in this context of anti-Asian [sentiment]. The women wereC dehumanized and deemed eliminable by the killer.”
I asked Takano what steps ongress, the president, and vice president can do to help address this serious problem? “By starting a dialogue, holding hearings and for the president to talk about it openly, there’s a chance for more awareness on the issue and the fact that you can connect these crimes to hate.”
Takano thinks that one of the first things that can be done is for the Justice Department to issue guidance for law enforcement in an effort to prevent and reduce the violence. “There was a dramatic rise in hate crimes that were directly correlated with the pandemic and the irresponsible leadership about the pandemic,” Takano offered. “President Biden is a much different leader, with a much different tone, and has already taken important actions through executive orders, and symbolically by ordering flags at half-staff in honor of the Asian women killed in Atlanta.”
I wondered how Takano felt about Representative Roy’s idiotic statements? “He was just trying to change the subject, saying bad things about the Chinese government for example. That’s not it at all. He also, bizarrely, talked about free speech. But free speech goes hand in hand with responsible expression, most especially from top elected leaders.”
What needs to end is this Trump doctrine of juvenile jingoistic nationalism. Sure, you might have a right to say these things, but realize as a leader, as a member of congress, what you say has consequences.”
Takano pointed to the recent House debate over the American Rescue Plan, when Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy read Green Eggs and Ham on the House floor. “The Republican conference had no argument against the bill, so McCarthy resorted to distraction, and used the decision by the Dr. Seuss Foundation to pull some of the titles that the foundation deemed were harmful to Asian kids.”
The Republicans attempted to say that liberals were behind this move, and that wasn’t the case at all. It was a decision by the Seuss family. And again, by calling out Asian-Americans in regard to the Seuss books, the Republicans were using Trumpy talking points to try and stir up the base. by hitting these hot buttons.”
For those in the LGBTQ+ community who are Asian, or want to help our Asian brothers and sisters, what does Takano think we can do? “I think what you can do, and what I’ve seen is the community becoming tremendously empowered, and having non-Asians joining in the chorus and calling out the anti-Asian sentiment.
“I think these murders in Georgia are waking people up to what we’ve known all along. There have been 3,000 recorded incidents of violence against Asian-Americans recently. People now understand it’s very real. The Asian LGBTQ community and our allies, partners and spouses can all be part of the folks who show up to rallies or express their support more vocally on social media. That will inevitably help amplify the issue and inspire and empower hundreds of thousands to start to focus across the country.”
John Casey is editor at large for The Advocate.