Youth in the LGBTQ community can have an extremelydifficult time navigating a world that can seem like it wasn’tdesigned for them. That can be exacerbated by growingup in a household that is less accepting of homosexuality.And while a household in any culture can be hostiletoward an LGBTQ youth, traditional Asian households canbe particularly problematic.
The International Gay and Lesbian Human RightsCommission (IGLHRC) performeda studythat looked atLGBTQ youth from Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, ThePhilippines and Sri Lanka over a three year period andfound that not only did gay and transgender youth faceviolence from family members, family were actually themain perpetrators of violence — physical, emotional andsexual — much of the time.
Grace Poore, IGLHRC’s Asia programme coordinator andthe main coordinator for the research project, pointed toreligious upbringing as a potential hindrance toacceptance of homosexuality.
“What stood out was that in countries that had a dominantreligion, and where it was being enforced in a way wherepeople’s dignity, people’s rights and ability to be different [was not respected], there was definitely greater violence.Whatever was going on outside the family seemed to bemirrored or reflected back within the family,” Poore said inan interview with theInter Press Servicenews agency.
Adding to this difficulty is the lack of resources for LGTBQyouth in Asian countries.The IGLHRC’sreport found thereis little to no counselling services or shelters for youngpeople in this traditionally vulnerable subset of thepopulation. Any organizations that do offer services for theLGTBQ community can suffer backlash from governmentsand the local community.
Some countries, like Malaysia, have religious police thatenforce Islamic and Sharia law, which forbidshomosexuality. There are even programs in Malaysia toidentify effeminate boys in school and have them sent tospecial religious camps.
Over 70 countries have laws that outright criminalizehomosexuality — many of those in Asia — and thepenalties range from imprisonment to death by execution.Throughout the entire continent, only Taiwan has legalizedsame-sex marriage. Only a dozen Asian countriessupported the United NationsGeneral Assembly’s 2011declaration for LGBT rights while nearly two dozen opposed it
with the rest neither supportingnoropposing it.
Asian Youth in the United States
Even though LGBTQ rights are recognized to a varyingdegree in every state in the United States, young peopleof Asian descent can still find it incredibly difficult to comeout to their parents because, as reported in theHumanRights Channel, they are often afraid of rejection,disappointing their parents and/or bringing shame to theirfamilies.
Adding to this anxiety is a culture of silence arounddiscussing problems and, in turn, viewing an offspring’sLGBTQ orientation as a problem that should not be openlydiscussed. It is not uncommon for Asian Americans to beopenly out among work colleagues and friends, but stillcloseted to their families.
Some fear that their families will think their sexualorientation is a product of them being “Americanized” or
“Westernized” and thus they choose to come out in theirparents’ native language to show that it is not simply aproduct of culture.
Another factor that plays into some Asian AmericanLGTBQ youths’ reluctance to talk about their sexualorientation is the fact that because they live in apredominantly white country, they are “double minorities”in the US, which can add extra anxiety for them.
According to theNational Association of StudentPersonnel Administrators, LGBTQ college students faceincreased harassment and alienation while at school andfor Asian American youth, that can be doubled by the factthat they are already a racial minority and now have todeal with being another kind of minority in the country.
And, even though colleges have counsellors for students,many are ill-equipped to handle such double minoritystatus and the hardships that come with it.
Supporting LGTBQ Asian AmericanChildren
Homosexuality and issues of gender nonconformity can besensitive areas for Asian households, particularly highlyreligious ones. Generally, Asian cultures put a high priorityon conformity and obedience. Sons are expected to carryon the family name and daughters are expected to marryand produce offspring for their husbands, so families canfind it difficult to come to terms with children who buckthese strict obligations. Add in families who adhere toreligious beliefs that condemn homosexuality and it can bean unwelcoming environment for these young people.
If a child comes out to you, you don’t have to accept theirdeclaration immediately, but you should say somethinginstead of offering only silence. This has been anextremely difficult decision for them and they may beanticipating backlash or discomfort. If you require sometime to process the information, it is fair to thank them fortalking to you and letting them know you need some timeto process it.
When you are ready, you can talk with your child about itmore and let them know you accept them for who they areand that you’re not ashamed of them.
Try to find a support group you can attend in your localarea to help you deal with this new reality. Some supportgroups in the US include:
- Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians andGays (PFLAG)
- API Family Pride(For people of Asian-Pacificdescent)
- Trikone(For people of South Asian descent inthe San Francisco area)
If you feel like your religion prohibits you from acceptingyour child’s LGBTQ status, you may have to make somedifficult decisions about whether you hold your family oryour faith to be of greater importance. Try to find a way toreconcile both in your life if you can.
While it may be difficult for you to accept the reality ofhaving an LGBTQ child, try to put yourself in their shoes.The most important thing is to support them and let themknow you still love them and you are not ashamed of them. Remember that this is not a choice they’ve made, it’s a realization they’ve come to about themselves andthey need the love and support of family members.