Sports were 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. Yet, the Winter Olympic Games have always captivated me.
Today, I’m bummed that many LGBTQ+ Asian athletes are either not out as LGBTQ+ or have withdrawn due to China’s policies regarding LGBTQ+ public figures. But some 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+.
I’ll be cheering on Alysa Liu, who will be competing in Figure Skating for Team USA in Beijing. Alysa uses she/they pronouns and hangs a lesbian flag in their room. There are other moving stories of LGBTQ+ API athletes.
Julie Wu Chu is a Chinese lesbian who competed on Team USA in 2018, competing for gold in ice hockey. Esera Tavai Tuaolo (pictured) 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 and 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. They 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.
The Olympics opens with the ceremonial Parade of Nations. 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 still do not 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.
While other countries espouse some protections for LGBTQ+ people. Fiji and Samoa’s laws are more tolerant. Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan recognize a third gender. That’s progress, but not enough. High school kids like how I once was, who might be fat, femme, or Asian, deserve so much more in a changing world.
Glenn D. Magpantay, Esq. is a long-time civil rights attorney, professor of law and Asian American Studies, and 30-year veteran LGBTQ rights activist and former Executive Director of NQAPIA. He is principal at Magpantay & Associates: a nonprofit consulting and legal services firm. Connect with him on Linked In www.linkedin.com/in/glenn-d-magpantay-esq or follow him on Twitter at @magpantay_glenn