Our experience is governed by varying axes of oppression and privilege, which can make for isolating interactions with society if representation, especially in politics, is lacking. So it is great news that the number of LGBT Asian and Pacific Islanders running for office has more than doubled in the last four years.
In 2018, 20 US candidates identified as Asian and LGBT. In 2020, that only increased to 23. In 2022, 41 are recorded, according to Victory Fund.
Janini Ramachandran, a 30-year-old gay South Asian woman, felt that barely anybone could understand her specific experience due to a lack of representation.
“I think it definitely is difficult for LGBTQ South Asians to feel their full selves in different spaces,” she told NBC. “I can’t feel uncomfortable in predominantly LGBTQ spaces, because I see very few people that look like me. In predominantly South Asian spaces, I also sometimes feel uncomfortable in not being reflected.”
Ramachandran hopes to change the lack of representation by running for Oakland City Council this year. If she gets elected, she’ll be the city’s first South Asian councilmember and the only female LGBT councilmember in the state.
Experts say that politicians like Ramachandran combat the anti-Asian and homophobic hate that has escalated in recent years.
“We’re navigating a very challenging last couple of years with anti-Asian hate combined with anti-LGBTQ hate,” said Albert Fujii, press secretary of Victory Fund. “It really says something about these candidates that they’re willing to be very visible.”
Fujii says that movements like Stop Asian Hate, which addresses the Asian-specific racism amid the pandemic, have caused an increase in community members’ interest in politics.
“I think that for so many folks who are interested in public service, sometimes it takes an event or a rough couple of years to be the catalyst for getting to that moment where enough is enough,” he said.
“Obviously, we have a long way to go in terms of addressing that representation gap,” Fujii continued. “But we’ve come a long way.”
Sam Park, a 36-year-old Korean American, was the first openly gay man elected to Georgia’s state Legislature. He was elected in 2016.
“I was terrified of running as an openly gay candidate, especially with my experience of growing up as a gay Asian in the South,” said Park, who is a Democrat. “As a son of immigrants who came from humble beginnings, politics seemed inaccessible.”
“One was just being in the South and being in a conservative culture,” he said. “That was reinforced by growing up in a Korean house, which leans more conservative. … And then, I grew up a Southern Baptist. So I heard growing up that if you’re gay you’re an abomination. You go to hell.”
Park has witnessed the demographic shift since he was elected six years ago. “When it comes to Asian American political power and participation, we’ve seen a marked increase over the past five to six years, but really highlighted during the 2020 election,” he said. “In 2016, I was the only Asian American serving in the state Legislature. Now, I think there’s five or six, and each of them have made history in their own right.”
Oakland candidate Ramachandran can draw parallels between political issues in her council and India. “Bangalore shows a lot of the same problems that Oakland does when it comes to gentrification, affordable housing, pollution, infrastructure and, of course, corruption,” she said.
Ramachandran has grown up watching her mother’s fear around the police, she’s dealt with homophobia, and she’s experienced the misogyny that becomes more apparent when women try to succeed.
“I remember so clearly everyone telling me not to do it just over a year ago,” she said. “I want to show people that this is changing. Voters are ready for things that are new. And if we’re going to say we support LGBTQ leadership, API, women leadership, our own communities have to step up.”
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