Exhibit showcases acceptance of LGBTQ APIs

  • by J.L. Odom
  • Wednesday January 24, 2024
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Belinda Dronkers-Laureta, director of Asian and Pacific Islander Family Pride, talked about the "API Family Wall of Pride" exhibit at its January 19 opening reception at the GLBT Historical Society Museum. Photo: J.L. Odom
Belinda Dronkers-Laureta, director of Asian and Pacific Islander Family Pride, talked about the "API Family Wall of Pride" exhibit at its January 19 opening reception at the GLBT Historical Society Museum. Photo: J.L. Odom

The on-and-off rain January 19 didn't deter a crowd from gathering in the GLBT Historical Society Museum in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood for the opening reception of the "API Family Wall of Pride" exhibition.

The community-focused exhibition centers on Asian and Pacific Islander LGBTQ+ individuals' recognition of family members, as well as others, who have had a positive impact on their lives — namely by championing them and demonstrating love and kindness in the face of adversity and social stigma.

"For folks who may feel disconnected from their families to be able to see and be inspired, for folks that are questioning how they can show up and be of support to their family members, I think this exhibit is going to make that happen," said GLBT Historical Society Executive Director Roberto Ordeñana, a gay man.

As Ordeñana noted, the museum, which opened in 2011, is the first of its kind in the U.S. in terms of its exclusive focus on LGBTQ+ history and culture. The "API Wall of Pride," the latest installment in the queer-devoted space, will be on view until June.

For the exhibition, the historical society partnered with Asian and Pacific Islander Family Pride, a nonprofit based in the Bay Area. Belinda Dronkers-Laureta co-founded the organization with her husband, John Dronkers-Laureta; she has since served as its director.

About the collaboration with the historical society to showcase the exhibit in the museum, she shared that she's "glad that this happened."

API Family Pride's mission, as stated on its site, is "to end the isolation of Asian and Pacific Islander families with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender members through support, education, and dialog[ue]." Since the founding of the organization in 2004, the Dronkers-Lauretas have sought to bring greater awareness to, and promote the acceptance of, diverse sexual orientations and genders in API families and the greater API community.

Said Ordeñana, "I am so inspired by the work that Belinda and John have done over the years to not only bring visibility to the love of families and the acceptance of our queer children and our queer siblings, but really [to ensure] that the legacy of these families lives on."

At the opening, visitors gathered in the hallway space immediately past the museum's entrance and reception area, where the "Wall of Pride" is mounted. Positioned across from the GLBT Historical Society's apparel and gifts section and the "Doris Fish: Ego as Artform" exhibit, it consists of two rows of 14 rectangular poster boards (28 in total), featuring "API Pride Honor Roll" individuals.

Each board includes a photograph of the person; a statement about them, written by an API LGBTQ+ family member, that highlights their supportiveness; and a brief biography.

One of the boards, for instance, features the Dronkers-Lauretas, whose son, Lance Dronkers, is gay. Another is dedicated to Dawning Chung and includes her daughter Cecilia Chung's acknowledgement of, and gratitude for, her mother's support. Part of Cecilia Chung's written dedication to her mother reads, "When my father kicked me out in 1992, my mother risked everything to continue supporting me, to keep me from becoming totally homeless. In 1998, she gave me the financial support for my sex change operation and she slowly helped me reconcile with my father and my grandparents."

Chung, a transgender woman who is HIV-positive, is a member of the San Francisco Health Commission and senior director of strategic initiatives and evaluation at the Oakland-based Transgender Law Center.

Most of the boards pay tribute to immediate family members, such as mothers, fathers, both parents, and siblings, though one expresses appreciation for the California Teachers Association and another recognizes Bay Area pastor the Reverend Michael Yoshii of the Buena Vista Methodist Church in Alameda (who retired from the position in 2020).

While each story on the wall is unique, the themes of acceptance, love, and support of API LGBTQ+ family members are discernible across the boards.

"This is a big deal, no matter what generation you're from," said reception attendee Naomi Kitajima, former director of health services at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills.

Kitajima, who identifies as a cis woman, an ally and "embracing" of the LGBTQ+ community, shared that she's attended previous API Family Pride events and has appreciated Belinda Dronkers-Laureta's ongoing efforts throughout the years.

Kitajima commented, "She [Dronkers-Laureta] went out to the community and said, 'Hey, as APIs, we need to support our kids.' And so she started it from the very beginning."

At the reception, Dronkers-Laureta said that she has perceived her work as conveying the message of, "Your child is who he is or who she is, and accept them for who they are. That's your child." She said that someone else once described her work as "putting families together."

API Family Pride became a 501(c)(3) organization in 2004; during that same year, the conservative Christian "Mayday for Marriage" rally took place in Washington, D.C., drawing thousands of participants.

Dronkers-Laureta said that families, at the time, asked what they should do in response to the anti-LGBTQ+ march and negative perception of the LGBTQ+ community.

"And so we threw a banquet to celebrate us, our family, our LGBT family," explained Dronkers-Laureta.

During the inaugural and in subsequent "Family Presentation" banquets, held at Hotel Whitcomb (now temporarily closed) in San Francisco, "API Wall of Pride" people were announced and honored in person, with nominations for individuals and organizations submitted prior to the gatherings.

Dronkers-Laureta shared that the inception of the "API Pride Honor Roll" and corresponding boards was the work of API LGBTQ+ family members: "The family had said, 'We are going to honor you; we're going to put you on stage. And I said, 'Put us on stage?'"

Dronkers-Laureta noted that she still has the first 10 boards that were unveiled at the 2004 banquet.

The exhibit's name also derived from one of the banquets. According to Dronkers-Laureta, one of the parents in attendance, when looking at the boards, said, "I love that wall of pride."

"We've honored all these parents and families who were just happy with their family and accepted their family," said Dronkers-Laureta.

Acceptance has not been the case in all families, though, as Kitajima shared that her own parents were unsupportive of her gay brother, who also attended the reception.

"My parents never overly recognized him in any way or helped support him in any way for his identity," Kitajima said. "She [Dronkers-Laureta] tried to get my parents, or my mother in particular, to put up one of these, and my mother being an Asian person, second generation (Nisei), said nothing."

"At the time I said, 'I would love for us to be with them, with our brother, up here,' but they never did it," she added.

Kitajima now has a gay son, whom she hopes will consider being included.

"I'm going to read them all, and I'm going to take pictures of them. And I hope that either my brother will suggest it because I don't feel that it's my place to suggest it or my son will say, 'You know, I'd like to be up there on that wall, too.'"

There are approximately 50 "Wall of Pride" boards in total, and the plan is to change them out every week or biweekly throughout the exhibit's tenure in the museum, said Dronkers-Laureta. In doing so, visitors can see and read about even more "Honor Roll" individuals, with each poster board showcasing API LGBTQ+ pride, inclusivity, and family and cultural ties across generations.

As Ordeñana noted, "Right now, we continue to see really horrible attacks against some of the most vulnerable members of our LGBTQ family and community, particularly our trans and gender-nonbinary community members [and] our drag communities all across the country. And so lifting up history — preserving, exhibiting, and learning from our past so that we can envision a brighter future — has never been more important."

The GLBT Historical Society's museum is located at 4127 18th Street in San Francisco. Hours are Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. More information can be found at glbthistory.org/museum.

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