“Growing up in D.C. was hard,” says actor and comedian Hank Chen. “I went to a Christian elementary school, and when I entered sixth grade, I was called ‘gay’ or ‘fag’ every day. I remember thinking, ‘How long can I get through the day without hearing that word?’ I distinctly remember third period was the longest I could go without being name-called.”
Raised in a conservative religious household in the Glenmont-Silver Spring area, Chen’s upbringing and his naiveté about D.C.’s LGBTQ community left him deeply closeted throughout much of his college years. As such, he empathizes with struggling LGBTQ youth whose families kick them out.
“While I was never homeless or thrown out on the street, that certainly was a fear of mine,” he says. “So I have compassion for kids who find themselves in that situation. I know exactly what it’s like to feel unwanted in your own community, to disappoint your parents, to not live up to the expectations of the culture you were brought up in.”
It’s why Chen agreed to perform stand-up at a fundraising tea dance for the Wanda Alston Foundation, which provides housing and related support services to LGBTQ youth. The tea dance will also feature a musical performance by D.C.-area indie soul band Oh He Dead.
“We’re thrilled with Hank’s involvement,” says June Crenshaw, executive director of the Wanda Alston Foundation. “[He’s] been really super engaged and excited about coming back to the area, and we’re hoping we’ll be able to raise a lot of money for our work.”
Crenshaw says many of Wanda Alston’s clients often require additional services, including mental and behavioral health care, treatment for substance abuse, or life skills counseling. Providing those services can be expensive, so Chen hopes to draw in as many donors as possible with a witty, current, but decidedly “non-Beltway” routine.
“My stand-up set will not be specific to D.C.,” he says. “I feel that’s boring for people in the area, and that’s why you’re bringing in someone from the outside who has hometown roots. I’ll share a bit of my story, but I’m going to be talking about my dog, about driving, about Asian stuff. Otherwise, you’d just invite a local comedian and have him write jokes about 495 and the Capitol and Trump — boring!
“My goal is to liven up the party, set the tone, and raise a lot of money for Wanda Alston Foundation. We want them to be successful. Yes, you can make eggs and mimosas for cheaper at home, but that’s not the point. You’re coming out to support an incredible cause. You’re also going to have a great time.”
Reclaiming the Tea Dance: A Festive Afternoon with the Wanda Alston Foundation is Sunday, June 2, from 1 to 4 p.m. at Eaton Workshop, 1201 K St. NW. Tickets are $150 each. To purchase tickets, or for more information, visit www.wandaalstonfoundation.org/events.