I Li Hsiao was born in Taiwan but moved to America in 1980. He didn't come out to himself as queer until college, but even as a member of an LGBT group there, he didn't feel like he was a part of an organization that he could really identify with.
Growing up, Joy Messinger's identity caused problems for her as well. As an adoptee child to American parents, who also identified as bisexual and queer, she had a hard time finding others who could accept her based on these characteristics.
For both of these individuals, Invisible to Invincible ( i2i )Chicago's community-based organization that celebrates and affirms Asians and Pacific Islanders who identify as LGBTQQhas been a safe haven; a place where they are free from judgment and can be themselves.
"I had struggled for a while to find an Asian American community that would accept me, because I didn't grow up in an Asian family," Messinger said, "and i2i was very accepting and inclusive of people of lots of different experiences and identities, and so I found it to be a space that was inclusive of my identity as well."
Hsiao added that i2i allows him to tell personal stories and have a community that understands where he's coming from.
As i2i celebrates its 10-year anniversary at the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance ( NQAPIA ) national conference, taking place at the University of Illinois at Chicago Aug. 6-9, i2i core members Hsiao, Messinger and JJ Ueunten talked with Windy City Times about i2i and what it means to them.
Since i2i was founded in 2005, it has grown from about 10 or so people, to having about 100 of people on its list serve, according to Hsiao. With more people, it's allowed them to be more active in the community, which is something they take a lot of pride in.
i2i participates in events such as the Chicago Dyke March ( which it co-sponsored in 2012 and 2013 ), the Chinese Lunar New Year Parade in Chinatown, and the Disability Pride Parade, in which the group participated for the first time.
Moreover, i2i plays a role in helping to educate the public on issues related to race and sexuality. According to Ueunten, Asian service providers often ask i2i to give educational presentations to its members. Ueunten hopes these sessions will help make the Asian community more welcoming to those who are LGBTQQ.
They said that coming out can be extremely difficult for Asian Americans especially those who were born to immigrants, because terms such as "gay" and "lesbian" might not exist back in their parents' homeland.
Hsiao added that maintaining the "family name" is important within Asian communities, saying, "If you're gay, there's a chance that your kid might not have your [family] name."
Education also occurs internally. For example, during its July 20 general meeting, a panel of LGBTQQ people who have disabilities was put together by Liz Thomson, a i2i longtime member. The conference addressed issues of intersectionality between race/ethnicity, disability, sexuality and the body.
"I thought it was a really good opportunity for allies, reporters and i2i members and family and friends to come together and talk about disability, which is a topic and an identity and community that i2i is new to learning about," Messinger said about it afterward. "It was a good space for learning and for raising awareness of disability and the multiple ways in which disability can look."
And while serving as an educational presence and participating in public events to show solidarity with other Chicago movements is important to i2i, the group also takes pride in its social aspect. In fact, the events that are the most highly attended are the potluck dinners that take place on a monthly basis. These dinners occur within members' homes and provide an opportunity for them all to connect with one another.
Allies are welcome at all these events, unless otherwise noted, but there's a specific meeting time for only those who identity along the LGBTQQ spectrum and are Asian or Pacific Islander. These monthly "coming out" meetings, which are usually centered on a specific topic, provide a safe space for individuals to discuss what they are going through, especially as it relates to their coming out experience.
Hsiao talked about what these gatherings mean to him.
"For me, the fact that people feel like it's a safe space where they can share about their journey of coming out [is important]," he said.
Right now, most of the i2i's resources are being used for the aforementioned NQAPIA conference; i2i is co-hosting it, along with Trikone-Chicago. During the three-day conference, there will be a Community Catalyst Awards Celebration on Friday Aug. 7, at Cai Restaurant, 2100 S. Archer Ave., in Chicago's Chinatown.
Here, two i2i members, Hsiao and Thomson, will be honored by the NQAPIA for their work improving the lives of LGBTQQ Asian and Pacific Islanders. For now, this recognition of two of its members is how i2i will be celebrating its 10-year anniversary. Because members have been so heavily involved in organizing and planning the conference, not a lot of thought has been put into a unique anniversary partyat least not yet.
See NQAPIA.org/wpp/nqapia-2015-conference/ .