Gay right supporters across the state of Washington celebrated the passage of the momentous bill to legalize gay marriage on Feb. 8.
For lesbian Asian Americans “Faith” Kong and “Tawny” Ha (pseudonyms to protect their identity), Gov. Gregoire’s signing of the bill meant one more step closer to equality.
Prior to the legislation, Kong and Ha, who are both from Seattle, said they considered moving to another state or another country such as Canada or Argentina.
“It is important to us to live in a society that fully accepts who we are as people,” said Kong.
Washington is now the seventh state in the country to legally recognize gay marriage.
Kong worked in alternative education and employment training programs for at-risk young adults for a decade. Ha earned a master’s in social work and has been in the field of social work for many years. The two of them met while community organizing and have been together for two years. As daughters of immigrant parents, they say their experience is different from that of other lesbians.
“In Asian American communities it is rare that our sexual identities are included in the conversation,” said Ha, who is Chinese American.
The couple said they face “simultaneous layers of oppression” as Asian lesbians in a predominately “white lesbian media.”
As a result, Kong and Ha quit their jobs and took a six-month trek through Asia in search of other lesbians like them and to discover their roots.
“To our surprise there were quite a few lesbians in the different countries we visited and it was just beautiful,” said Ha.
“I remember a moment in Western China, as we were walking down the street, another lesbian with her arm around her girl, we made eye contact, did the head nod and smiled and kept walking,” she said.
Back at home, the couple said they face homophobia on a daily basis, both through daily interactions and through the inadequate representation of “Asian lesbians in media, the workplace and in general.”
With the passage of the gay marriage bill, Kong and Ha hope they will receive the same rights as heterosexual couples. Both said they “recognize that the fight for real equality still continues.”
The legislation only grants protection for members of the LGBT community at the state level. Since federal law does not recognize same-sex marriages, there are many federal benefits same-sex couples do not receive.
Liezl Rebugio is the field director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington. She agreed the fight is far from over. More than 120,000 signatures are needed by June 6 to get Referendum 74 on the ballot. If that happens, the law is put on hold until after the election. Voters will need to approve Referendum-74 in November or else the new law could face appeal, Rebugio said.
“They deserve to live free from discrimination,” said Rebugio. “Fighting for LGBT rights is an issue of fairness and protecting our families.”
Kong and Ha said they were both lucky to have parents that are supportive of their relationship.
“The first question my mom asked was, ‘Well is she cute?’” said Kong who is of Khmer descent. “I’m not going to lie though – my mom did go and burn some incense and pray for me soon after.”
Ha said she felt like a “burden” was lifted after she revealed her “whole self” to her mom.
“It was one less thing I was carrying and one more part of myself that was integrated,” she said.
It is estimated that around 3-5 percent of the population identify as LGBT, and the percentage is the same within the Asian American community, said Joshua Friedes, the marriage equality director for Equal Rights Washington. The organization advocates for statewide LGBT rights.
He said the API community has been one of the strongest allies of the LGBT community in working to secure marriage equality. Some of the numerous groups that helped pass the same-sex marriage law and the 2009 domestic partnership law includes the Korean American Bar Association, the Asian & Pacific Islander Coalition of King County, and Rep. Cindy Ryu (D-32).
“The API community knows how wrong it is to take away rights,” said Friedes. “We typically see a greater support for marriage equality because the API community is also relatively urban in Washington State so there is a lot more interaction between the communities.”
For people who are young, Asian, and gay, it is easy to feel alone and unrepresented. That’s why Kong and Ha started the website, www.LesbeAsian.com, a compilation of media and resources that “reflect the real lives and stories of Asian lesbians as multidimensional people.”