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Why I made a documentary about the SGV LGBTQ community

Amy Fan, director of "LGBTQ Asian American San Gabriel Valley Stories" | Photo courtesy of Amy Fan

Amy Fan, director of "LGBTQ Asian American San Gabriel Valley Stories" | Photo courtesy of Amy Fan


Alhambra , CA United States

Having grown up in the San Gabriel Valley, I knew little about the queer community here, as gender and sexuality was just not something that was discussed within many Asian households. This changed after I discovered my sexuality at college, and heard about the protest against marriage equality in San Gabriel last year, which led to my first documentary project about LGBTQ Asian Americans in the SGV.

I grew up in an Asian family in Temple City and attended a high school that was fairly liberal. I felt the presence of homophobia in the Asian American community through degrading remarks against homosexuality from pastors at the Alhambra Mandarin Baptist Church, which I attended, and even criticisms from my family suggesting that gay people were “disgusting” or “immoral.” The community seemed fragmented as compared to the vibrant cultures that one might find in Los Angeles or other major cities.

“Another person had struggled to come out partly because she didn’t have the words for “gay” in Burmese.”

The day the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Obergefell v. Hodges, I celebrated in Downtown Los Angeles with my best friend, a straight ally. But, not long after, a homophobic church group decided to protest the passing of marriage equality in July 2015.

A counter-protest was planned immediately through social media, word of mouth, and organizations like Asian Pacific Islander Equality-LA, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-LA, and API SGV Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (API SGV PFLAG). In a few days they had assembled more than 100 people. The truth of how quickly my small community organized and banded together in solidarity with gay rights was inspiring.

It wasn’t surprising that there was a negative reaction to the passing of marriage equality, knowing the nature of some conservative first-generation and older-generation Asian American sentiments. Other factors to consider were the language and cultural barriers. I recall how I was lost in translation when I came out to my Chinese-speaking grandmother. One person told me she had struggled to come out partly because she didn’t have the words for “gay” in Burmese.

A counter-protest to the anti-gay protest in 2015 | Photo by Albert Lu
A counter-protest to the anti-gay protest in 2015 | Photo by Albert Lu

Through my later findings I discovered that homophobia happened in the Asian American community more often when people didn’t see gay people as individuals. I also realized, after coming out and finding acceptance from family and co-workers, that these perceptions of the older and first-generation were colored with stereotypes that were not always true. It was then that the idea of making a documentary—about individual stories of LGBTQ Asian Americans in the SGV—came to my mind. I wanted the documentary to be both educational for those outside of the community, and a display of pride and identity for those within.

But not everyone is happy to share personal stories on camera, so it was not easy to find participants at first. The first two interviewees—Logan Lee How and Annie Chien—were found through my own friend networks. After that, I hit a rut and had trouble finding other people who were interested in being part of the project, until an old friend introduced me to API Equality-LA and API SGV PFLAG as possible resources to find participants. Since then I was able to meet the vibrant community that would eventually introduce me to other great interviewees and back this project with their support.

Six months later, the documentary debuted on February 8th at my new university, UC Irvine, through the LGBT-affirming and activist Asian Pacific Student Association group. At the initial screening, we also had a Q&A with the two LGBT bands whose music was featured in the documentary – WASI and Skydive. Both of these groups generously let me use their music at no cost. Since then we’ve also had a screening at API SGV PFLAG.

Working on this documentary has changed my life in that it has introduced me to great networks and support groups. I also realized that a supportive queer community definitely does exist in the SGV; there is a movement happening right now to create a permanent SGV Pride center and having forums in many parts of the SGV.

Fan sat down with one interviewee, Nate Song, for her documentary.
Fan sat down with one interviewee, Nate Song, for her documentary.

I hope that Asian Americans in the SGV can try to reach back to their families and seek to understand one another regardless of the generation, culture, and language barriers. It is important to break down the ideas of “saving face” and holding onto stubborn traditions, because one person’s acceptance of their queer daughter, grandson, or friend will lead to a ripple effect that will affect others and cause more minds to be changed.

As for me film will continue to be a vehicle in which I explore community and relationships. My student-based production team, Divercity Productions, is now working on securing full interviews with the participants and other important figures in the community. I hope that the “LGBTQ Asian American SGV Stories” project’s reach will be extensive and influential.

About the Author: Amy Fan is the director of “LGBTQ Asian American San Gabriel Valley Stories”. She grew up in Temple City and is currently a student at the University of California, Irvine. She is the Gender & Sexuality Chair at Asian Pacific Student Association at UC Irvine and a boba tea fan.

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