by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Advocates, entertainers, and organizers from the Seattle-area Asian and Pacific Islander (API) communities and their allies have scheduled the first-ever Pride ASIA event at Hing Hay Park in the heart of the Chinatown/International District of Seattle, on Saturday, June 23, from noon to 6 p.m.
'It is our hope to celebrate the diversity and culture of our LGBT communities with this event,' said Seattle API officials in a statement.
Aleksa Manila, host and co-organizer of this first annual event, Pride ASIA, moved to the U.S. in 1995 from Manila, Philippines, with her family to continue with college. Now 36 years old and one of Seattle's most recognizable entertainers, Manila told Seattle Gay News that the group of individuals working on this project are 'a very important collective' working to 'create safe space for all LGBT Asians and Asian Americans in the Northwest to raise awareness of the LGBT cause among API individuals, families, and communities.'
'As with most cultures, and although it varies from country to country,' she said, 'family culture is a very important aspect of API identity. Couple that with LGBT issues like coming out, faith/spirituality/religion, and self-esteem - the issues for Queer APIs can be overwhelming, and sometimes devastating.'
Manila says this event is a significant reminder that the Seattle/Northwest region has a beautiful and rich history of Queer API stories, 'not only of festivals and pageants, but of social change, health/wellness, and political/civic impact.'
Victor Loo, director of recovery services at Asian Counseling and Referral Service, agreed, saying, 'Pride ASIA is an event where we can show that API LGBT individuals are creative and resilient people who are out and proud, just like you.'
Loo came to the U.S. in 2000 after receiving the chance to further his education in social and human services. 'I immigrated from Singapore to the U.S. to find a place where I can feel liberated to be who I am and be truthful to myself, since being Gay is not only a taboo in my home country, but it is also illegal.'
'To my understanding,' he told SGN, 'there isn't an organized entity that unites API LGBTs and allies in Washington State, and hopefully this event will not only generate more awareness to the public through an interactive and fun way, but will also become a venue where API LGBTs and allies can gather to enhance and strengthen our community network.'
Loo says he has the 'deepest gratitude to the openly out and proud API LGBTs who paved the way for many of us to feel comfortable in our own skin, who took bold steps forward by coming out and being role models of courage.'
As individuals, Loo says it is important for us to 'create safe and nurturing spaces to fight for LGBT equality - it is never about a Gay agenda, it is a social justice issue for all.'
Benjamin Haong, 29, otherwise known as Sister Yuriko Lomein with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence - is a second generation Asian American. His family immigrated to Seattle from Cambodia during the Vietnam War era.
Haong told SGN, 'This event is important to me because I feel that this is the first Pride event where I will be able to celebrate all parts of my life and culture at the same time, rather than celebrating segments of who I am at different times of the year.'
Haong is an active member of the organizing committee behind Pride ASIA - along with Loo and Manila and a team of others working to make this inaugural event a success.
Tanya Rachinee, the current reigning Miss United Territories of Pacific Islanders Alliance (UTOPIA), 30, moved to the U.S. from Thailand in 1999 with her family to seek out a better life. Rachinee is a Transgender woman. 'I am proud to be Asian and I'm glad that this year will be the start of the Pride ASIA event,' she said. 'We are a minority group and sometimes we still see and feel discrimination toward us so it's time for us to come out and shine and show the world that we are here among you.'
At this event, Rachinee says, 'It doesn't matter if you are LGBT or a straight person.'
'Pride events are designed to be about who you are and feeling pride in who you are,' she continued. 'This event is important not just for this generation but also for the older generation, the pioneers who have suffered and who were hated by society but fought so we can be here today and call ourselves 'Asian' without fear.'
'This is also a good opportunity for Asian youth to educate themselves about their heritage and to be proud of it,' she concluded.
Aleksa Manila told SGN, 'Some have asked, 'How many Pride events do we need?' I say as many as it takes so that our voice and vision do not evaporate!'
'Pride ASIA is not to create division nor is it to discredit Stonewall, but to recognize that LGBT issues and concerns continue to grow and surface,' she said. 'Let us not forget that until  homosexuality was deemed a pathology in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and it was illegal to be Gay. To date, our communities have made efforts to enforce ENDA, repeal DADT, and now marriage equality in our state. Pride ASIA is to assist in celebrating the larger LGBT continuum.'
'I am confident and excited that Pride ASIA will bring together the region's Queer API forces,' concluded Manila. 'Over the years, Seattle has been home to amazing organizations like Queer & Asian, Long Yang Club, Night FantASIA, Miss Gay Filipino (FCS), and Young Asian Men's Study (YAMS), to the Queer International API Council and United Territories of Polynesian Islanders Alliance (UTOPIA). We are at the peak of the intersection of race and gender/orientation. Please join us in celebrating the colorful diversity of Queer API culture. This historic event will be a feast for all the senses honoring the past, present, and future of Queer APIs.'
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