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Grace Kim

Race and Ethnicity

Issue Brief

20 April 2015

LGBT Asian Americans
Key Words:

  • Double minority

  • Identity development

  • Cultural Identity

  • Sexual Identity

  • Norms and expectations

Short Description:
LGBT Asian Americans are subject to double minority status as marginalized groups in both ethnoracial and LGBT communities. In addition, LGBT Asian Americans have to confront the frictional interaction between their cultural and sexual identities, both of which serve as important realms that shape an individual’s holistic identity.
Key Points:

  1. Because both Asian Americans and the LGBT community are minorities in the US, LGBT Asian Americans are subject to a double minority status.

  2. Asian Americans are subject to conservative cultural norms, and identification as a homosexual rejects these norms, creating tension between the LGBT Asian Americans and the greater Asian American community.

  3. The LGBT community can be racist, with media portrayal of lesbians and gays being predominantly white, which negatively affects Asian American entry into the LGBT community.

  4. A qualitative study has shown that most LGBT Asian Americans, if asked, chose to identify as a member of the LGBT community rather than the Asian American community.


source: Gallup
According to the 2010 US Census, Asian Americans consist of roughly 5% of the US population. Additionally, of the 3.4% Americans who identified as LGBT in a 2012 Gallup poll, 4.3% of Asian Americans personally identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. As one of the smallest ethnoracial groups, Asian Americans are already a minority in the United States, but with the additional identity as a member of the LGBT community, they are subject to a double minority status. Because both of these communities are marginalized, LGBT Asian Americans face issues with identity development and have to confront the frictional interaction between their cultural and sexual identities. This friction stems mainly from cultural expectations, and may eventually pressure these individuals to choose between one identity and the other. macintosh hd:users:gracekim92:desktop:screen shot 2015-04-20 at 11.50.42 pm.png

Cultural and sexual orientation embodies two major dimensions around which individuals figure out who they are and how they root their identities. There are several factors within the Asian American culture, including gender role expectations and denial of the existence of Asian-American lesbians and gays, which negatively react with identification as LGBT. For instance, the family is valued as the primary social unit within the Asian culture. Within the family dynamics of the Asian culture, both parents and elders demand a lot of respect and obedience, and expect conformity to the cultural values, which includes accepting the sharp delineations of gender roles (Greene). Men are expected to continue the family lineage and name, whereas women are expected to recognize the importance of being a dutiful daughter, wife and mother. Identifying as LGBT would essentially reject these gender expectations – a man identifying as gay would threaten the continuation of the family line, while a woman identifying as lesbian would reject her role as a wife and mother. They also may be subject to shame, including their mothers, who are responsible for raising their children to accept appropriate roles within the culture (Greene). With these familial and gender expectations, LGBT Asian Americans face cultural obstacles because they are essentially “rejecting” their cultural norms.

source: gapimny
Although our current generation is more accepting of various identities, acknowledgement of LGBT individuals within the Asian American community may be restricted due to their outlook on homosexuality. Older generations of Asian Americans deny the existence of lesbians and gays, and many perceive homosexuality as a “white, Western phenomenon” (Chan). An increase in media portrayal of LGBT Asian Americans may help mediate and accept the presence of Asians in the LGBT community, but currently, media portrayals ignore, devalue and exclude LGBT Asian Americans despite the fact that they’re ready to join the LGBT community (Florido). Asians are practically non-existent in gay media and publications, unless it is to satisfy a fantasy of an “Orient” (Han). When Asians have been portrayed in the media, however, they are portrayed as the feminized “other” to masculinized white males (Han). Because of this racial invisibility in media and publications, Asian Americans face societal barriers even beyond their familial expectations. macintosh hd:users:gracekim92:desktop:screen shot 2015-03-02 at 10.22.00 pm.png

Ultimately, because LGBT Asian Americans are oppressed on the basis of both their race and sexual orientation, they may feel pressured to choose one identity over the other. Connie Chan conducted a study including 19 Asian American lesbians and 16 Asian American gay men to qualitatively assess the possible issues in identity development among Asian-American lesbians and gay men. After gathering all surveys, the results indicated that self-identification of lesbian and gay Asian Americans depended on several factors, including choice of community identification (LGBT vs. Asian American), choice of terms (Asian American lesbian/gay vs. lesbian/gay Asian American), situational factors such as whether they had disclosed their sexual orientation to their families and the Asian American community, and perceptions of how they are perceived by the LGBT community. Most of the respondents identified with their lesbian or gay identities than with their Asian American identities, but indicated that acknowledgment of both identities was preferred. Due to the small sample size, Chan emphasizes that these results may not be generalizable to the larger LGBT Asian American population. However, identity development is fluid and an individual may choose to identify more closely with either communities depending on need and situational factors. LGBT Asian Americans nevertheless feel tension from both communities, whether it’s homophobia from the Asian American community or racism from the LGBT community, which results in this “identity tug-o-war.”

Works Cited
Chan, Connie S. "Issues of identity development among AsianAmerican lesbians and gay

men." Journal of Counseling & Development 68.1 (1989): 16-20.

Chung, Y. Barry, and Motoni Katayama. "Ethnic and sexual identity development of

Asian-American lesbian and gay adolescents." Professional School

Counseling (1998): 21-25. (not yet included in the brief)

"Coming Out Issues for Asian Pacific Americans." Human Rights Campaign. Web. 2

Mar. 2015.


Florido, Mark Anthony. "Challenges for Asian American LGBT Students." NASPA. N.p.,

22 Jan. 2014. Web. 2 Mar. 2015.

Gates, Gary J., and Frank Newport. "Special Report: 3.4% of U.S. Adults Identify as LGBT."

Gallup. 18 Oct. 2012. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.

Greene, Beverly. "Ethnic-minority lesbians and gay men: mental health and treatment issues." Journal of consulting and clinical psychology 62.2 (1994).

Han, Chong-suk. "Geisha of a different kind: Gay Asian men and the gendering of sexual

identity." Sexuality and Culture 10.3 (2006): 3-28.
Relevant Websites

  • “Q-wave is an organization for people of Asian Pacific-Islander descent who identify as lesbian, female, bisexual, or transgendered and for anyone who is questioning her identity or sexual orientation”

  • Gay Asian and Pacific Islander Men of NY

  • “Founded in 1990, the Gay Asian Pacific Islander Men of New York (GAPIMNY) is an all-volunteer, membership-based organization whose goal is to empower gay, bisexual, queer and questioning Asian and Pacific Islander (API) men and transgender folks through a range of social, educational, peer-support, cultural, and political activities.”

  • News articles/media portrayal of LGBT Asians

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