May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPIHM). Although Victory Institute celebrates the groundbreaking contributions of the AAPI community year–long, we would like to take a special moment to highlight a few leaders that have forged a critical path toward inclusivity and acceptance. These trailblazers continue to inform conversations around the significance of equitable representation on all levels of the U.S. government, especially for LGBTQ communities of color. Their status as one of the firsts will inspire the efforts and political ambitions for many generations to come.
An Homage to One of the First
Rosalie “Rose” Bamberger (1921 – 1990) – founding member of The Daughters of Bilitis
In the 1950s, gay bars were magnets for police raids. Interested in a safe space to dance and meet new people, Bamberger and her wife Rosemary Sliepen hosted a meeting with other San Francisco-based lesbian couples and modeled the idea for a lesbian-friendly and exclusive social group. The club, entitled The Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), quickly grew into what became the nation’s first lesbian rights organization.
Paving the Way in the Face of Resistance
Joshua Tenorio – Lieutenant Governor of Guam
Joshua “Josh” Tenorio is the 10th elected Lieutenant Governor of Guam and the first out LGBTQ lieutenant governor in U.S. History. As a founding member of Equality Guam, Lt. Tenorio continues his advocacy work by serving as a role model to young people as an out elected official. In an article with Pacific Daily News, Lt. Tenorio stated, “I knew that I’d be running as an out candidate. I also thought it was very important for LGBTQ individuals, especially young people, to have positive role models and see themselves represented in leadership in our government.”
Mark Takano – U.S. Representative for California’s 41st congressional district
Upon taking office in 2013, Mark Takano was the first out LGBTQ person of Asian descent elected to Congress. Representative Takano’s professional experience as a grade-school teacher in underserved communities and lived experience as a descendant of Japanese Americans who were sent to internment camps during World War II led him to a political career focused on amplifying the concerns of historically suppressed voices.
Chantale Wong – U.S. Director of the Asian Development Bank
The Biden-Harris Administration made history in February with the appointment of Chantale Wong, the first out lesbian and first LGBTQ person of color in U.S. history to be confirmed by the Senate into an ambassador-level position. As mentioned in this statement by the White House, Ambassador Wong is known for co-founding the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership (CAPAL) and for her leadership in supporting younger generations and their career interest in public service.
Read more about Wong’s historic confirmation here.
Ty Penserga – Mayor of Boynton Beach, Florida
Ty Penserga, a Philippines-born American, made history this March as the first out LGBTQ Mayor of Boynton Beach, Florida. The same day Mayor Penserga’s election was held, made more notable by the Florida State Senate passed its dangerous “Don’t Say Gay” bill. His election – just hours after the vote – clearly showed the fight for LGBTQ equality and dignity is far from over – and Florida’s LGBTQ community is still fighting back. Before taking elected office, Mayor Penserga served Palm Beach County as a grade-school teacher and chemist.
Read more about Ty’s historic win here.
Her Legacy Continues
Urvashi Vaid (1958 – 2022) – LGBTQ rights activist, attorney, and writer
The work of AAPI LGBTQ changemakers continues in honor of the pioneers who are no longer with us. The legacy of the late Urvashi Vaid, a 40-year veteran of LGBTQ advocacy work, is memorialized by her decade-long commitment to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and award-winning authorship at the intersection of policy and LGBTQ liberation. As president of her own social innovation firm and co-founder of several leading LGBTQ advancement groups, including the Donors of Color Network, National LGBTQ Anti-Poverty Action Network, the Equality Federation, the National LGBT/HIV Criminal Justice Working Group, and the National Religious Leadership Roundtable, Vaid dedicated her entire career to protecting sexuality and religious minorities from systematic persecution and will be missed dearly.