May 13, 2022
During Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we are celebrating LGBTQ2S+ artists and advocates whose creativity and commitment to visibility, truth, and community has made–and continues to make–a powerful impact in our communities.
Truong Tran (he/him) is a visual artist and writer who has been honored and nominated for numerous awards, such as The Poetry Center Prize, The Fund for Poetry Grant, and more. Truong currently teaches at Mills College, in Oakland, California. The intersection of his identities as a Vietnamese American, immigrant, person of color, and gay man – are central throughout his literature and art. In an interview with The Pen Ten, Truong explains his personal truths: “I have a responsibility to write about [American] histories as it informs the ways I move through the world. It is a shared responsibility. In this way, writing holds the consciousness of my complicated identity.” Truong writes and makes art out of necessity, so as to prevent other people from illustrating, or not illustrating, his narrative for him.
Lehuauakea (they/them) is a māhū (third gender) mixed-Native Hawaiian artist from the Big Island and a graduate of the Pacific Northwest College of Art. Their work explores cultural ecologies within the context of environmental degradation through media such as ohe kāpala (carved bamboo printing tools), kapa (bark cloth), and natural pigments. Lehuauakea’s upbringing was filled with indigenous practices and handicraft traditions that fuel their art. For example, kapa is a cloth used for clothing and bedding; newborn babies are born into kapa, and the remains of people who have passed away are buried in the cloth. Lehuauakea’s laborious art process materializes the intimate narratives and resiliency of them, their community, and their ancestors.
Ka-Man Tse (she/her) is a queer photographer whose work has been exhibited in her native Hong Kong and the US. Her project “narrow distances” is composed of portraits of Hong Kong’s LGBTQ2S+ community, which is her inherited and chosen family. The book is composed of photographs from a 14-year period (2004-2018); the various portraits serve the purpose of centering people who are often marginalized and positioning them so that they occupy space. Ka-Man describes her work process as one that involves “re-visiting, re-imagining, collaboration and long-engagement within a framework of care and community.” She inspires unique creative processes from her students too – Ka-Man has lectured at Yale University and Cooper Union, and now holds professorship at the Parsons School of Design in New York City.
Ora Lin (they/them) is a Chinese American YouTuber and self-taught sewist. Their welcoming tutorials guide viewers through historical sewing projects and techniques, interspersed with occasional contemporary designs. Many of Ora’s videos provide social commentary on the interconnectedness of identity and intersectionality with fashion, costuming, and culture. Their recent Youtube video demonstrates how to sew a Regency dress – a 19th century long ankle length dress, with a high empire waistline, resting just under the bust – and is interspersed with commentary on how the hit Netflix series Bridgerton does the bare minimum in terms of inclusion and representation. In Ora’s own words::
“As it is, Bridgerton is already “progressive” as far as what media is pushing. Currently, it’s capitalism, it’s white supremacy. You can’t really expect anything different. I wish we could.”
Tamara Ching (she/her) is a long-time Chinese Hawaiian activist who advocates for LGBTQ2S+ communities in San Francisco. She became active in San Francisco’s sex work and drag scenes in the 1960s and is now a “Mommy” in her Asian transgender community. Tamara’s work continues as she fights for protections for transgender people in San Francisco, HIV prevention, and education within the community. In an interview for the Stanford Pride Oral History Project, Tamara describes her upbringing with absent parents, abusive siblings, and racial harassment at school. Despite these early hardships, she found success and a sense of autonomy through sex work, and eventually, administrative roles under the federal government. Tamara’s activism in the 1980s led her to be the first and only person to receive a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to support immigrant transgender sex workers. Her extensive advocacy continues to leave a lasting mark on San Francisco’s LGBTQ2S+ community.