Wednesday, October 20, 2010

UC Student Regent Jesse Cheng Comes Out

Jesse Cheng campaigning on campus. Photo © Daniel C. Tsang 2009.
Updated 10/26/10 9:24 PM: To listen to the 25 October 2010 KUCI Subversity show interview with Jesse Cheng, click here:
Updated 10/25/10 6:33 PM adding corrections.
Updated 10/24/10 11:26 PM: Jesse Cheng to appear on KUCI's Subversity show Monday 25 October 2010 at 5 p.m.; news from this blog travels to China. See subsequent blog entry.

In an emotional, heart-felt address, University of California Student Regent Jesse Cheng, a Chinese American senior from Cupertino, Wednesday evening October 20, 2010, came out as gay. Also identifying himself as bisexual and a "queer Asian American", Cheng, an Asian American studies major at UC Irvine, related what, over the years, led him to this very public declaration.

Years ago, apparently before he attended UCI, he had told his "homie" he liked men but his friends had beaten him up as a result, trying, he recalled, to beat the gayness out of him. He marched at his first gay pride march in San Francisco, but after his mother saw him on television, he denied it was him. At UC Irvine on Wednesday, he explained he "lived for" his mother and could not let him down. After his father found a rainbow flag he had collected, Cheng told his dad, his dad, with whom he was "not close," [CORRECTED] told him that he liked the colors. His dad always was watching his back, he told me later. He also contemplated committing suicide. All this history of denial was the backdrop to his dramatic, unexpected coming out during a dark Wednesday evening at the UC Irvine flag poles during the University's speak-out and candlelight vigil against homophobic bigotry and hate in the wake of the suicide of gay Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi last month.
Jesse Cheng (right) comes out. Photo © Daniel C. Tsang 2010. Updated: 9:32 AM October 21, 2010 adding this photo.

An emotional Cheng related how he had shared with then-Student Regent Jesse Bernal, the first openly gay Student Regent, after an earlier wave of anti-gay incidents around the UCs, that they should come out together, believing that such hatred should not happen at the UC. But Cheng didn't dare come out then. [CORRECTED: He told me later he did make a public statement as a bisexual, but spoke softly and there was no reaction.] Bernal was keynote speaker at a Harvey Milk Day at UCSC's Kresge College in May this year.

Cheng ended his talk to warm, sustained applause among the hundred or so UC Irvine students, faculty and staff listening to him.

A personal note: I have heard Jesse Cheng many times give inspiring, progressive speeches but this was the first time I felt he wasn't speaking as an activist. In fact, he spoke from the heart. Several times he almost broke down in tears. I had always known he was "one of us" -- another Asian American activist -- but this evening I was happy he was really one of us -- another queer Asian American. I went up to him and embraced him -- whispering into his ears -- "That was really powerful".
-- Daniel C. Tsang.

P.S. Jesse Cheng appeared on my KUCI Subversity show 27 July 2009.


Sarah and Katy said...

That was really really powerful! Thank you for posting a story of strength, so needed in this heartbreaking time of gay despair...

Subvert said...

Huffington Post has picked up this story:

Subvert said...

Harvard Crimson has also picked up this story...
Harvard Crimson.

The Teej said...

I would like to politely argue that if he identifies as 'bisexual,' it s entirely inaccurate to say he 'came out as gay.' That is another means of unintentionally marginalizing his identity, which was what he was fighting in the very first place.

Subvert said...

Actually he used all three terms to describe himself: gay, bi, and queer.

Kevin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.