Gay Asian Christians Seek Greater Acceptance
Often invisible in their Christian churches, LGBT Asian Americans are increasingly speaking out in order to be seen and heard.
The Network on Religion and Justice for Asian and Pacific Islander Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer People, based in San Francisco, is working with faith leaders to foster a more welcoming environment for LGBT API worshipers at their churches.
"Asian churches are not just places of worship. With immigrant communities they are our community centers," said Lauren Quock, 31, a queer woman who is the network’s coordinator.
They also play a vital role in the lives of API LGBT seniors. As the Bay Area Reporter noted in a story in April, faith communities are an especially important source for social support among Asian American LGBT seniors in San Francisco.
Yet, to date, the network lists on its website just six Bay Area congregations as affirming of LGBT APIs.
"It is small. That shows the severity of the issue and how little LGBT issues are talked about," said Quock, who grew up attending the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown.
If they are, it is often from an anti-gay perspective, even in the liberal Bay Area.
In April 2004 a largely Chinese Christian crowd rallied against same-sex marriage in the Sunset in reaction to then San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s decision to allow for gay nuptials that winter.
Back in 2008 Asian churches were targeted by the proponents of California’s ban against same-sex marriage known as Proposition 8. Their role was highlighted during the federal trial in 2010 over the anti-gay ballot measure.
A key witness was Hak-Shing William Tam, one of the official Prop 8 ballot proponents. He incorrectly warned in letters to Asian voters their churches could be sued if their pastors refused to marry same-sex couples.
"Prop 8 and other campaigns like it targeted Asian communities because they know Asian pastors are well connected and can mobilize a lot of people," said Quock, who stopped attending her church due to its participation in the 2004 rally.
She now identifies as a recovering Christian and has yet to find a new church to call home.
"My church family growing up and the people who knew me, it is irreplaceable," said Quock. "I lost those connections and it has been difficult to replace it. The Network on Religion and Justice has replaced that in my life."
One of the network-identified churches, the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation located in San Francisco’s Sunset neighborhood, is holding an event this weekend to foster conversation among API Christians, both LGBT and straight, about how to be more welcoming and supportive of LGBT worshipers.
"I think part of it is, just in general, there is a cultural silence in API families, not just the church," said Mathew Chacko, 50, who volunteers as the music director at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation. "My family never talked about it, and that just translates into the church."
Growing up Chacko’s family life was centered on the Church of South India, which is part of the Anglican Communion. Born in India, his parents moved to Kuwait for work when Chacko was 1-year-old.
In 1985 he came to America for graduate school at UC Santa Cruz, where he earned an advanced degree in computer science. It was there that Chacko came out as gay.
"After I came out I didn’t go to church at all. It was hard to reconcile my two identities because they were so diametrically opposed," recalled Chacko, who lived in San Jose until 1992. "It wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco that I started going to church again on a regular basis."
He was drawn to the Episcopal Church by its music and more open-minded policies toward LGBT people.
"My family is more evangelical. The Episcopal Church is more liberal," said Chacko, who works in the technology field.
His husband, the Reverend Darren Miner, whom he met 22 years ago, is an associate pastor at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation. Seven years ago Miner, 54, and Chacko joined the small parish of 80 members, split 60 percent Caucasian and 40 percent API.
"In San Francisco we may take it for granted, but there isn’t a conscious outreach to API LGBT Christians," said Chacko. "When I ran into the Network on Religion and Justice, I thought it was a great place for me to be with in order to meet other API LGBT folks in a faith-based environment."
The organization helped finance the film In God’s House about API LGBT Christians and their struggle to find acceptance in the church. It screened at the 2007 Frameline International LGBT Film Festival.
"When the movie came out only one person in the film was willing to share her experience being queer, Asian and a person of faith," recalled Quock.
The network and Chacko’s church have teamed up to present the film this Saturday, June 21. Following the screening will be a discussion exploring the themes broached in the movie.
Even though his church is a member of Oasis, a network of LGBT-friendly Episcopal churches, Chacko said the film event will mark the first time LGBT issues have been discussed since he and his husband joined.
"I think the film is a great opportunity to have a discussion around this topic. Maybe more so in the API community but just in general," he said. "We want to do it in a non-threatening way."
The film screening begins at 5 p.m. Saturday, June 21 at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, 1750 29th Avenue between Noriega and Moraga. The free event is open to the public and will end with a special Pride Taize service.
For more information or to RSVP, visit the church’s website at http://www.incarnationsf.org