A BRIEF HISTORY — SBQA’S FIRST FIVE YEARS (South Bay Queer and Asian)
Feb. 19, 1992 – Feb. 19, 1997
Provided by Roger F. Chow, Founding member final revised version, October 2, 2017
The Early Years:
Dino Ago and Roger Chow met in the Fall of 1991 and discussed the need for a Gay Asian Support Group for the South Bay, Northern California. On February 19, 1992, the first meeting of this group met at AACI (Asian Americans for Community Involvement) in San Jose. This was to be an AACI sponsored group, with AACI providing group facilitators. The night of the first meeting, only Dino as facilitator and Roger as a potential member, attended…along with a reporter from the San Jose Mercury News!! For the first few months, we met on a weekly basis…in fact, we met weekly through September of 1994. The initial few were Joe, Bill T., Cliff, Jerry, Minerva, and Roger; Alex, Bert, Dan, Jason, Jim C., Lee, Thim, Tommy and Tye joined our band. then came Leonard, Joel, Bruce, Ilong, Howard, Antoine, Anson, Arvind and Ashok. Somewhere along the way, Carmen and Vuong appeared and we had additional lesbian members joining Minerva. These names might not be in correct chronological order of when they first “came onto the scene” of sbQA.
Dino left; Patrick, Robert, Peg and later, Maria, Frank and Erik were assigned (by AACI) as facilitators for us. Once we counted eleven facilitators had been assigned to us. The group continued meeting, but decided to develop its own indigenous leadership/facilitators because of the continuous “turnover” of AACI facilitators. Thus we left the supportive umbrella of AACI “sponsorship” and launched into the unknown future and started meeting at the deFrank Center.
We were called the AACI group, then ALBGA (Asian, Lesbian, Bisexual and Gay Alliance) and finally, sbQA (South Bay Queer and Asian). We took our current name immediately prior to the Gay Pride Parade in June 19, 1994, where we made our appearance.
There was a rush….a thrill.! It was exciting, exhilarating and very affirming to have been involved in the creation of this group. Not only was this the first Gay Asian group (at least that I knew of), in the South Bay, and we were co-gendered for most of our first year. In fact, we even tried to develop a separate Asian Lesbian group; this group met by itself when sbQA went to a twice a month meeting basis—meeting on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month. Some people only came to socials; others became active in program development and planning. From the very beginning, it was decided that the group would be a social and support group. We focused upon providing a safe place for Gay and Lesbian Asians and Asian-Americans. We made a valiant attempt to be both co-gendered and pan Asian American. But, as time went on, it became evident that the lesbians felt “outnumbered!” Because we used English in our twice monthly “rap group meetings,” many who were born overseas felt less comfortable than others of us who were American born or were more conversant in English. Using English as well as sometimes our other “home languages or dialects” became more normative as the group continued through the years.
Our “rap group meetings” were very democratic. Even though there were four to six people volunteering to assist with each “rap meeting,” all planning meetings were opened to all who wished to attend. “Membership” was very vague…whoever came, became a member.” Others, who self-identified with this group also considered themselves, “affiliated members.” Some in this latter capacity seldom or never attended meetings; but ours was a group with whom they felt some affiliation, if not kinship and identification.
We had two “membership” crises!
The first occurred when a spirited meeting in which the issue of whether there was a need for a definitely “Asian space” for Gays and Lesbians existed. One member was particularly upset that there was such a strong sense to have “an Asian only space; unfortunately, we were unable to breach the schism. After a lengthy debate and discussion, the matter was put to a vote. Wording regarding “voting membership” was contributed by the late Paul Wysocki of the Santa Clara County Human Rights Commission.* The decision was that the majority of a planning/ core group would be Asian or of Asian descent.
In the summer of 1995, we had another “Asian Only” or “shared space” discussion. After lengthy discussion, it was decided that since there were many groups for the “majority community” and only a few groups which were distinctively for Gay Asians, we wanted to have our rap meetings closed—i.e., opened to Asians only (except when “non-Asian identified” guest speakers were invited. Thus our second “membership” crisis ended. All our social or other social functions would always remain “open to all.”
The perennial topics of “Coming Out, Relationships, AIDS 101, Dating, etc., were mixed with “Learning to dance the Samba.” “Theme night potlucks” where everyone was encouraged to prepare specific ethnic food themselves (Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Indonesian, etc.) were very popular. We went to see movies: “The Crying Game” and “My Beautiful Launderette,” as well as attended the Asian American Film Festival and the Lesbian Gay Film Festival (in San Francisco). We saw “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” We marched in the Gay Pride parades in San Francisco and then in San Jose. We walked in the Santa Clara County AIDS Walk, learned about safe sex and HIV, and had members who served on the Santa Clara County Commission on HIV/AIDS. We skied, camped out and had many, many meals together and established the tradition of our top three annual gatherings: (Chinese Lunar New Year (Tet), Thanksgiving and Christmas (Holiday) potluck dinners.
After our December 1994 retreat led by Living Well Project’s Daniel and Kenji, the group had a period of retrenchment and dealt with burnout as an issue throughout most of 1995. “To disband or not to disband” was the year’s unspoken theme. Then in early 1996, the group had an infusion of new members. Just as we were trying to decide our future and perhaps “ringing down the curtain,” along came Bill M., Kenny and Bryan, joined by James and Francis. 1996 saw a spurt of growth and renewed vitality. We obtained a website, a voice-mail telephone number and participated with ARIS and K&P (the Filipino group) in some joint events. Bowling, miniature golf, camping at Russian River, hiking around Angel Island, movies, potlucks, game nights, Lunar New Year’s (Tet), Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners as well as twice monthly “rap meetings” were some of the year’s activities. Providing a safe place to make and keep friends was an important function of this group.
A Toast and a Wish!
As we begin our sixth year, let us hold our heads high and feel good that sbQA has been here for our fellow brothers (and sisters). We created a safe place and a positive presence … for Gay Asians to “come out” and feel good about being both Asian and Gay. To this end, it is my hope that sbQA will continue to be here and to grow and provide a much needed space for Gay Asians here in Silicon Valley.
So, let us offer up a toast and say a “Thank you,” to all who have made it possible for this group to have existed and grow. To AACI, for providing the meeting sites, AIK (aid in kind), support and facilitators during our first year and a half; to our dedicated volunteers who chaired meetings, facilitated discussions, led hikes, hosted parties, made phone calls, outreached in our communities and fund raised by staffing back/front yard sale booths. For those hearty souls who dare to “go public” at our first two Gay Pride parades in 1993 and 1994. For the good wishes and support from our brother and sister organizations: ARIS, K&P, QAVA, Queer Asian Lesbians, GAPA and the former Living Well Project as well as the Billy deFrank Lesbian and Gay Community Center—where we’ve been meeting since about the fall 1994, BUT, most of all, for the quiet members and friends who have supported and come out to our functions and meetings through the years, “Thank you!” May sbQA continue to grow and prosper so long as it fulfills its mission and purposes: to provide a safe place for Gay Asians coming out and coming to terms with their dual minority status (of being Queer and Asian Americans) in a not too receptive heterosexual and still homophobic society.**
* My good friend, Paul Wysocki, died in the spring of 2017; he would have been 69 this October 23, 2017.
**If anyone’s name has been inadvertently left out or appeared out of chronological order, my sincere apologies for this oversight. Old age is slowly taking its toll!
This “brief history” was written for the 5th anniversary event of sbQA, held on March 1, 1997 at the Billy deFrank Lesbian and Gay Community Center, in San Jose, CA. It was revised with some minor revisions and corrections in March, 2009 and again in September, 2017. This was meant to be an “historical document” of our first five years, rather than a comprehensive overview covering our first twenty-five years. That task falls into the capable hands of others. (i.e., Dan, Bill M,, Lee, Ed, Jerry W., Cliff, Raymond K. and Robert A.). The baton has been passed. The race is ahead of us all. It is a relay race and not a sprint.