September 29, 2022

The number of Asian American and Pacific Islander LGBTQ political candidates has doubled. They share some reasons.

Janani Ramachandran, 30, says she has always lived at the intersection of two isolations.

As an openly gay South Asian woman growing up after 9/11, she felt few could relate to her specific experience – and representation was non-existent.

“I think it’s definitely hard for LGBTQ South Asians to feel fully in different spaces,” she told NBC Asian America. “I can feel uncomfortable in predominantly LGBTQ spaces because I see very few people who look like me. In predominantly South Asian spaces, I also sometimes feel uncomfortable not be reflected.

Running for Oakland City Council this year, Ramachandran hopes to change that. If successful, she will be the city’s first South Asian councilor and the only female member of the state‘s LGBTQ council.

His run reflects what experts say is a demographic shift in the country’s politics. Since 2018, the number of LGBTQ Asians running for office has more than doubled. This year, that group is bigger than ever.

“We’ve been navigating the last few very difficult years with anti-Asian hatred combined with anti-LGBTQ hatred,” said Albert Fujii, press officer for Victory Fund, an organization that supports LGBTQ people in politics. “It really says something about these candidates that they’re ready to be very visible.”

Two years after the Stop Asian Hate movement began, Fujii says climate change for Asians has caused a dramatic increase in the number of community members becoming politicians.

“I think for so many people who are interested in public service, sometimes it takes an event or a few years to be the catalyst to get to that point when enough is enough,” he said.

In 2018, only 20 contestants nationwide identified as both Asian and LGBTQ. In 2020, that number increased only slightly, with 23 Asian LGBTQ names on the ballot. This year, there are 41, according to Victory Fund.

“Obviously, we have a long way to go to close this representation gap,” Fujii said. “But we’ve come a long way.”

Sam Park, 36, a Korean-American and the first openly gay man ever elected to the Georgia state legislature, says being the only Asian person in his Atlanta elementary school was surprisingly a good practice.

“I was terrified of running as an openly gay candidate, especially with my experience growing up as a gay Asian in the South,” said Park, who is a Democrat and was elected in 2016. “As the son of immigrants who came from humble beginnings, politics seemed out of reach.

He has seen laws passed over the years codifying discrimination in Georgia and demonizing the LGBTQ community. Even in his own home, he said, he struggled with layers of conservatism.

“One was just being in the South and being in a conservative culture,” he said. “That was reinforced growing up in a Korean household, which leans more conservative. … And then I grew up as a Southern Baptist. So I heard growing up that if you’re gay, you’re an abomination. Go to hell.”

He spent his youth and early twenties balancing being Korean American and gay, he said, and as a community leader the two now seamlessly integrate into his work. Much of his tenure is devoted to countering anti-Asian hatred, whether it be granular incidents of violence or the organized rhetoric of political machines.

“The blatant xenophobia and racism we’ve seen from Trump and Republicans trying to scapegoat Asian Americans for the worst public health crisis in this country’s history,” he said. he declared. “I think it really made us [Asian Americans] understand why political participation is so important.

Running for re-election, he sees a whole different landscape for Asian representation than when he first started out.

“When it comes to the political power and participation of Asian Americans, we’ve seen a marked increase over the last five to six years, but we really showed it in the 2020 election,” he said. -he declares. “In 2016, I was the only Asian American to serve in the state legislature. Now I think there are five or six, and each of them has made history. fully fledged.

Having lived in both the United States and India, Ramachandran says she can draw parallels.

“Bangalore has a lot of the same problems as Oakland when it comes to gentrification, affordable housing, pollution, infrastructure and of course corruption,” she said.

She grew up watching her mother fear dealing with the police, and she experienced first-hand the misogyny that comes with trying to make it as a woman. When she ran for California State Assembly last year, she recalls many people in her life urging her not to.

But her campaign was more successful than she could have imagined, she said. After reaching the second round, she finally lost to Mia Bonta.

The race ahead looks distinct, she said. There’s potential for this to result in many “firsts” for her, but overall, Ramachandran says it represents a much broader cultural shift in who can run for office.

“I remember so clearly everyone telling me not to do it a little over a year ago,” she said. “I want to show people that this is changing. Voters are ready for the new. And if we say we support LGBTQ leadership, IPA, women’s leadership, our own communities need to step up.