With racial prejudice on the rise during the global pandemic, Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month is more important than ever for raising awareness and having conversations about the importance of diversity and representation.
To that end, The Advocate observed AAPI Day Against Bullying and Hate on May 18 with an Instagram Live discussion between Amazin LeThi, a queer activist, competitive bodybuilder, and Stonewall Sports champion, and out actor BD Wong, known for his roles in Jurassic Park, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Mr. Robot, and most recently Awkwafina is Nora From Queens.
"So very often, we're not visible as a community and we don't get to have these conversations in the media," LeThi said about LGBTQ+ Asian Americans, who have faced both anti-Asian discrimination from misleading narratives about the "Chinese virus," and economic strain that has disproportionately affected the LGBTQ+ community.
Wong added, "It's a really disturbing and terribly frustrating trend to be noticing, and yet it is up to us to take that trend and use it to try to raise awareness or create a dialogue about it, so people can understand the gravity of it. [...] It's kind of a reminder that these things are always there festering, and our first step in dealing with it is acknowledging that it's an actual thing."
In their hour-long conversation, LeThi and Wong touched on how anti-Asian prejudice has surfaced in everyday interactions and in statements from government officials, a pattern of discrimination that also appeared during the Vietnam War and World War II.
"What I think is really dangerous is the permission that people feel to act out on these feelings, and they feel that way because the people that are the most influential in our country right at this moment feel the comfort and the ability to share these negative and hateful kinds of feelings," Wong said.
On an encouraging note, they also discussed how the recent boom in Asian representation in entertainment and media, from films like Crazy Rich Asians and TV shows like Black Lightning, have given younger people a new framework for connecting with their community, particularly for queer viewers.
"When I was younger, I never saw an Asian person on TV; I never saw an LGBTQ person on TV," LeThi said. "I always thought as an Asian LGBTQ person that my feelings were very singular — I was the only Asian LGBTQ person in the world.... [Now] there's some Asian kid watching Black Lighting, thinking 'I'm LGBTQ, and I can be a superhero.'"
Wong pointed out that social distancing has forced writers, actors and performers to find new ways to connect with people, which may help communities heal in the wake of the pandemic. "I think the new wave of art that will come from this pandemic in general is going to be really fertile. That's the way humans are."
Watch the full discussion below for more on the overlap between AAPI and LGBTQ+ communities, the importance of Pride Month in 2020, and the future of Asian representation.