Dutchess Drew performs at Pride Asia Fest at Hing Hay Park on May 26. Photo by Theo Bickel.

Words by Chetanya Robinson

Pride Asia Fest returned to Hing Hay Park on May 26 for its 12 year anniversary, celebrating the diverse LGBTQ Asian and Pacific Islander communities with joyful performances and advocacy.   

Co-founded in 2012 by drag performers and social activists Aleksa Manila, Gaysha Starr, and Arnaldo Inocentes (aka Arnaldo! Drag Chanteuse), the festival has shared drag, cultural performances, heartfelt speeches and calls to action with the public for 12 years. Pride Asia takes place near the end of May, at the end of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and near the start of Pride month. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021, it went virtual. 

Gaysha Starr performs at Pride Asia Fest at Hing Hay Park on May 26. Photo by Theo Bickel.

This year as usual, Pride Asia kicked off with an opening ceremony from Northwest Kung Fu and Fitness. Performers swayed, rose and fell inside pink, purple, and lavender Chinese lion costumes to the clanging of cymbals and the beat of drums. 

“Sharing of love and respect – that is the key to true peace in society,” said Master David Leong of Northwest Kung Fu and Fitness, which has participated in Pride Asia every year.

Lion dancers with Northwest Kung Fu and Fitness perform at Pride Asia Fest at Hing Hay Park on May 26. Photo by Theo Bickel.

This year, Pride Asia’s keynote speaker was Dutchess Drew, a drag performer who brings Bollywood influence to her performances up and down the west coast. 

Drew, who is soon to graduate from the University of Washington school of Law, spoke about the damaging rise in anti-trans and anti-queer narratives, and the importance of equity and accommodations for queer youth. Drew noted that schools, which have a duty to protect their students, are governed by school boards which are often swayed by external anti-queer interests. And transgender rights have a relatively short history in the American legal system, Drew said. This means everyday people can play a role in bringing progressive social change to local school boards, legislators and courts so that they will have no choice but to embrace queer acceptance in their decisions. 

Dutchess Drew speaks at Pride Asia Fest at Hing Hay Park on May 26. Photo by Theo Bickel.

Next, drag performer and co-Emcee Gaysha Starr emerged to strike glamorous poses, passionately lip sync, and perform comedic crowd work with the event attendees at the park.

Drag performers Allie Mirage Paradisco, Jack of Spades, and Shima B. Valentine turned in heartfelt and colorful drag performances, with Valentine lip syncing to a song in Chinese. 

Allie Mirage Paradisco performs at Pride Asia Fest at Hing Hay Park on May 26. Photo by Theo Bickel.
Allie Mirage Paradisco performs at Pride Asia Fest at Hing Hay Park on May 26. Photo by Theo Bickel.
Jack of Spades performs at Pride Asia Fest at Hing Hay Park on May 26. Photo by Theo Bickel.
Jack of Spades performs at Pride Asia Fest at Hing Hay Park on May 26. Photo by Theo Bickel.
Shima B. Valentine performs at Pride Asia Fest at Hing Hay Park on May 26. Photo by Theo Bickel.

Community organizations spoke or tabled during the event, including the Q Law Center at the University of Washington, the King County Public Health Pride Survey (aimed at improving HIV prevention and care), Lambert House, United Territories of Pacific Islanders Alliance Washington (UTOPIA Washington), PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), GenPride, and others. 

Falefia Jr. Brandon Fuamatu, Development Director with UTOPIA Washington, said the organization is happy to have a presence at Pride Asia.

“While we want to celebrate and elevate all communities of color, especially those who are identifying as LGBTQIA+, it’s also important to lean on solidarity,” Fuamatu said. “There’s a lot of cross-culture and cross-history between Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans.” 

Aleksa Manila speaks at Pride Asia Fest at Hing Hay Park on May 26. Photo by Theo Bickel.
Gaysha Starr conducts an interview at Pride Asia Fest at Hing Hay Park on May 26. Photo by Theo Bickel.
Tabling at Pride Asia Fest at Hing Hay Park on May 26. Photo by Theo Bickel.
Performers and speakers at gather on stage at Pride Asia Fest at Hing Hay Park on May 26. Photo by Theo Bickel.
The crowd watched performances at Pride Asia Fest at Hing Hay Park on May 26. Photo by Theo Bickel.
In the background, Dutchess Drew speaks at Pride Asia Fest at Hing Hay Park on May 26. In the foreground, “Pathways to Pride” monumental stones are visible. Photo by Theo Bickel.
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