By Kendra Sitton
Over the past several years, Asian American Pacific Islander (API) LGBT+ people have been organizing to have a larger presence in Pride-related events and build a distinct community with each other.
Volunteers founded QAPIMEDA (Queer Asian Pacific Islander Middle Eastern Desi American Coalition) in 2018 and hosted year-round social events and social justice actions. From there, queer Asian Americans formed their own contingent in the Pride Parade and in 2019 had a pan-Asian Night Market in the Pride festival that was similar, but much smaller than, the Black and Latine stages at Pride.
This year, QAPIMEDA (Queer Asian Pacific Islander Middle Eastern Desi American) held its first API Pride week with events like a “Fire Island” showing, a bonfire, a webinar on “Colorism and the Model Minority Myth,” and a poetry night. This came after the group convinced the San Diego County Board of Supervisors to declare May 29-June 4 Queer Trans API Week.
QAPIMEDA was founded years before the rise in anti-Asian hate coinciding with the pandemic and the more recent targeting of LGBT+ people by conservatives. This is not to say that either community was ever free of discrimination, just that fear and safety concerns have increased lately.
Amid this targeted hate, QAPIMEDA stepped onto the national stage and has hosted two “National State of the LGBT API Movement” webinars. National partners for the address included Planned Parenthood, The Trevor Project, The National LGBTQ Task Force, National Center for Trans Equality, Equality Florida, and the National Queer API Alliance.
The cancelation of large-scale in-person Pride events in 2020 and 2021 could have slowed QAPIMEDA’s progress down. Instead, this gave the organizers more time to plan for a much larger presence at the festival.
This year, the pan-Asian Night Market at the festival is expanding and moving to a more populated area of the festival. In a grassy area near the LatinX coalition and Black coalition’s stage, the market will include a small stage for API artists and drag performers, resources from API-serving organizations and a photo booth.
“It’s really just on the grass and a place for folks to get resources and lounge in an API space,” said Alex Villafuerte, a QAPIMEDA co-founder.
He shared that the space will be filled with lanterns and other culturally competent decorations. The food vendors around the area will also be serving Asian and Pacific Islander food.
The market used to be located on the lower loop which receives less foot traffic so food vendors hesitated to set up near there. The new location means many longtime vendors will get to support QAPIMEDA while still profiting from the event.
The efforts to create this space began in 2015. Prior to that, San Diego Pride under the leadership of Larry Baza and Vertez Burks in the 1990s created a multicultural stage to combat BIPOC erasure among the predominantly white LGBT+ community.
San Diego used to have a separate Black Pride which eventually folded, as well as a LatinX Pride. When that happened, San Diego Pride committed to having a LatinX stage, called Mundo Latino, and Black stage, called the Movement Stage.
“Each one of those stages is really all about that LGBTQ people exist, that we’re diverse and that we can celebrate our culture, our heritage, and be LGBTQ at the same time and what that looks like is distinct,” said Pride Executive Director Fernando Lopez.
Meanwhile, the API community struggled to create such an area from scratch. In 2015, an API group had one tent at the festival.
“After seeing what was built out for the LatinX and the Black coalition, a lot of these API organizers were wondering why there isn’t a space for API folks,” Villafuerte said.
While it has taken several years, LGBT API people now have a place of their own to celebrate Pride with each other.
“It’s a safe space that honors and uplifts those specific intersections as well as making sure that the performers, that DJs, the drag entertainers that are there, are from that community,” Villafuerte explained. “So folks can see themselves on stage and really, truly let down their hair and be there as their full identity rather than just their LGBTQ identity.”
He believes the space will make people feel even more welcome at Pride events.
“I think quite often for marginalized communities, especially for those who are living on the intersection of being LGBTQ and API, there’s often times where you’ll feel like you’re entering one space or the other and leaving part of your identity behind,” he said. “So for LGBTQ folks who are API, you can bring your whole identity there; show up as your true self.”
The Pan-Asian Night Market has performances scheduled from 2-6 p.m. on both days of the festival. Musicians, artists and DJs to expect at the stage include Jnav, Janel Acan, DJ Zareen, DJ Terry Jasinto, Beans, and DJ Heabnasty. Fierce Grace, the San Diego Queer Color Guard, will also be performing. In addition, a Pursuasian Nation Drag Show will happen each evening featuring J Lau Farrow, Luna Deathwish, Sam Paguita, Thai Teaze, Vanya Von Doom and Vanity Jones.
Lopez praised the coalition for choosing artists that use their platforms for the good of the community and reflect an array of queer identities as well as ethnic identities. There will be Middle Eastern, Desi, South Asian and other performers.
“Those choices were made with such intentionality… that when those coalition’s get up there, they’re not just saying, ‘Oh, there’s only one type of AAPI representation here.’ They were really intentional about showcasing their diversity,” Lopez said.
Villafuerte encourages people to come by and let organizers know what they like about the area and what can be improved. Already, QAPIMEDA is planning on expanding the space when it returns for its third year.
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.