Some excerpts from an interview with Steve Lew
for API Equality Northern California’s Dragon Fruit Project collecting oral histories of LGBTQ Asian and Pacific Islander people:
Interviewer: What do you want other people to know about your family?
SL: Well I have a younger brother – actually we are all in our 50s, but he is 2 ½ years
younger than me. And he and I came out to our parents together, so we have been
out a long time. My parents have been at different points in their lives have been kind of like parent activists for LGBT issues, and both of them, when I was doing more
antistigma work in the late 80’s and early 90’s, they both came to, it might have been
here, for some press conference that we had in Chinatown around just talking about
HIV stigma and AIDS and LGBT stigma. We called it - it was part of a sexual diversity project and both of them, even though they did not speak in Chinese they
kind of addressed the Chinese press, and it was a really nice moment having them do
Interviewer: And is there anything else you want to share with the [Dragon Fruit] Project?
SL: I want to read this. This is just a piece that I wrote. It was for the 10th anniversary
of the Gay Asian - at the time it was called the Gay Asian Rap Group.
“1984 was not the year that the Queer Asian Pacific Islanders… it instead was a time
in LA, and in many gay urban centers, where race and sexual orientation lived across
town from each other. You had to travel across freeways to get a glimpse of the other
part. Gay community meant white and Asian Pacific community meant straight. Upon
walking in the most gay bars and community meetings you’re reminded of that reality.
So it was in the warm light and smells of different kitchens that gay Asian men began
to congregate and meet.
“We talked a lot about race, sexual orientation, family, media, stereotypes of API
men and culture, we ate food together, became friends, cooked a lot of meals, then
talked about starting a group for people like us.
“Some of us became gay Asian Pacific Islander and AIDs activists, some of us found
boyfriends and girlfriends, some of us came out to family members and coworkers,
and some of us shaped new families. A few of us became aware of our bisexuality or
a truer gender orientation, some of us lived many different lives since 1984, and some
of us had died.
“The first small group that began in 1984 – John, Dennis, James, and Mike – have all
passed away. GARP should have stood for the Gay Asian Rap and Potluck since so
much of it revolved around food – Korean, Thai, Chinese, Hawaiian, Filipino, Indian,
Japanese, Vietnamese, and Asian American dishes. Food offered a way to gather,
recognize each other’s family, and to begin to share things which were unique about
ourselves. After all the plates were cleared, we delicately picked over the topics which
never got aired over our family dinner tables. Male sexuality, our relationships with
women, fathers, white men, other men of color, coming out, dating, building
relationships, aging, community activism, and about living with HIV.
“I am closing my eyes trying to build back to capture an image or memory of GARP a
decade ago. It’s dark out but still warm. I’m coming home from a RAP meeting
cruising down the Harbor Freeway in a summer evening, disco
music blasting and the car windows are rolled down. I could smell the warm LA air,
the car and airplane exhaust, and the distinct breath of garlic and ginger. I belch and
laugh with a friend who’s sharing a ride home. We had just eaten our way through the
movement and are satisfied with the knowledge that there are many more meals to be