[Hpn] Gay Pride means more than just celebrating

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Tue, 19 Jun 2001 13:20:59 -0700


Published Tuesday, June 19, 2001, in the San Jose Mercury News


Pride means more than just celebrating to organizer of weekend extravaganza

Mercury News 

Cecilia Chung has spent most of her life not apologizing about who she is.

Not in Hong Kong, where she attended the prestigious Jesuit school La Salle
College. Not in Santa Clara County, where she worked as a court interpreter
until she was terminated. Not in San Francisco, where she's the president of
the 31st Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Celebration.

Not even when she was a he.

Chung is, after all, probably the first Chinese and the first transgendered
person to head up the one of the largest events of this kind in the world.
You don't get there by hiding.

Chung sees it as giving back.

``Being involved with `Pride' is my way of giving back to the city and the
community,'' said Chung, who stopped at the bustling ninth floor offices of
Pride's Fox Plaza headquarters to talk with me.

She wants the organization to reach out to ethnic minorities. With her
presidency, this year's celebration -- a two-day affair bookended with arts
and film festivals, awards and a community center's ground-breaking -- seems
to attract a little more attention to people of color in the event. For the
first time, for example, there will be an African-American stage among the
10 entertainment stages that have sponsorship.

But it's more than that.

``At one point in my life, I felt like I had no family. This community took
me in.''

Eight years ago, Chung was down and out and living in the Tenderloin. She
was estranged from her family, strung out on drugs and had taken refuge
among other transgender ``girls.'' And she was a he, a transgender person in
transition, taking the hormones needed to make the change -- and taking the
abuse that comes with being the lowest of the outcasts in this society.

``We are definitely placed at the bottom: the homeless, the drug addicts,
the transgendered,'' she said. She was attacked, robbed. Sexually assaulted.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. Her self-esteem was at its lowest. ``I
was ready to be true to myself, but not to be judged by the world.''

To see her today, you wouldn't think that.

On an unseasonably warm San Francisco day, she is wearing a black tank top
with a crisscross string back, dark denim jeans and matching DKNY denim
sneakers. I am envious of the red highlights in her shoulder-length, dark
brown hair. She is employed by the city, working to provide support services
to the chronically homeless. She speaks with the ease and the vocabulary of
someone who had the benefit of a good education.

A long, hard road to recovery in 1995 brought her to this day. Now she's
ready to be a role model.

``By my being president, it has increased my visibility as a transgendered
person, an Asian woman, an immigrant. And a person in recovery,'' she said.
``There's a lot I'm representing.''

The Asian media

She's instructed the publicists to reach out to the Asian media,
particularly Chinese-language media, because part of her crusade is to
educate Asians about her world and to help those who are still in the closet
or still questioning their own sexuality. The World Journal, one of the
largest Chinese-language newspapers in this country, will interview her

Lord knows, my community could use some educating. Being gay or lesbian is
hard enough for Chinese to talk about, forget about all the permutations --
or admitting homosexuality in your family. To this day, Chung's father won't
meet her in person. Or acknowledge the gender change. It's made for a family
split in half. Chung's mother and maternal grandparents are part of her
life. Her father and younger sister are not.

``When Cecilia calls and I'm not there, my husband says `Our son wants you
to call him,''' said Chung's mother.

Yep. Chinese fathers can be that way. The shame. The peer pressure. First,
he had a gay son and now his son has become a daughter, Chung said.

`I looked beautiful'

With Chung's 59-year-old mother and maternal grandparents, it's a different
story. The first time she reunited with them after her recovery and
transformation, Chung said, her eightysomething grandmother sat beside her
in the car and ``the first comment she made was, I looked beautiful.''

``I'm very happy to have her like this,'' Chung's mother said to me this
week. ``I don't care whether she is my son or my daughter.''

She knows how hard her daughter worked to climb back up from that very low
point. And she credits her daughter's achievement for her own activity in a
church-based community organization, the San Francisco Organizing Project.
It's her way of thanking God, she says, for giving back her daughter ``a
much better person than she was before.''

>From the outside, the Pride celebration often looks frothy and hedonistic.
But at its core it really is about freedom -- and acceptance -- to be who
you really, truly are. There is something to this role model thing.

After all, with my last name and her last name, you've probably been
wondering if there's any relation. No.

The way a Chinese would describe it, my surname when written has elements of
an archer's bow, and hers, elements of a clock. So, naturally we can't be
from the same family.

But I would be quite flattered if someone assumed she was my sister.

The celebration this weekend begins at noon Saturday with the fourth annual
``Stand Against Hate'' rally and followed by daylong entertainment. The
parade steps off at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at Market and Beale streets. For full
information, see www.sfpride.org or (415) 864-3733.
L.A. Chung appears Tuesdays and Saturdays and wants you to share your
stories with her. Contact her at lchung@sjmercury.com or (415) 394-6881.

 2001 The Mercury News.
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