AAPIP Voices

“No One is Free Until We Are All Free”: LGBTQ People of Color Leaders at the White House


By Alice Y. Hom, Director of the Queer Justice Fund. LGBTQ POC leaders photo by Tiph Browne.

I am proud to raise my voice here in this day as black, lesbian feminist committed to struggle for a world where all our children can grow free from the diseases of racism, of sexism, of classism, and of homophobia. For those oppressions are inseparable. – Audre Lorde, 1979 1st March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights

On May 4th something historic happened at the White House – or as one participant called it, “The People’s House”: more than 75 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer leaders of color representing 35 plus organizations participated in a National Summit for LGBTQ People of Color Leaders to engage in dialogue with White House officials and staff and with each other about the needs, policy issues, and the work happening on the ground. It was an opportunity to build stronger ties to organizations and people from across the country and to leverage our collective knowledge, power, and resources for a broader social justice movement.

A panel of activists—Lourdes Ashley Hunter, Trans Women of Color Collective; Fred Ginyard, FIERCE; Paulina Helm-Hernandez, SONG; and Andrea Ritchie and moderated by Glenn Magpantay, NQAPIA—provided reflections from the field on criminalization, anti-violence, immigration, and economic justice issues. Their comments reflected a social movement that is multi-issue and intersectional in its political analysis around race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and religion which made this meeting at the White House significant.

The make-up of the planning committee for the Summit reflected this broader movement: allgo, API Equality Northern California, Brown Boi Project, Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement, FIERCE, Gender Justice Los Angeles, Muslim Alliances for Sexual and Gender Diversity, National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, Southerners on New Ground, and Trans Women of Color Collective. There were many other people of color led organizations represented including AAPI and South Asian organizations: API Equality Los Angeles, Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center, Freedom Inc., I2I:Invisible to Invincible, KhushDC, Queer South Asian National Network, and SALGA.  

As a participant and because of the work of AAPIP’s Queer Justice Fund (QJF) to advocate for more funding for the LGBTQ AAPI community, I was heartened to see LGBTQ AAPI organizations a part of this grouping. Representatives from API Equality Los Angeles, API Equality Northern California, Freedom Inc., and NQAPIA participated and helped organize this Summit. These organizations were a part of the QJF’s BRIDGE project, a capacity building and leadership development program that ran from 2012-2014. This project helped strengthen LGBTQ AAPI organizations with paid staff to connect, share information, and to build power with each other.

Yet, “the People’s House” wasn’t open to everyone. An undocumented member from Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement (Familia TQLM) wasn’t granted security clearance and could not attend. In a show of solidarity, other representatives from Familia TQLM decided to boycott the meeting and instead asked Bamby Salcedo, a Trans Latina activist and founder of TransLatina Coalition, to read a statement from them about undocumented LGBTQ immigrants and the barriers they face in society and detention centers.

While this national meeting of LGBTQ people of color leaders at the White House is a sign that we have made progress since 36 years ago when the first Third World Lesbian and Gay conference was held in Washington DC, it still is not enough. That conference occurred during the same weekend as the first March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in October 1979 when Third World lesbians and gay men met with each other to build solidarity and to ensure that that struggle for gay and lesbian rights also had to incorporate all oppressions—racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia.

However, current events like the interruption of the White House LGBT Pride Month celebration on June 24 by Jennicet Gutiérrez, a Transgender Latina activist with Familia TQLM, indicates that while the White House may be open to hearing from some LGBTQ people of color leaders, they are not welcoming of all the diverse voices of critique and dissent. Gutiérrez spoke out about trans women of color, LGBTQ, and immigrants who face violence, sexual abuse, and discrimination every day in detention centers. The negative response by some LGBTQ people in the audience serves as a reminder that the LGBTQ movement is far from unified in understanding the lived experiences of people who face systemic inequality based on race, gender, sexuality, and class. The LGBTQ People of Color Leaders Summit is a reminder that while certain voices are now heard in different spaces of power, we still need to fight for access, visibility, and action. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “no one is free until we are all free.”