Tuesday, May 14, 2013

UCI Executive Vice Chancellor Candidate Faces Opposition

Update 5/12/2013: UCI has hired as EVC/Provost Howard Gillman.  The UCI statement on its EVC search page includes a Q&A with Dr. Gillman on the issues raised in the IFA letter: 

As you know, a small group of faculty members raised concerns about tenure decisions during your deanship that adversely affected minority faculty and women.  How do you respond to the concerns?

This group’s criticism of my record on tenure cases for women and minorities is not based on the facts. In the latest manual for the University Committee on Appointments, Promotions, and Tenure (UCAPT), USC reports that from the academic year 2006-2007 through 2011-2012—which is the term of my deanship – 86 percent of the tenure-track faculty university-wide who completed the UCAPT process were granted tenure, with the proportion of women receiving tenure nearly identical to the rate for men (1.2 percent higher for women), and with almost identical rates for faculty who identify themselves as non-Hispanic whites and those who identified themselves as ethnic minorities (1.2 percent lower for ethnic minorities).  None of these inter-group differences are statistically significant, indicating that there has been no uneven or partial treatment of faculty in tenure cases.  Tellingly, I think, neither the faculty Academic Senate nor the college’s elected Faculty Council share the concerns that have been expressed by these individuals.

In addition, I’d like to respond to the group’s mention of “cold call” reference checks made during a tenure process.  Throughout most of my deanship, USC’s process did not contemplate that deans could supplement dossiers by seeking additional input from scholars, so that was not my practice. Toward the end of my term the official process was revised to permit such calls under some circumstances. After that change, my practice was still not to make such calls unless instructed to do so by the provost after a request from the faculty on the tenure committee. In one of the very few cases where this was done, a candidate who was denied tenure filed a grievance and provided USC’s student newspaper with details on her case. Her grievance was reviewed by the faculty Tenure and Privileges Committee, which found no evidence of discrimination; however, they also concluded that the lack of detailed protocol for such additional input justified having her dossier reviewed again without the supplemental input. This new review occurred earlier this year, under the leadership of the dean who succeeded me, and tenure was again denied. So my presence or absence had no bearing on that outcome.
The Irvine Faculty Association via its executive board has voiced its opposition to the EVC candidacy of a recent USC dean.  See the 12 May 2013 text of the letter sent to UCI Chancellor Michael V. Drake reproduced below.  The move comes shortly after Black student leaders at UCI issued several demands on the UCI administration and the letter warns that this potential hire and recent academic program reviews have created an "inhospitable" atmosphere at UCI.  The IFA executive board comprises: Mark LeVine (History), Chair; Irene Tucker (English), Treasurer; Eyal Amiran (Comparative Literature); James Lee (Asian American Studies); and Darryl Taylor (music).
The letter follows:

Dear Chancellor Drake:
We write on behalf of the Irvine Faculty Association, representing the IFA in accordance with our bylaws. It has come to our attention that Howard Gillman, former Dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences at USC, is the finalist of the search for a new EVC to replace Michael Gottfredson. Searches of broad concern to the campus should be conducted as openly as possible so that faculty from various areas and perspectives can raise issues that may not be evident to the necessarily few colleagues on any search committee. It is the purpose of our letter urgently to point out such issues, even if the search has reached its final stage. We are concerned for several reasons. Dean Gillman’s fairness in handling personnel cases, as well as his relationship with faculty in general and American Studies and Ethnicity faculty in particular, have been called into question by reports from USC. Given ongoing public attention to racism at UCI, Dean Gillman’s hiring particularly without public discussion or review would send a negative signal regarding UCI’s seriousness about addressing its problems. We urge you to weigh the grave impact that this choice may have.

USC colleagues convey that Dean Gillman had poor relations with USC faculty. According to current and past faculty at USC, Gillman’s renewal as dean was contested in letters written by many Humanities chairs as well as many individual faculty who complained of his lack of support for their research and lack of respect. According to their accounts, Gillman’s reappointment at the first renewal was qualified by reservations about his performance. Matters apparently did not improve during the second term, after which he was not renewed. Many senior faculty left during his term despite USC’s able financial position, and there is a perception among USC faculty that Dean Gillman’s retention and tenure decisions were uneven, unclear, and partial. This situation raises questions about his qualification to be EVC and Provost at UCI during a period of ongoing budgetary difficulty and reorganization that will require deft and professional negotiation and cultivation of trust.

Dean Gillman’s improper handling of personnel procedures is a matter of record. According to published articles, in the course of an appealed tenure case that is still pending as an EEOC complaint, it was concluded that Dean Gillman acted inappropriately to bias the proceedings by calling additional referees outside the candidate’s field. “USC’s faculty grievance panel found that ‘Dean Gillman’s phone calls to additional referees during the [review] lacked appropriate protocols, resulting in a procedural defect that materially inhibited … [the] tenure review process.’ The panel also recommended that Gillman’s ‘cold calls’ documentation be removed” from the professor’s dossier and that her case be reevaluated (http://dailytrojan.com/2013/05/02/prof-loses-tenure-bid-after-appeal/). Regardless of the merits of the professor’s case, Gillman’s behavior unduly influenced it. This conclusion appears to corroborate USC colleagues’ reports that he was out of touch and unsupportive. An endowed Professor of English, Tania Modleski, has taken the unusual step of criticizing her own institution in print. Professor Modleski published an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education analyzing the “continued erosion of faculty governance” during the period of Gillman’s tenure, erosions that opened the door to the kinds of actions in which Gillman engaged. (http://chronicle.com/blogs/conversation/2013/01/11/the-death-of-shared-governance-at-u-of-southern-california/) Professor Modleski notes that the kind of action Gillman took — phone calls to additional referees — returns to practices that are socially rather than procedurally and objectively based, and that such practices have long operated to the disadvantage of minority faculty and women. A dean who believes that such a practice is appropriate is ill-suited to govern as EVC and Provost at a public university.

While it is tempting to hope that the problems with Dean Gillman’s record could be offset by the impact of important gifts to USC, it is far from clear that Dean Gillman played a decisive role in these gifts. $200M raised in the period is attributable to a single very large gift that was donated by a trustee. More to the point, despite the funds raised across the university and despite the personal support of its President, Dean Gillman was not renewed for a further term even after the acquisition of these gifts. Dean Gillman’s difficulties apparently outweighed his fundraising contribution, thereby casting doubt on this dimension of his performance as well.

It is a crucial matter that Dean Gillman’s tenure was riven by faculty perceptions that the decisions, research priorities, and tone he set at USC adversely affected minority faculty and women and indeed, the culture of enlightened exchange at USC. In addition to the EEOC complaint pending regarding the case of Mai’a Davis Cross, Assistant Professor of International Relations, which we cited above, another tenure case involving a minority assistant professor, Jane Iwamura, received national attention in the form of a petition signed by 923 academics and students and opposition from USC’s Student Coalition for Asian Pacific Empowerment. (Professor Iwamura’s book from Oxford UP was widely praised by leading scholars in her field.) A panel held at USC on September 22, 2010 on “Race, Tenure, and the University” was dedicated to studying the larger social forces related to what was said to be a pattern of racial discrimination in personnel actions at USC.

In addition, according to faculty in American Studies and Ethnicity Gillman refused to appoint a chair they had elected, declining both of their nominees. Faculty who work on ethnic studies and minority discourse who departed from USC during Gillman’s tenure include Professors Denise da Silva (now at Queen Mary, University of London), Roselinda Fregoso (UCSC), Ruthie Gilmore (CUNY), Robin D.G. Kelley (UCLA), Herman Gray (UCSC), David Lloyd (UC Davis), and Cynthia Young (Boston College).

While Dean Gillman is not the sole reason that many left for thriving careers at other institutions, we are concerned that his management appears to have exacerbated perceptions of institutional racism rather than helping to overcome them. Administrators quoted in the above articles respond to faculty concerns about diversity and equality by arguing about the methodology used by a political science professor who was working to document them, instead of treating the existence of those concerns as a serious matter. This response is not appropriate. Dean Gillman ought to have created conditions that encouraged a different kind of response: a less defensive demonstration of the ability to hear campus concerns at the level at which they are expressed by faculty and students.

We do not need to emphasize that UCI is in the middle of a challenging situation regarding racism on campus. The last few weeks have brought two incidents of hateful slurs against black students. Nor have such incidents been foreign to the campus previously. In addition, the external review of the School of Humanities strongly criticizes the assessment of Humanities units and one Social Science unit that were said to “need attention.” The external review rightly stresses “the seeds of distrust, the resentment, and destruction” sowed by the targeting of precisely those units on campus most concerned with the study of difference and diversity. The “Needs Attention” exercise threatened to affect the academic reputation of UCI, becoming citable as evidence of administrative complicity in an inhospitable culture for minority students and faculty. The campus is vitally in need of an EVC/Provost that comes into this situation with a strong proactive record of promoting diversity on campus, including warm relations with ethnic studies scholars; a forceful articulation of racism’s complex causes and effects; and strong interpersonal skills for the handling of racially charged conflicts. In this context, the hiring of a former dean who actually has an EEOC complaint pending against his unit and who has been found by a review board to have introduced bias into the tenure case of a minority professor would be a visible and egregious mistake. It would immediately be noticed as such by all members of the community who have been following the “Needs Attention” debacle or working with students who are rightly indignant about racism on campus. These are disproportionately not the members of the community who have had the opportunity to weigh in on the EVC finalists.

Our university has a serious commitment to equity and diversity. The nomination of Dean Gillman as EVC calls that commitment into question. Were he appointed, UCI could be charged with having dismissed in advance the EEOC complaint. And while a current employee of the university has a right to have judgment withheld regarding a discrimination complaint, that is not the point when a candidate seeks to be hired into a new and broadly significant position. In the latter case, an absence of association with controversy and animosity is a positive and reasonable, even minimal, criterion. Dean Gillman does not meet that criterion.

We would have raised the above issues earlier if we had had any opportunity to do so. Amid ongoing concerns about equality, the limited opportunity for comment in the search process may also be cited as evidence that UCI, like Dean Gillman, needs to be more committed to open governance and to the diversity and fairness it protects. Hiring Dean Gillman without having given ample opportunity for views such as ours will make it seem as if UCI is ignoring the recommendations of the Humanities external review and the calls for sensitivity and education being issued by UCI’s Office of Student Affairs. We bring these matters to your attention in the spirit of openness and public concern. We urge that it is not too late to have an open and full conversation about finding the best candidate for this key leadership position at UCI.

Executive Committee, Irvine Faculty Association irvinefa@gmail.com

Monday, May 6, 2013

Black UCI Students Speak Out

Chancellor Drake under pressure.  Photo © Daniel C. Tsang, 2013
In the wake of the "blackface" video by an Asian American fraternity at UCI, Black students have now issued a set of demands to the UC Irvine administration, headed by Chancellor Michael V. Drake, who is also Black.

Here is their statement:

Black students at the University of California, Irvine have the right to enjoy freedom of movement and association, security of housing, and the pursuit of education without fear of violation by other students, faculty, staff, and the police. We, the members of Black Leaders on Campus* (BLOC), call upon the UCI adminis...tration to foster a campus environment for Black students that is free of violence. To this end, the Division of Student Affairs must truly adhere to its stated mission “to promote the general welfare of the campus community within the framework of the UC Irvine values of respect, intellectual curiosity, integrity, commitment, empathy, [and] appreciation.” Combating the climate of anti-Blackness at UCI calls for both the refusal to accommodate attacks on Black peoples and cultures and the allocation of resources to meet the pressing needs of Black students. Our demands, therefore, fall into two broad groups, one punitive and one proactive.

1a) WE DEMAND that the UCI administration cease referring to incidents of anti-Blackness as “isolated” or “rare,” including the Lambda Theta Delta (LTD) videos recently circulated on the Internet. The use of terms such as “isolated” and “rare” suggests that these incidents stand alone rather than collectively indicating a larger, structural problem on campus and in society.

1b) WE DEMAND that the UCI administration create and implement a zero-tolerance policy for anti-Blackness. This policy must be formalized in writing with the participation of two BLOC-elected undergraduate student representatives. This policy must place the offending organization on probation for a minimum of one year and revoke the membership of any individuals found to have committed particular offenses. Conditions of probation would include, but would not be limited to: loss of the use of campus space, on-campus advertising, and university funding. If the offender is not affiliated with any campus organization, other punitive measures could be devised.

1c) WE DEMAND that the UCI administration create a BLOC-elected, UCI-funded undergraduate student position to supervise the implementation of the university’s zero-tolerance policy on anti-Blackness. This student, holding either a major or minor in African American Studies, will work alongside the UCI administration in the investigation of alleged incidents of anti-Blackness, attending all relevant meetings. This student will have the additional power to design educational programs to combat the climate of anti-Blackness on campus. This student will retain autonomy in order to ensure transparency.

2a) WE DEMAND that the UCI administration create and fund a new student outreach and retention center, modeled after the UC Berkeley Black Recruitment and Retention Center (BRRC). The violence Black students face on and off campus has documented negative effects on our physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. These negative effects unnecessarily impede Black students’ academic pursuits and intellectual development and require dedicated resources. If the university administration is committed to combating the climate of anti-Blackness at UCI, then it must also mitigate such negative effects in order for Black students to thrive here. The UCI Student Outreach and Retention Center (SOAR) is spread thin in its support of a broad range of student populations and is therefore unable to address the specific negative effects of anti-Blackness and the particular barriers to recruiting Black students to UCI. Two BLOC-elected student representatives and two African American Studies faculty members, among others, would participate in the hiring of the Center’s director.

2b) WE DEMAND that the UCI administration financially support the newly founded UCI James Baldwin Debate Society. The Society requires funding for a director, graduate assistantships, debater scholarships, team travel and lodging costs at national debate competitions, and other operating expenses. The skills acquired in college debate – careful research, rational argumentation, decision-making, and conflict resolution – would empower Black students to better combat anti-Blackness in their academic, occupational, and social lives. While other debate organizations exist on campus, none provide a dedicated safe space for Black students to fully participate. The UCI James Baldwin Debate Society serves as a productive venue for Black students otherwise living and learning under the duress of the campus climate. Two BLOC-elected student representatives and two African American Studies faculty members, among others, would participate in the hiring of the Society’s director.

2c) WE DEMAND that the UCI administration restore the dedicated Housing Assistant position to the Ele Si Rosa Parks African American Studies Theme House. At present, the Rosa Parks House, as a result of budget cuts, shares one Housing Assistant position with the Humanities House. This creates an untenable scenario in which an applicant for the Humanities House could, however well-intentioned, preside over the residents of Rosa Parks without the necessary training, background or prior interest in the historic mission of the House. The Rosa Parks House is the only residence hall on campus with an explicit commitment to the welfare of Black students and requires a staff with focused attention and preparation.

2d) WE DEMAND that the UCI administration support the promotion of the Program in African American Studies to departmental status. As the only consistent source of scholarship at UCI about the history, culture and politics of African-derived peoples, African American Studies’ stability and growth must be ensured. The budget cuts that have plagued the Program in African American Studies in recent years are another means through which the UCI administration has allowed anti-Blackness to fester. The award-winning, internationally recognized research and teaching carried out by the faculty of African American Studies are essential to the fight against anti-Blackness. A robust Department of African American Studies would help bolster enrollments for Black undergraduate and graduate students as well.

Black Leaders on Campus (BLOC) consists of the following organizations:
100 Black Women
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
Black Educated Men (B.E. Men)
Black Law Society (BLS)
Black Queer Collective (BQC)
Black Student Union (BSU)
Christ Our Redeemer (COR)
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
El Si Rosa Parks House
Ethiopian Student Association (ESA)
Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.
Minority Association of Pre-Health Students (MAPS)
National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE)
Nigerian Student Association (NSA)
Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.
Umoja NewsMagazine

"Isolated": Surfing Action Film Turns Political

To listen to the KUCI Subversity Online podcast of our interview with director and screenwriter Justin Le Pera, click on: .
"Isolated" is a truly impressive sports action film that stands out for its politics and not just its amazing photography of waves towering over intrepid surfers.

Director Justin Le Pera has assembled an hardy cast of five world-class surfers who head to Indonesia in a quest for the "perfect wave."  On the way to find that wave, they run into pockets of Papuans in remote, isolated areas of the archipelago, local villagers who are seeking liberation and an end to their suppression and genocide by the Indonesian military.

We talk with Le Pera, who also wrote the script, in the wake of the successful screening of "Isolated" at the recently concluded Newport Beach Film Festival.  You can listen to the KUCI Subversity Online interview with him today in the link at the top.

After the western surfers learn more about the Papuan resistance, they embrace the local villagers and bond with them.  In fact they return to the area and find that although some villagers have moved to avoid redevelopment others remain and kids they train to surf still practice the sport!

Although it didn't start off as an ethnographic study nor a political film, it has managed to present not just an ethnography of the local Papuans but also a political lesson for surfers and other viewers - who may not be thought of initially as taking on such a political cause.  The film, narrated by actor Ryan Phillipe, shows how the team of surfers, only one of whom spoke Indonesian, managed to sidestep the political pitfalls in their quest for the perfect wave although the sole female surfer, Jenny Useldinger,  almost dies when she falls ill in the middle of a jungle but survives in the end.

Through the film's web site, viewers can become "ambassadors" to bring attention to the Papuan cause by recording and posting videos of themselves supporting the call to end the killing and for peace to result. Ryan Phillipe appears on a video there.   One can also sign a White House petition there.

All in all, well worth watching, with its stunning images, more so for its political message. -  Daniel C. Tsang.

Credit: Photos courtesy of "Isolated"

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

"Gay Insurgent" Rises from the Ashes

Updated 3 May 2013 adding display on The Asian American Movement from the exhibit.

As if to celebrate May Day 2013, Gay Insurgent has resurrected itself, if only as an image, but the magazine cover is now on display through the mid-June at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington D.C., at an exhibit there.  It is a part of an exhibit celebrating Asian/Pacific American month!

Credit: Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis

Credit: Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

The cover is portrayed on a banner, one of 30 banners on display to commemorate the struggles of Asians in America, in the exhibit,  "I Want the Wide American Earth," named from a quote from Pilipino American writer Carlos Bulosan.

The cover on display is from the Summer 1980 issue of the alternative magazine I founded and edited.  That issue celebrated the first Gay and Lesbian March on Washington in October 1979 - and featured on the cover the huge cloth sign, "We're Asian, Gay & Proud," carried by a small contingent of queer Asians who had marched through D.C.'s Chinatown, a historic first, before joining the larger march on Washington.

Credit: Copyright © Daniel C. Tsang
I'm the mustachioed guy near the center of the picture, taken by Steve Nowling, now sadly deceased.  I remember it took me three-months then to grow that mustache!   

The first-ever such exhibit at the Smithsonian is curated by Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis, initiatives coordinator at the Smithsonian's Asian Pacific American Program, and editor in chief of Asian American Literary Review.  The exhibit will run through June 13.  Thereafter it becomes a traveling exhibit, going around the country, including a destination in southern California, the Japanese American National Museum, in Los Angeles, from 14 September to 1 December 2013. [Correction: Actual period from 14 September through 27 October 2013.] Eight colorful posters from the exhibit can be downloaded here.

This is by no means the first appearance of Gay Insurgent in a museum. The Museum of Chinese in America, located in Manhattan, features the same cover in its core gallery (see below) after it reopened and expanded a few years ago. 

Credit: Courtesy Flickr
And KQED, the San Francisco public radio station, featured the cover in a write-up based on the UCLA Asian American Studies Center book, Asian Americans: The Movement and the Moment, edited by Steve Louie and Glenn Omatsu, in which I write about that historic march and the role of Gay Insurgent in subsequently documenting it.

Below, I have adapted what I wrote, "Slicing Silence: Asian Progressives Come Out," in Asian Americans to make it available to a wider audience, to stir up memories of past struggles, and to bring to the attention of younger readers the progressive history of our movements.

Don Kao (third from left in photo), an activist from New York and I ended up organizing the first gathering of gay and lesbian Asians-at the first National Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference at Howard University in Washington, D.C. in October, 1979, the same weekend as the first gay March on Washington. The conference was organized by the National Coalition of Black Gays.

By covering the conference in the magazine, I wanted to make sure that this historic gathering would not be forgotten. Re-reading it, I'm struck by how the cover, now on display in a national museum, stands out: It features a photograph of the nine of us, female and male, some with arms raised, most of us smiling, behind a huge banner: "WE'RE ASIANS, GAY & PROUD." 

Inside was Audre Lorde's keynote address at the conference ("When Will the Ignorance End?") ,  resolutions from the conference, and news accounts after the conference. For example, the accounts reminded me that we had heard solidarity statements from the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and socialist compafieros from Mexico. The statement from the Consul General of Nicaragua in San Francisco warmed our revolutionary hearts: "May from your conference be born a movement that identifies, that unites and struggles with the liberation movements of all oppressed people."

It also contained my report on the formation of a "Lesbian and Gay Asian Collective," when several of us at the conference caucused and expressed the need to network after we went back to our respective communities. There is as yet "no statement of principles to guide the group," I reported, but clearly we felt the need to stay connected as gay and lesbian people who shared the "common
experience of being Asian in North America." 

Among the dozen or more Asians in our new "collective" that historic weekend in D.C. was Mini Liu, a community activist, doctor and later (in 1986), co-founder of the Manhattan-based Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence. In 1974, as a medical student, she had begun reading Mao, and as she later told an interviewer, "I was just really taken by the idea, the vision of a different kind of society. And that's when, I think, I became more consciously political based on heading for a certain point, not just a general liberal notion of trying to serve other people."

Also reprinted in the magazine was a Chinese American lesbian sister's talk at the conference, Tana Loy's "Who's the Barbarian?" Expressing unity with other people of color, she spoke about what had happened at the Asian caucus meeting: "Somehow, we felt-immediately and immensely in tune with each other, because when an Asian sees another Asian-they run away from each other." She attributed this avoidance of ourselves in part to a "survival response, because for decades of imperialist wars we have been atomic bombed, we have been napalmed; we have been raped; we have been driven to suicide-and we have built this country from the east to the west. And we have been called the barbarian! ...Who's the barbarian?"

She added: "But today we are going toward each other, and we are sharing our strength with each other, and with all our brothers and sisters here today. You know something? We're not that quiet and reserved Asian ....We're not that 'model minority.' Oh no, oh, we're silent, but why are we silent? We're silent, even from each other, by the racism and the sexism that exists in this country, that manifests itself in the fears and frustrations that keep our own people in the closet as Asians and as lesbians and gay men. Many of us cannot even come out for fear of deportation; and yet I know there are many Asians who are going to be out on that street tomorrow, knowing that's a reality in their lives."

She explained: "In our short time together, a support system has evolved from which we have drawn our strength, from each other and from all of you here. And out of this strength we have collectively decided to march together as Asians ... and you can be sure, you can be damned sure, that those who oppose us will hear us, and they will hear us loud and clear."

And indeed they would, as about a dozen of us marched from Howard University in the black neighborhood through to Chinatown and to the mall, behind the banner expressing our pride, an historic first march by openly gay and lesbian Asians.

At the march, we marched joined in solidarity with other people of color, with the indigenous gays and lesbians leading the entire Third World contingent, behind a "First Gay Americans" banner. We listened as one selected to represent our group, Michiyo Cornell, a Vermont-based Eurasian poet, addressed the huge rally at the Washington Monument, on the theme, "Living in Asian America." Her talk was also published in the magazine.

Saying it was the first time such a network had been formed, Michiyo noted: "I am careful to use the phrase Asian American because we are not hyphenated Americans nor are we always foreign-born women and men from Asia. We have been in this country for over 150 years! We live in Asian America…”

She continued: "We are called the model minority, the quiet, the passive, exotic erotics with the slanted cunt to match our 'slanted' eyes or the small dick to match our small size. But we are not. For years Asian Americans have organized against our oppression. We protested and were lynched, deported and put into concentration camps during World War II. We must not forget that the United States of America has bombed, napalmed and colonized Asian countries for decades .... It could rape and murder Vietnamese women, children and men, then claim that 'Asians don't value human life."'

Describing herself as an ''Asian American woman, a mother and a lesbian,'' characteristics that are "difficult to put into a neat package," Michiyo exclaimed that "I know that I live in the face of this country's determination to destroy me, to negate me, to render me invisible." She demanded "white lesbians and gay men" to think about how they repress "your Asian American lesbian and gay sisters and brothers," urging them to address their "white skin privilege." She urged the crowd to realize that "the capitalist system uses not just sexual preference but race and class as well to divide us .. .I would say that we share the same oppression as Third World people, and for that reason we must stand together or be hanged separately by what Audrey Lorde calls the 'noose of conformity."' She urged fellow closeted Asian Americans to come out, asking them to "consider how we become accomplices to our own sexual and racial oppression when we fail to claim our true identities."

The excitement and solidarity we felt that weekend is captured by Richard Fung's report, "We're Asian, Gay and Proud," in the Body Politic, a gay liberation journal from Toronto. His report was also reprinted in Gay lnsurgent. 

Richard (the taller guy in dark glasses in photo), now well-known as the Canadian Chinese (born in Trinidad) videomaker who has pioneered in documenting the gay Asian experience, wrote that "if for many of us it was the first time we had spoken with other Asian gays, we immediately recognized each other's stories." He offered a stinging critique of existing gay society, "organized and commercial,'' is "framed around the young middle-class white male. He is its customer and its product. Blacks, Asians and Latin Americans are the oysters in this meat market. At best we're a quaint specialty for exotic tastes.

Native people aren't even on the shelves." Fung noted, "To make our voices heard, non-white lesbians and gay men have organized." He concluded: "Washington was just the beginning."

Indeed it was. Richard went on shortly thereafter to found Gay Asians Toronto, serving gay Asians in the Canadian metropolis. He had been inspired by Chua SiongHuat (second from right in photo), whom he had met for the first time at the march. A Malaysian Chinese who had graduated from MIT,

"S.H.," as he was affectionately known, had just founded, in the summer before the D.C. conference and march, the Boston Asian Gay Men and Lesbians. S.H. had started the group with two lesbians and another gay man at Glad Day Bookshop in Boston. A member of the radical Fag Rag collective, he also wrote for the first gay liberation newsweekly, Gay Community News.

He was profiled in Richard Fung's "Fighting Chance", a documentary about Asians with AIDS or seropositivity. S.H. remained a strong advocate of seeing Asians as sexual "subjects" rather than just "objects." He would later argue that "there is nothing wrong really with being a sexual object if you can also be a sexual subject." He authored the definitive essay on gay Asians for the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, which came out in 1990. He died of AIDS in August 1994.

Credit: UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press
At the time many of us remained active in progressive causes because we sought a radical restructuring of America. We rejected straight depictions of us a psychologically impaired, or as incapable of progressive work. We knew those stereotypes weren't true. We remained activists even when we suffered racism or homophobia, because of this larger goal of changing overall society. And we saw our struggle as part and parcel of people of color ("Third World" peoples') struggles. But in 1979, because similarly inclined individuals were able to meet together, a critical mass was achieved, and we were able to begin organizing publicly as both Asian and gay. That effort continues, because the task of creating a society that meets basic human needs remains unfinished.

I am glad I can see Richard again this weekend where his latest  documentary, "Dal Puri Diaspora" (2012), about his love of dal puri roti growing  up in his native Trinidad, will screen at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, Sunday, 5 May 2013, at 12 noon at Directors' Guild of America, 7920 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90046.

For more information about the book, Asian Americans: The Movement and the Moment, see the UCLA Asian American Studies Press site. -  Daniel C. Tsang.   Note that some hyperlinks are to licensed resources available at subscribing institutions.