HomeLGBTQOpinion: To LGBTQ Asian Americans: Riots Gave Us Civil Rights

Opinion: To LGBTQ Asian Americans: Riots Gave Us Civil Rights

Photo of protestors in Minneapolis by Fibonacci Blue via Flickr Creative Commons

By Fei Lu

If you live in the United States, you’ve seen the 2020 protests. Since George Floyd’s murder was recorded, people have taken to the streets to protest police brutality and stand with #BlackLivesMatter. Log into Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, and you’ll see videos of officers nearly running civilians over, a child that was allegedly maced, and journalists with bloodied faces. And while it’s easy to retweet a post and feel proactive, it’s not enough. Take note of the silent accounts and voices, Asian Americans and LGBTQ people included, privately bemoaning how the riots are “disruptive,” and how the protesters are “savages,” and speak to them about their inaction.

For every LGBTQ Asian American showing solidarity with the Black community, there is another complaining that everything is too political, or the rioters are inconveniencing them. The irony is that throughout history, our communities have passionately fought for the civil rights we take for granted in 2020. And often, Blacks and Asians stood with each other. 

For example, before the Stonewall Riot, there was the Compton’s Cafeteria. One evening in 1966, San Francisco police were called on a group of “queens” (A colloquial term used in place of transgender, as the term didn’t exist then.), and forcibly made an arrest. In-response a cup of boiling coffee was thrown on an officer, and the riot broke out. Tamara Ching, an activist and sex worker of Native Hawaiian, Chinese, and German heritage, was one of the participants. The next day, picketers showed up. The incident would fade into relative obscurity, but it would provide the foundation for Californian LGBTQ civil rights.

Three years later, the 1969 Stonewall Riots happened. One night, New York City police raided the West Village namesake gay bar and arrested 13 people. The bar was already under constant police harassment, as public gay behavior (i.e. Same-sex public affection) was illegal. Lacking any form of legal protection, queer POC communities were the most vulnerable to abuse. After a crowd gathered to witness the arrest,  countless civilians (many Black and Brown) responded to pleas for help. People smashed windows, threw bottles, and attacked officers. Some say that Black activist, drag queen, and sex worker, Marsha P. Johnson, was among the first to initiate the riot.

“Rise Up: Stonewall and the LGBTQ Rights Movement” at Newseum in Washington, DC last year explored the modern gay rights movement and marked the 50th anniversary of a June 1969 raid of the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village

The riot lasted for six days and would go down in American history as an unforgettable queer revolution. Photographs from the period show destroyed bar essentials like jukeboxes and chairs, and police shoving crowds. It would take one year before the first Gay Pride parade was announced, appropriately taking off outside Stonewall.

Alongside Stonewall, the Black Power movement also inspired dialogues and protests addressing racism and police brutality during the 60s. Founded on October 22nd, 1966, The Black Panther Party’s establishment was driven by multiple events, including Malcom X and Matthew Johnson’s deaths. Some of their accomplishments included providing free breakfast for children, and sponsoring a variety of services. While they believed that non-violent activism was not always an option, their social engagement was largely well received. What’s important to note is that support came from non-Black members too. Richard Aoki, who had served in the US Army until being honorably discharged, was one of those supporters. His involvement included being appointed field marshal, and providing firearms to the party. Other Asian Americans supporting the movement can be seen in Oakland, California, where images show activists holding “Yellow Peril Supports Black Power.”

Richard Aoki & Friends
CIR Online Richard Aoki with friends

Life in 2020 is very different. For Asian Americans, life is relatively peaceful — LGBTQ or not. Some gay bars in the States have a variation of “Asian night” now, Asian American actors are cast in Hollywood films, and certain Asian communities even out earn other minorities —particularly Black communities. LGBTQ Asian Americans also enjoy a certain degree of privilege compared to their Black and Brown counterparts. For example, Black transwomen are disproportionately targeted and persecuted, often making up the majority of transgender murder statistics. 

It’s easy to fall out of touch, but that’s the last thing we should do.

As an Asian American transwoman, I enjoy a high degrees of privilege that many Black transwomen are denied. But what I CAN control, is how I utilize my privileges to uplift those around me. #BlackLivesMatter and George Floyd’s murder do not just affect the Black community —they affect us all. Asian Americans can live how we live today, work where we work, and CHOOSE what we want to say, because countless Black, queer, and Asian activists took to the streets to demand equality. Their blood, sweat, tears, and death paved the way for our lives. There’s an old Chinese proverb called “尊老愛幼,” which roughly translates to “Respect the elderly, love the youth,” and it’s used to tell kids they should be kind to their grandparents and younger siblings. But I believe it can be applied to a much broader context. If we’re going to be proud Asian American LGBTQ individuals, we need to respect the forefathers who fought for our rights and support the younger generation risking their lives for racial equality. 

Viet Rainbow of Orange County
The Rainbow Flag is displayed at a parade in Orange County, CA

This Pride Month, don’t just hang a rainbow flag outside your window, blast Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out,” and disregard the riots. Get involved. Donate to a charity or organization actively supporting the protesters in the streets. Advocate for prison reform. Fight with your silent friends and family who write off the protesters. Challenge their views, educate them on their privileges and opportunities, and condemn their inaction. 

To quote Martha P. Johnson: “No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us.” Our very lives were built on top of the efforts of violent riots, and we shouldn’t forget what their sacrifices gave us today.

AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart. We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. Check out our new Instagram account. Go to our  Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. Please consider interning, joining our staff, or submitting a story. 


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Worth the Time

Must Read

Regular Features


Discover more from AsAmNews

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading