'Mr. Wong's Dong Emporium': Racism and the Gay Community

It's hard being a queer person in a predominantly straight and non-transgender world. It's twice as hard, however, to be a queer person of color. We're frequently rendered invisible by the predominantly white LGBT community.
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Gay people love to talk about the diversity of our "community." But sometimes our actions fail to measure up to our words.

Recently, the queer Asian community in New York City was outraged by plans for a new gay party to be called "Mr. Wong's Dong Emporium." The event, conceived by Joey Izrael and the gay rapper Cazwell, was advertised using highly offensive language and stereotypes about Asian Americans, including a "Sum Hung Boys erotic dance troupe" and a "Happy Ending massage den."

To add insult to injury, when members of the queer Asian community spoke up and objected to this party, many non-Asian gay men dismissed these concerns by saying that it was just campy fun and that we needed to "lighten up."

Fortunately, the Gay Asian and Pacific Islander Men of New York (GAPIMNY) refused to be silent. GAPIMNY published an open letter to the party promoters explaining why this party was so offensive to the queer Asian community.

To their credit, the promoters apologized and changed the name and theme of the party. Whether or not this becomes a teaching moment for the broader LGBT community remains to be seen, however.

As an openly gay Asian-American man, I often feel like a stranger in my own queer nation. A number of news articles in recent years have documented the widespread racism against Asians in the gay party scene, as well as in gay cyberspace.

The "Dong Emporium" incident is just one of many racist incidents that have angered the queer Asian community over the years. Twenty years ago, in the spring of 1991, the queer Asian community protested a New York City fundraiser by Lambda Legal that was held at the Broadway musical Miss Saigon, which had used white people in yellowface to play Asian roles.

In 2000, queer Asians were enraged by a Hotlanta circuit party that featured a "Year of the Dragon" theme and used offensive Asian stereotypes like a "china doll" pageant competition, a "fried rice" dance party, and an "ancient Chinese secret: boxers or briefs" event. Around the same time, there was a post on a circuit party website that complained about being "harassed by tons of creepy Asians" and only being into people with "eyelids and real noses."

In 2004, Details Magazine published an article called "Gay or Asian?" that made fun of Asian and gay men by using stereotypical language such as, "Whether you're into shrimp balls or shaved balls, entering the dragon requires imperial taste." In response, the queer Asian community held a protest in front of the New York City offices of Details.

We're tired of constantly seeing racist phrases like, "No fats, femmes, or Asians," or, "Asians, prease reave me arone," in dating or hook-up sites like Manhunt or Grindr. Whenever queer Asians challenge these phrases as unnecessary and dehumanizing to an entire race of people, we're told that sexual attraction is just a preference and that we should "get over it."

And we're angry at the fact that there is not a single person of Asian descent -- or of African descent, for that matter -- in this year's Out Magazine Power 50 list. Considering that Asians constitute over 60 percent of the world's population, the complete absence of any queer Asians on this list is more than a little problematic.

It's hard being a queer person in a predominantly straight and non-transgender world. It's twice as hard, however, to be a queer person of color. Not only are we often reviled by our ethnic communities of origin, but we're also frequently rendered invisible by the predominantly white LGBT community.

It is my hope that our LGBT sisters and brothers will come to realize that queer Asians are an integral part of the gay community, and not just outsiders to be exploited for entertainment or humor's sake. In fact, we've been a part of this community since before the Stonewall riots, when the queer Asian American activist Kiyoshi Kuromiya courageously participated in one of the first public protests for homophile rights in the mid-1960s.

It is time that we honor all of the colors in the rainbow flag, not just with our words, but also with our actions.

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