For Jang, Pride honor is a long time coming

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday June 25, 2013
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Crystal Jang admits to being astonished that she was asked to serve as one of this year's community grand marshals in San Francisco's Pride parade. To those who know Jang's history as an activist, educator, and youth advocate, it's an honor that's been a long time coming.

She's also aware that in accepting the honor from the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee, she runs the risk of becoming embroiled in the local Bradley Manning controversy. Manning, an openly gay Army private, is currently on military trial for leaking 700,000 classified government documents to WikiLeaks. He had been named a Pride grand marshal until the board rescinded the honor last month. Many people in the community remain upset with Pride officials.

"Whatever decision the Pride Committee makes, there is going to be backlash," Jang said in a recent phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "It's okay for people to protest, that's what America is about." She emphasized the need for the dialogue to be civil and respectful.

Jang herself participated in the anti-war movement of the 1970s, as well as the feminist movement.

Jang, 66, lives with her longtime partner, Sydney Yeong. The two have been married three times (legally and otherwise, according to her biography). The couple has a teenage son, Cameron, who starts college in the fall.

Much of Jang's work has been in youth advocacy. She was the first out Asian Pacific Islander to teach in the San Francisco public school system. She served as the middle school coordinator for Sexual Minority Youth and Families, helping to develop and implement trainings to educate over 3,000 staff on issues affecting LGBT youth and families in schools. She also coordinated the first ever Transgender 101 workshop for San Francisco Unified School District staff.

The seeds for these programs were planted when Jang, a third generation San Franciscan, came out at age 13.

"I fell in love with a girl in the ninth grade," she recalled. "I wrote her a letter stating my intentions. She was kind; she didn't call me names. But she showed the letter to her friends, and they asked me if I had written it. They were put off by the letter, so I backed off a bit."

Jang remembers going to the library and looking up homosexuality.

"I read the Kinsey report, and I was within the 'range' of the 1-10 scale that they used to identify people who are gay," she said.

She recalled the early days of the gay liberation movement.

"I came out among white lesbians, because that's who accepted you," she said. "It was an adventurous time, but I couldn't find anyone who represented me."

But not everyone was accepting of her.

"The only time I was ever called a 'slanty-eyed bitch' was in a gay bar," she said. And so fighting for Asian LGBT visibility became part of her activist work.

Jang is a co-founder of two long-standing organizations: Asian Pacific Islander Queer Women and Transgender Community, and Older Asian Sisters in Solidarity. She was the recipient of APIQWTC's Phoenix Award earlier this year.

"I spent my life as the representative for Asian lesbians, and I've met some incredible people," she said. "As Asians, we've fought so hard to be included. It's important to be recognized."

It's a very humble Jang who accepted the Pride Committee's offer.

"I had no idea that my name was being considered," she said. "I was stunned. I feel like I don't deserve it. There are so many who are more visible and more deserving than me."