When Siva ”Shiva” Subbaraman first got involved in the D.C. GLBT community in the 1980s, things were a lot different for Asian/Pacific Islanders.
”When I used to go to some of the early meetings in the ’80s, all I saw was white women,” Subbaraman says. ”And I couldn’t identify with the white lesbians from that time. I couldn’t understand how to put together those two pieces of my identity: being South Asian and being queer. So I left it alone.”
But it wasn’t long before Subbaraman, who came to the District from India for graduate studies, found herself involved in KhushDC, a gay group, and Asian/Pacific Islander Queer Sisters (APIQS). She would go on to serve as Asian representative for the Mayor’s Committee on LGBT Affairs from 1999 to 2002, before working as the associate director at the Office of LGBT Equity at the University of Maryland. And in August 2008, Subbaraman accepted a position at Georgetown University as the first director of the Catholic institution’s LGBTQ Resource Center.
”I think the community is just proud of the fact that it’s the first LGBTQ resource center in a Catholic school in the country, and the fact that they chose somebody who’s in the local community and South Asian to head that up,” Subbaraman says.
The 10th annual Pride and Heritage celebration recognizes Subbaraman’s accomplishments on Saturday, May 2,at Christ Church, Washington Parish, by naming her as one of this year’s honorees.
”We picked her because she’s been a longtime activist and educator in our community,” says APIQS’ Hyacinth Alvaran. ”She identifies strongly as a feminist and educator, and she’s a friend to all of us in the community.”
Alvaran says Pride and Heritage is held in May to coincide with the federally designated A/PI Heritage Month. This year’s event includes a dinner, an awards ceremony and time for thanking some of the founders of the A/PI-GLBT community groups in Washington.
More than a decade before locals first celebrated Pride and Heritage, Marshall Wong was the first person in D.C. to be appointed as the special assistant to the mayor for Asian and Pacific Islander affairs, in 1987. The second honoree for this year’s Pride and Heritage, he now lives in Los Angeles and will attend the D.C. event as co-chair of API Equality-Los Angeles, a group advocating marriage equality.
”We were surprised and very pleased that word about our efforts to advance marriage equality in the Asian-American community [in California] had spread to the East Coast,” Wong says. ”We are not a large or flashy organization generating a huge amount of news coverage. Most of our work is in grassroots organizing.”
In fighting California’s Proposition 8, Wong says the group conducted outreach at festivals and college campuses and also set out to educate foreign-language media serving the Asian-American community.
”It’s estimated that nearly 50 percent of Asian-Americans rely specifically on Asian-language television for their news on politics. And a lot of the ethnic press doesn’t adhere to the same principles and standards of the profession,” Wong says. ”For example, there were cases where the opponents of LGBT rights would hold a press conference and put out wild misinformation and reporters wouldn’t think to fact check or to seek an alternative voice.”
Naturally, the group was disappointed with the passage of Proposition 8, but Wong says they remain confident.
”The upsurge in grassroots activism around this issue, coupled with the recent victories in Vermont, Iowa and in the District of Columbia, give us hope that it is only a matter of a time before the freedom to marry is restored in California. We’re confident that we’re on the winning side of history.”
Pride and Heritage is scheduled for 6:30-10 p.m., at the Christ Church, Washington Parish, 620 G St. SE; Tickets $20 online, or $25 at the door. www.dcprideandheritage.org.