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A Straight Ally In The Asian Community Speaks Up for Gay Marriage

From the desk of Shane Goldsmith, Liberty Hill's Leadership Institute Director:

This week my wife and I were able to attend the Lambda Legal Liberty Awards dinner.

We laughed, we cried, and we stuffed ourselves with crab cakes and brownies.   Thanks to our dear friends at Caldwell Leslie & Proctor, PC for getting us there!

The best part of the evening was when Karin Wang accepted the Liberty Award. Karin is a member of Liberty Hill’s Community Funding Board and she is the VP of Programs at the Asian American Pacific Legal Center (APALC - the largest legal and civil rights organization focused on Asian Americans). She helped found API Equality-LA, a coalition of LGBT and allied groups working to advance marriage equality in the Asian American Community, and a Liberty Hill grantee. She spearheaded a highly successful Asian languages educational media campaign about marriage quality and led API Equality-LA’s media efforts against Proposition 8.

In her acceptance speech, she dedicated the award to API Equality-LA and APALC, and she explained why she works so hard for marriage equality even though she’s straight. Here is an excerpt from her speech:  

It was not something that I planned, and – honestly – it was not even something that I chose.  As a civil rights lawyer, I know that our battles often choose us.

And 5 years ago, when 1,000 Chinese-Americans protested gay marriage in Los Angeles, I was drawn into this particular battle. 

The Chinese American protest was striking to me because 100 years ago, California had anti-miscegenation laws, banning marriage between different races, and specifically singling out Asian immigrants. At the same time, the U.S. government passed laws that made it impossible for Asian women to immigrate to the U.S., and even went as far as to strip U.S. citizenship from any American citizen who dared to marry an Asian immigrant. For me, knowing this history of discrimination against Asian Americans, it was difficult to watch members of my own community advocate discrimination against gays & lesbians – especially when the arguments used against gay marriage are nearly identical, word for word, as the arguments used against interracial marriage not that long ago. 

On November 5th, after Prop 8 passed, I would have put marriage equality at the top of the list of “really, really hard issues to win.”  But amazingly, the same election results that are so difficult to accept – because we really should have won – also offer a great lesson of hope and progress. The Legal Center has polled voters in Southern California for more than 15 years, tracking Asian American voter opinions and trends. In 2000, we polled Asian American voters on Prop 22, the ballot measure that created a statutory – instead of constitutional – ban on marriage equality.  Asian Americans were split roughly 70/30 in favor of Prop 22, significantly worse than the general voters who were split 60/40. Last year, California voters narrowed the gap between those that support and oppose marriage equality to 52-48, a significant shift in 8 years. That’s pretty good, right?  Well, imagine our shock when we looked at our Prop 8 data and saw that Asian Americans voted 54/46 or nearly equal with the all other voters – dramatically down from the 70/30 split in 2000. California voters narrowed the gap by 14 points – but Asian Americans narrowed the gap by 30 points in the same period of time. 

It’s hard to pinpoint all of the causes for the dramatic shift, but it’s not a coincidence that during that 2000 to 2008 period, API Equality-LA, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center and dozens of Asian American community groups were engaged in a public education campaign to change hearts & minds in our community. Every time I am disheartened by the setbacks on the road to equality, I look at the data and I realize that real change IS possible.