by Roy Liebman, Publications Chair
Asian/Pacific Gays and Friends (A/PGF), one of the oldest continuously-existing gay Asian organizations in the United States has reached a great milestone---its 30th anniversary. It was born out of a profound need for gay Asians to have a forum in which to discuss problems and needs of mutual concern, and to look for solutions to the issues facing them. Among these were their perceived status as sometimes less than full members of the gay community at large, and the differences between Asian-Americans born in the United States and those coming here from Asian countries. And, less solemnly, to have a companionable place to meet and socialize with each other. A/PGF was the first formal organization to really address the interests of this community.
Prior to 1980, throughout the gay scene of Los Angeles, Asian men were rarely seen at most of the bars, clubs and bathhouses that constituted the social scene for gay men. If Asians were not actually barred from such places, it was uncomfortable for most to go into them. And when they did, they rarely encountered another Asian. A few venues, such as the River Club and Mugi’s, were the only places for groups of gay Asians to meet and, needless to say, they were not venues for serious discussion. As a result, there did not exist a great sense of community among gay Asian men. Many felt isolated.
The idea of forming an organization for gay Asians had been discussed for some years before 1980, but an important impetus came from gay liberation pioneer Morris Kight, who then had an Asian partner. He convened a meeting at his house that about two dozen people attended. Discussions centered on what kind of organization it was to be: social, political, cultural or a combination of these? Subsequent meetings drew more people----there were about 60 to 70 at the second one. There was also a retreat at Big Bear.
And so in 1980 the organization was born as Asian/Pacific Lesbians and Gays (A/PLG). It was initially thought it would not be a hierarchical kind of organization, instead consisting of an elected steering committee of officers and delegates-at-large. The steering committee members then became the first members of A/PLG, with Tak Yamamoto becoming Member Number One and the first secretary. Ultimately, when A/PLG assumed a more hierarchical structure he became its first President in 1981. The first Board had a majority of Asian members.
On the way to its current success, like any other group A/PLG had some growing pains. Among the first issues to be addressed was the role of non-Asians in the organization, and it sometimes proved contentious. What would their role be? Would they be able to serve on the Board or just work behind the scenes supplying some of the organizational know-how? Would non-Asians be included in such functions as the rap group that was supposed to be a safe haven for Asians to discuss their unique issues? Just who was to run this nascent organization?
One important goal was for Asian members to develop and/or hone their leadership skills, to achieve empowerment and, yes, validation. Other major goals included building solidarity between Asian gay men and lesbians and between native Asian-Americans and those who had emigrated from other countries. However, the issue of possible non-Asian domination of the organization took precedence in the beginning, and consumed considerable energy. Some other aims temporarily took a back seat.
Another perceived problem also caused some soul-searching. There were those who saw A/PLG just as an opportunity for making “romantic” connections (i.e., cruising). This alienated some members, including the lesbians, who were few in number to begin with. This was one reason their already small numbers declined to the point where they formed their own organizations such as LAAPIS, the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Islander Sisters. This reality finally led to the name being changed to its current form, Asian/Pacific Gays and Friends, in 1997.
With the onset of the AIDS epidemic shortly after the founding of A/PLG, the entire gay community had to put their differences aside and come together to fight the scourge. A/PLG was in the forefront of the effort to educate the Asian/Pacific community of the dangers of the epidemic. They lobbied the county and the state for funds to produce culturally relevant AIDS material. Other problems faded.
More gay Asian organizations came into being but A/PGF continues to flourish. The growing pains had led to growing up and, finally, maturity. It now features more monthly activities than any other gay Asian organization in the United States and continues to add more. A/PGF proudly looks beyond this milestone of 30 years into the future. It will continue to be a place where gay Asians and their friends can come together to share both their unique and common bonds. Its mission statement is available on the website www.apgf.org. As an example of the values of A/PGF, the first statement reads: “To provide a support system for gay men and women of Asian/Pacific Islander descent in their relations with their families and communities so as to understand and accept each other with caring and pride.”
The author of this article is indebted to Eric Wat’s 2002 book The Making of a Gay Asian Community: an Oral History of Pre-AIDS Los Angeles for much of the information about the history of Asian/Pacific Gays and Friends.
by Roy Liebman, Publications Chair