A haven for Vietnamese members of the LGBTQ+ community could be found every Sunday night on Song That Radio, the nation’s first Vietnamese gay and lesbian radio show broadcast out of KSJX in San Jose. Translated as “live truthfully,” the hour-long program was founded in March 1999 by Vuong Nguyen. She was known as the “Eldest Sister” of the ST family, who also founded one of the country’s first Vietnamese gay and lesbian groups in San Jose in the late 1980s.
This wasn’t Nguyen’s first radio gig, previously working as a news writer and reader for American military radio while living in Saigon. Born in 1943, she advocated against Communist Hanoi while a college student early in the Vietnam War. She brought a Vietnamese-style broadcasting mix of news, contemporary music, poetry and letters from readers to Song That Radio, focusing on messages of anti-homophobia and equality in the community and society.
A slogan of the program has been documented online as, “Live true to your biological nature, and live well together, with everyone around and proud of your own. Your natural nature, that of a homosexual, is useful in society.”
The mission of Song That Radio included advocating for acceptance in the Vietnamese community, bridging gaps between heterosexual family members and educating about HIV and AIDS. These goals proved especially vital for closeted LGBTQ folks who weren’t fluent English speakers.
The most recent programs still accessible online date back to August 2013, when discussion topics ranged from a French woman providing breastfeeding services to homosexual parents and Amsterdam’s Gay Pride festival, to Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” stance on gay people and ABC Family airing a lesbian wedding on TV – the first after the Supreme Court struck down the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act. In addition to radio programming, they hosted in-person shows, where packed audiences would watch nights filled with song, dance, comedy and fashion, sometimes with standing room only. Song That Radio’s location in San Jose wasn’t happenstance.
According to a 2011 report on the Status of Vietnamese Health, Santa Clara County’s Vietnamese population grew from 11,717 in 1980 to 134,525 in 2010 – the second largest of any county in the country. The City of San Jose had the largest Vietnamese population of any U.S. city. At the time, there were no Vietnamese words to clearly, respectfully talk about the LGBTQ+ community. The idea was that by building understanding, that would lead to love, openness and freedom by building a bridge between Vietnamese roots and queer life. This work blended into politics, including marching against Prop 8, which temporarily halted legal same-sex marriages in California. On May 15, 2012, Song That Radio received a commendation from the San Jose City Council.