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Guest Opinion: Queer API candidates endure vicious hostility

by by Michael Nguyen and Mike Chen

Lucy Shen, Justin Sha, and Alex Lee. Photos: Courtesy the campaigns
Lucy Shen, Justin Sha, and Alex Lee. Photos: Courtesy the campaigns  

"Get back in the closet." "You are a disgrace." "Stop talking about your sexuality." "You should be disowned." These vicious statements are a sampling of the intolerant messages now being leveled in social media at Alex Lee, Justin Sha, and Lucy Shen. They are young Chinese-Americans who are running for office in Fremont and the South Bay. Their crime? Being openly and outspokenly LGBTQ.

Shen, a nonbinary candidate for Fremont Board of Education who uses any pronouns, including they/them, has borne the brunt of public attacks from anonymous Twitter accounts. One account called them a disgrace to the Asian community. Another account said that they would disown their kids if they turned out like Shen.

While we in the Bay Area pride ourselves on being a welcoming community, LGBTQ people still struggle to be seen, heard, and feel safe. Elected board of education members in Fremont and Cupertino have resisted public school sex education curricula that is inclusive and positive of LGBTQ individuals. In June, a manager of a Livermore Farmers Market berated a vendor for handing out Pride flags. Residents in San Francisco have been harassed and attacked based on their sexuality. After the COVID-19 crisis started, LGBTQ Asian and Pacific Islanders faced a double whammy of hate and discrimination.

Across the country, it is open season on LGBTQ elected officials and candidates. The right-wing conspiracy group QAnon called gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) a pedophile for his LGBTQ rights legislation, inciting an internet mob and death threats. Alex Morse, candidate for Congress in Massachusetts, had his primary campaign smeared by baseless accusations of sexual harassment. That is wrong, and it must stop.

Some of the attackers say that they are fine with LGBTQ people, but they are bothered by candidates "flaunting their sexuality." "Keep your private life private," they say. "Sexual orientation has nothing to do with elected positions." Lee, Sha, and Shen's honesty and transparency is not flaunting their sexuality. Straight candidates can freely mention their spouses and children because society allows them to "flaunt" their private lives without fear of recrimination. We demand the same for LGBTQ people: to be seen for who they are, who they love, and who they care for without shame or fear. We stand with Lee, Sha, and Shen in proudly proclaiming that representation is important: we need positive, uplifting role models of queer Asian American achievement and civic engagement for children and teens who are not accepted for their gender or sexual identity, or not blessed with supportive parents.

To those in our communities who think that we should be ashamed of who we are, we have a simple message: we are not going back in the closet. Your time of silencing and shaming us is ending. We will confront homophobia and transphobia wherever and whenever they rear their ugly heads. And, yes, we will continue reaching out to our Asian families and communities to build hope, love, and inclusion, so that we can celebrate our cultures and thrive together.

We call on all candidates in Fremont to condemn hostility toward LGBTQ people. We must stand up for our LGBTQ Asian and Pacific Islander candidates, let them stand on their own merits, support their campaigns, and defend them against attacks on their gender identity and sexuality. Lee, a bisexual man running for the California Assembly, belongs here. Sha, a gay man running for mayor of Fremont, belongs here. Shen belongs here. We API and LGBTQ and allied leaders ask readers who support LGBTQ rights and equality to continue to stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ API community and beyond as we work to combat bigotry and hatred in our society.

Michael Nguyen and Mike Chen are the chair and political director, respectively, for GAPA, an advocacy group for the queer and transgender API community. This op-ed is co-signed by state Senator Scott Wiener, San Francisco Assemblymen David Chiu (D) and Phil Ting (D), Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), and Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Cupertino).

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