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GAPA celebrates 30 years of activism and fellowship

by David-Elijah Nahmod

Gay Asian Pacific Alliance members participated in the 1998 San Francisco Chinese New Year's Parade. Photo: Courtesy GAPA
Gay Asian Pacific Alliance members participated in the 1998 San Francisco Chinese New Year's Parade. Photo: Courtesy GAPA  

Thirty years ago, the Gay Asian Pacific Alliance was formed to address social, cultural, and political issues affecting gay and bisexual Asians and Pacific Islanders.

Through the years, GAPA has kept its focus on helping gay and bi Asian men while becoming more inclusive and providing positive role models in the community.

Next weekend, GAPA will celebrate its 30th anniversary with Legacy, a black-tie gala to commemorate the organization's years of advocacy and activism.

The dinner will include an awards ceremony honoring those who have made significant contributions to the API community. There will be an address by keynote speaker Sam Park, the first openly gay man to be elected to the Georgia state Legislature, as well as entertainment from the GAPA Men's Chorus, GAPA Theater, and the Rice Rockettes. Community icon Tita Aida will emcee the festivities.

There will be four honorees at the awards ceremony. Alma Soongi Beck will be given the George Choy Award of Recognition for her efforts in helping bring the queer API community together, making a lasting impact through both her legal work and her deep community involvement.

API Equality - Northern California is being awarded the Doug Yaranon Community Ally Award for being an outspoken organization that inspires and trains leaders, establishes intergenerational connections, and documents and disseminates LGBTQ API histories.

Former GAPA Co-Chair Ben Leong will get the Donald Masuda Vanguard Award. He has worked to strengthen connections and leverage resources for the LGBTQ Asian and Pacific Islander communities throughout the years.

And finally, the Godzy Award, GAPA's highest honor, goes to Ty Lim. The Godzy Award honors and recognizes current and former GAPA members who have made an outstanding and enduring impact on the organization. Lim was a George Choy Scholarship recipient before becoming GAPA Scholarship Committee Chair. He is now president of the GAPA Foundation.

"It's amazing to think that 30 years of GAPA have happened," said GAPA Chair Michael Nguyen. "I feel a real sense of accomplishment and pride that an organization like GAPA exists and is there to bring the community together."

Nguyen noted that, in spite of gains that have been made, the organization is still very much needed.

"In an ideal world we would not be needed," he said. "But we're being attacked and we need organizations like GAPA to fight and speak up."

GAPA was originally formed by a group of students in Berkeley in 1987.

"They were seeing the HIV epidemic escalate and wanted to create a support and safe space," Nguyen explained. "We were formally incorporated in 1988. At the time they wanted to build community and create an advocacy organization that would further the interests of gay and bisexual men."

In 1990 GAPA had a float in the Chinese New Year's Parade. Members were trying to convey to the larger Asian community that gay and bisexual men had always been there. The group won best float.

"Being invisible creates the mentality that we're not involved," said Nguyen. "So GAPA always tries to push for visibility."

Nguyen described keynote speaker Park as "just a regular guy."

"He was inspired to run for office because of attacks on Obamacare," said Nguyen, referring to the Affordable Care Act. "His mom is fighting cancer. We're really excited to have him - he represents the way GAPA could be. GAPA aspires to have national influence by supporting elected officials like Representative Park. We hope by bringing Sam Park as our keynote speaker that he inspires a new generation of queer and trans Asian Pacific Islanders to run for office."

"It's a great honor to be invited to be the keynote speaker for GAPA's 30th anniversary as the first gay Asian male to be elected to the Georgia House," Park told the B.A.R. in a phone call. "I support and commend the work GAPA has been doing to lift up and empower voices from our community."

Nguyen referred to President Donald Trump as a "major crisis."

"Trump's Muslim ban, DACA, Dreamers, and the trans military ban," he said, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and children who were brought to the U.S. by their parents. "There are countless attacks coming from Trump. What can we do? We can bring our communities together and find more of our people who can run for office and engage with people who are supporting our interests."

Nguyen emphasized that GAPA's focus has changed over the years.

"We became more inclusive in the 2000s," he said. "We changed our bylaws to be more inclusive because it's reflective of the world."

In addition to its political activism, GAPA offers a variety of social programs including a monthly happy hour, a brunch group, and a book club. Cultural programs include GAPA Men's Chorus, and GAPA Theater, a storytelling workshop.

GAPA cultural chair Dino Duazo spoke about these programs.

"GAPA was founded from a deep desire for our needs as queer Asians and Pacific Islanders to be addressed," said Duazo. "We hoped to see change, that unfortunately, is not yet within reach, as the current political climate abundantly makes clear. Although queer APIs are more numerous and integrated into the community, the need for that safe space where our needs aren't ignored or pushed aside still matters. Creating a sense of community with others who are familiar with where you're coming from means a lot."

Duazo also talked about the goals of the organization's cultural committee.

"For the cultural committee, our aim is to provide our voices and our perspectives to the discussion," he said. "To get a sense of empowerment and inclusion. Just like Black Panther et al touches the black community, so do we want to have the same type of impact, even if on a smaller scale."

Legacy takes place Saturday, May 12, at 6 p.m. at the Century Club of California, 1355 Franklin Street in San Francisco. Tickets are $150 and can be purchased at http://www.gapa.org.

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