May 29, 2015

On Finding API Queer Role Models

Photo: Nancy Haque (right) with her partner, Dianne and baby, Reza. Source: Photo by Faith Cathcart/The Oregonian.

by Nancy Haque
Co-Director of Basic Rights Oregon

I was asked to write about the API women and trans folks who helped me on my journey to becoming Co-Director of Basic Rights Oregon, the state’s lead LGBTQ advocacy, education and political organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. My first thoughts were “I don’t have anyone like that” because I was thinking about mentors as someone older than me who helped show me the way. As a 41 year old, who came out to my siblings almost 20 years ago, there weren’t a lot of folks like me or models of how to be queer, South Asian, child of immigrants, Muslim.

In my fantasy life, there was that great queer API pioneer who would have helped me feel less alone in the world. But in reality, growing up I was so used to being the only person like me in any given room, I didn’t even know enough to seek out finding folks with similar experiences. In reality, I have never met a single other LGBTQ Bangladeshi. (If you’re out there – say hey!). And truthfully, there have been plenty of API women who I have learned so much from, they all just happen to be younger than me.

First I want to mention my very kind friend Uma Rao, who showed me with my first Diwali party several years ago, that it’s possible to have a vibrant, queer South Asian community. Then I think of my friend and former colleague, Kalpana Krishnamurthy, who continues to be the fiercest, most knowledgeable ally to the LGBTQ community you will ever meet. Among many things, she taught me what “cis” means, without judgment. Then I think of my niece Hana Haque, who posted a photo of two gay Asian men kissing as a celebration of the passing of Referendum 74 (marriage equality) in Washington State. When one of her friends responded badly, she replied, “Homophobic, much?” It’s a silly story but it filled me with hope, not just of what a strong ally my niece was being in middle school, but also how knowledgeable she is and what a different world she lives in then the one I grew up in.

I am eternally grateful to my friends and mentors, who I continue to learn from and I truly believe that a mentor who is 15, is just as valuable as one who is 50. That said, I know that there’s someone out there, some young queer API person, who feels isolated and afraid. I may not know much, but I am here and I am ready and willing to help someone feel less alone in the world.

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Read more stories from AAPI Heritage Month here.