When UNC senior Trang Le first attended an event for Asian American and Pacific Islander LGBTQ+ students, she didn’t want to leave.
“I was like, ‘I do not want this to end,’” she said.
Three UNC student organizations — the Asian American Students Association, Kasama and Monsoon — first co-hosted a virtual event for LGBTQ+ AAPI students over Zoom in fall 2020.
Despite the virtual format, the turnout was so significant that the organizations decided to hold a second meeting in fall 2021. Union Room 3411 was packed with almost 70 people, AASA Political Chairperson Molly Moran said.
Former Monsoon co-president Juhi Modi said they wanted to focus on the community building and activism aspects of the South Asian affairs magazine when it was revived in fall 2020 — which is how they landed on the idea for a collaborative event with other Asian American student organizations.
"It's hard within that community, I think, to find solidarity with LGBTQ+ peoples, and space for us to come up and talk about our shared experiences," Modi said. "I think it's just like, very vital for any minority identity to have community and spaces for that. It just, I think, builds a lot of hope."
And that community has continued past its first few meetings.
Le created a GroupMe after the first virtual meeting to start building connections — and after the big in-person turnout, Moran asked the chat about possible interest in more regular meetings.
The answer was an overwhelming yes.
“I really wanted to continue this and make sure that it was like a lasting community and people were actually getting to know each other,” Moran said. “I feel like that's such an important part, especially of being LGBTQ+, and also being Asian American, is feeling like you do have a place.”
They added that the goal of the collaboration between different student organizations was just that: making everyone feel like they have a place at these meetings, regardless of their spot in the Asian American identity.
Sophomore transfer student Jasmin Benas, a member of Kasama, said she originally just attended meetings because she was interested in meeting more people who share her identities. The meetings have turned into a great bonding experience for her, especially with her Kasama "big."
“I think those friendships, while they haven't deepened yet, they're little seeds,” she said. “And they'll sprout.”
The first few meetings were more educational, looking at topics such as the history of being LGBTQ+ in Asian countries and as an Asian American, for example.
“It was very educational,” Benas said of the February meeting, which focused on Asian, LGBTQ+ representation in pop culture. “It kind of enlightened me to the fact that there's more LGBTQ+ Asian media that I should be consuming.”
The most recent meetings, and the ones looking forward, are more focused on building community and celebrating intersectional identity.
The March meeting was a movie night, and the April meeting next week will be a celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. While the official month is May, the University celebrates it in April while more students, faculty and staff are on campus.
Modi said it brings them joy that these meetups continue to happen because community building in this way is a form of resilience.
There can be a tendency to focus on the trauma or struggles of marginalized identities, Moran said — and while it’s important to have those conversations, trauma fatigue can be emotionally and mentally draining.
“It's really important to hear more than just the struggles of our community,” Moran said. “That's why I think having celebrations and having fun together is so important. You can finally focus on celebrating your identity instead of just thinking about all the things that you can struggle through.”
She said that in wanting to have a space specifically focused on both LGBTQ+ and Asian American identities, she wants people to feel like they are fully heard and seen, and to have conversations acknowledging the nuances of intersectionality.
The next meetup will be on Thursday, April 13 from 6 to 7 p.m. in Genome 010.
“If I'm in a white, queer space, I kind of have to tone down my Asian-ness, or if I'm in like an Asian, straight place, I have to turn down my queerness,” Le said. “And just being able to fully showcase both of my identities around people who also have those identities, and will definitely celebrate that, is really wonderful.”
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