Another Parade: The Olympics and LGBTQ Asians and Pacific Islanders

Guest Post by Glenn D. Magpantay, Executive Director of the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance

Sports was never my thing. In high school gym class, I would always be the last person to be picked for a team. No one wanted me. I was too fat. Too slow. And I was uncomfortable in my body. The jocks called me queer for being effeminate.

But, today, I’m captivated by the Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang. They show us how we can be all of who we are—that we can live our lives authentically and achieve our fullest potential in whatever we do. They also remind me that the world is still a dangerous place to be LGBTQ.

LGBTQ API Athletes

There are moving stories of LGBTQ API athletes. Julie Wu Chu is a Chinese lesbian and four-time Olympian who competed on Team USA's women's hockey team. Esera Tavai Tuaolo is a gay Pacific Islander who played defensive tackle for the NFL Green Bay Packers. Amazin LêThị was a Vietnamese professional bodybuilder who now promotes HIV/AIDS awareness and equality for LGBTQ youth. Schuyler Bailar is a trans man on Harvard’s Men’s Swimming and Diving team who won the national championship for the Capital Swim Club.

I'm proud of these role models. The break the stereotype of Asians as "mathletes" or only able to compete on Team STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). These LGBTQ Asian and Pacific Islander athletes show us that we can excel in both mind and body.

LGBTQ Rights in Asia and the Pacific

During the Olympic opening ceremony, I reveled in watching the parade of nations. I learned about new countries and picked up a few fun facts. But, who parades for LGBTQ rights in Asia and the Pacific?

We only hear about the extreme news-making events, like Taiwan's decision to allow same-sex marriage or the public shaving of trans women’s heads by police in Indonesia. There is so much more.

Many countries in Asia and the Pacific don't recognize same-sex marriage, lack LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws, and do not allow their residents to change their legal gender. Some of the most hostile were Malaysia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, and Kiribati.

But other countries espouse protections for LGBTQ people. Whereas Fiji and Samoa's laws are mote tolerant. Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan recognize a third gender.

The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) produced fact sheets and infomaps on the state of LGBTQ rights in Asia and the Pacific.

LGBTQ Rights without Remedies in South Koreas

I'm delighted that South Korea is playing host to many LGBTQ international visitors during the Games. But, let's not forget about the queer and trans Koreans who live their lives everyday there.

South Korea's laws grant LGBTQ people rights without remedies. The country's non-discrimination laws are purportedly inclusive of LGBTQ people, but victims of anti-LGBTQ discrimination have no mechanisms for relief or redress. The South Korean President has publicly opposed same-sex marriage. South Korea should finally enact laws to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, which has been languishing in the legislature.

The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang puts our community, our rights, and the local LGBTQ community in South Korea on the world stage. Let's take this moment to celebrate API athletes who are LGBTQ. Let's take respectful action to urge South Korea to enact meaningful protections to guard against anti-LGBTQ bias. And, let's educate ourselves and the public about the state of LGBTQ rights in Asia and the Pacific.

School kids like how I once was, who might be fat, fem, or Asian, deserve so much more in a changing world.

Glenn D. Magpantay is the Executive Director of the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance. NQAPIA is a nationwide federation of LGBT Asian American, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander (API) organizations. We seek to build the organizational capacity of local LGBT API groups, develop leadership, and expand collaborations to better challenge LGBT-bias and racism. Follow at #nqapia.

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