By Katelyn Jacobson
During World War II, Japanese-Americans were placed into internment camps not because of what they did, but because of who they were.
On Thursday, May 15, the Lionel Cantú GLBTI Center screened “In God’s Eyes,” a short documentary that chronicles a similar struggle within the Asian-American queer community, and two families who came to grips with reconciling the church children with their gay children.
Despite the brevity of the film, it painted a hopeful picture for gay and lesbian Asian-Americans striving for acceptance within their traditional church communities. Sean Tai, a representative of the progressive Christian group Faith, Education, Action, and Service Together (FEAST), cited the polarity occurring between first-generation immigrants and their younger American-bred descendents as a stumbling block to the coming-out process.
“For me as a gay man, if I wanted to come out to my Chinese grandparents, they would have little comprehension about what I meant,” Tai explained. “My grandparents equate homosexuality with prostitution, and there is no way that they would ever get it. I don’t want to just confuse them and break their hearts.”
The documentary noted the lack of visibility of gay and lesbian Asian-Americans. When one of the main characters came out to her parents, her mother replied, “I’ve never heard of Asian gay people. Why are you trying to be something you’re not?”
The film followed the stories of the Chi family and a Japanese pastor as they came to accept their gay daughter. It also addressed Biblical verses used to condemn homosexuality. One of the most commonly cited verses is Leviticus 18:22, which reads, “You shall not lie with another man as with a woman; it is an abomination.”
However, Pastor Hanoaka stated that these verses may not be culturally relevant, considering the surrounding verses also forbid the “abominations” of eating shellfish and certain birds.
Some audience members maintained criticism of the film.
“I kind of wish that it dealt with more of the differences between Asian churches and non-Asian churches,” said third-year Chaclyn Hunt, a member of FEAST. “And it was really short — one minute the parents were crying, and then they had accepted her, just like that. I think it could have shown more of what people go through.”
After the Chi family accepted their daughter, they found themselves alone in a sea of rejection from their own congregation, and struggled to find an Asian church anywhere that would support their daughter’s sexual orientation.
In a discussion following the documentary, Tai remarked that there is only a handful of gay-affirming Asian ministries, a fact that Asian and Pacific Islander Student Alliance (APISA) member Maggie Kong believes to be contributing to the closeted majority of gay Asian Christians, as well as the ever-present cultural differences.
“I think that a lot of the time people feel like it’s not safe to come out because either their friends will make fun of them or their families will not accept them,” Kong said. “It’s a very sensitive topic, sexuality and sensuality. We culturally don’t express a lot of our emotions to each other, so I think just coming out as gay or lesbian, or just telling them ‘This is my sexuality,’ is even harder when we — or at least in my family — don’t usually express feelings at all.”
However, there was ample time for expression in the discussion following the film, and the questions prepared by FEAST and APISA found willing participants in the small audience. The group concurred that the gay Asian Christian populace deserves more attention, and appreciated the affirming sentiments of “In God’s Eyes” as well as the positive and progressive thinking attributed to the featured Asian-American churchgoers.
“It’s important to recognize that there are Asian-American churches that are affirming of queer people,” Tai said. “The diversity within the Asian-American community is extensive and includes those who are very affirming, who are very open-minded, and the stereotype of Asian-Americans being more closed to this issue does not always hold true.”