Some excerpts from an interview with Steve Lew API Equality Northern California’s Dragon Fruit Project collecting oral histories of LGBTQ Asian and Pacific Islander people:
1984 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 into most gay bars and community meetings you were 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.
By the second potluck I think we had a name. GARP was to stand for the Gay Asian
Rap, one of the first in a successive line of winning acronyms for queer API
organizations. GARP was a good buy up for gay Asian men and later for Asian Pacific
Islander men. It was held month after month for gay API men to see other gay Asian
Pacific Islander faces, to bare our faces and leave feeling stronger and maybe more
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.