Challenges for Asian American LGBT Students

Mark Anthony Florido, Region II KC Rep Asian Pacific Islanders, Graduate Student, New York University

January 22, 2014

College students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) also face challenges in higher education. While mainstream media and pop culture may allude to a more welcoming environment for those in the LGBT community (Poynter & Washington, 2005), recent newspaper headlines citing the suicides of gay students such as Tyler Clementi due to harassment of their sexual orientation seem to combat this notion.  Research has shown that many LGBT students face harassment, a sense of alienation, or an overall sense of dissatisfaction on their college campuses (Fine, 2011; Oswalt & Wyatt 2011; Yost & Gilmore 2011). However, this research rarely discusses Asian American college students. 

So what of Asian American student who must also face alternate marginalization due to another part of the identity? According to Kumashiro (1999), gay Asian males “experience oppression on the basis of both their race and their sexual orientation simultaneously and, thus, are doubly oppressed or ‘doubly marginalized’” (p. 498). Students who identify as gay and Asian American face marginalization for both their cultural identity and sexual orientation, but also marginalization of their sexual orientation because of their cultural identity and vice versa. Existing literature suggests that campus environments exert an important influence in college students experiences and outcomes (Museus, 2008). However, as Chung (2006) reports, many in the counselor role are “ill-equipped to provide culturally sensitive services to such populations with double minority statuses” (p. 68). 

Asian American males who identify as gay may face hardships stemming from their Asian cultural background (Kumashiro, 1999; Han, 2008; Chung, 2006). One of these obstacles Greene (1994) posits is that “the most salient feature of Asian-American families is the expectation of unquestioning obedience to one’s parents and their demand for conformity, consistent with the respect accorded elders and the sharp delineation of gender roles” (Greene, 1994). Along with this strict obedience, Asian-American males face a strong obligation to carry out one’s family name. Asian American men who identify as gay not only violates the cultural practice of one’s sex life as a private and individual topic, and prevents completion of familial obligations to promote the family name (Greene, 1994). 

Cultural values such as these may impact one’s development of his sexual identity. For example, Dubé (1999) sexual identity development sequence in Asian Americans differs from other groups, in that Asian Americans don’t typically engage in a same-sex act before identifying as gay or lesbian. Asian American gay youth typically engage in sex acts with males on average 3 years after their peers (Dubé , 1999). The same delay is reported in heterosexual Asian Americans (Dubé, 1999). LGBTQ Centers needs to be cognizant of this variation (Dubé, 1999). Asian parents also tend to take longer to accept their son’s homosexuality (Chung & Syzmanski, 2006). Greene points to one such phenomena of the commonly held belief by Asian American families that homosexuality is a White problem and that one catches it like a disease, and therefore can be cured of it (Greene, 1994). 

Mao and colleagues (2002) suggest another explanation in that because sexuality is a private matter, one’s sexuality is not crucial to their identity. Mao et al also posit that for many Asian cultures what Westerners would describe as homosexual activity does not necessarily translate to a homosexual identity (Mao et al., 2002). For example, being intimate with someone of the same gender does not necessarily mean that you are homosexual. Another possible explanation is the way that language poses a problem. Many gay Asian American males find it very difficult to discuss their gay identity with parents who have a different vocabulary to talk about their son’ emerging homosexuality (Poon, 2008). 

Researchers such as Green often point to increased homophobia within ethnic minority communities as an extra hurdle facing gay Asian-American males (Green, 1994). However, other researchers are quick to point out that “by minimizing racism within the gay community and maximizing the homophobia in ethnic communities, these stock stories absolve gay White men and women from any real responsibility for addressing White privilege or racial injustice within gay spaces” (Han, 2008). 

In addition Ridge and colleagues (1998) note the problematic media representation of gay males from Asian cultural backgrounds. His research specifically suggests that media portrayals ignore, devalue and exclude the experiences of gay Asian American men with Asian backgrounds when they are ready to join the gay community “even before they set foot on the scene, learn to situate themselves as marginal within the gay world.” (Ridge et al, 2008).

The factors above are just some of the issues that some gay Asian American males may face as they traverse their identities in a college setting. Like many other marginalized groups, gay Asian American males face a certain number of obstacles when traversing the college landscape. Though the current literature may not address the experiences of gay Asian American males in a college context, they do provide some insights on how student affairs professionals can better serve this population. Theses centers should become and remain aware of the alternative experience that gay Asian American males that may disrupt the stock stories. They need to accept that Asian cultural values may complicate the views of sexuality presented by gay Asian American males and how these views affect one’s sexual identity development. And finally, those in higher education need to be privy to the psychological and developmental stresses that are unique to gay Asian American students to better provide them with counseling services.


Chung, Y. B. (2006). Racial and sexual identities of asian american gay men. Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling, 1(2), 67-93.

Dubé, E. M., & Savin-Williams, R. C. (1999). Sexual identity development among ethnic sexual-minority male youths. Developmental Psychology, 35(6), 1389-1398. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.35.6.1389

Fine, L. E. (2012). The context of creating space: Assessing the likelihood of college LGBT center presence. Journal Of College Student Development, 53(2), 285-299.

Greene, B. (1994). Ethnic-minority lesbians and gay men: Mental health and treatment issues.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62(2), 243-251.

Han, C. (2006). Being an oriental, I could never be completely A man : Gay asian men and the intersection of race, gender, sexuality, and class. Race, Gender & Class, 13(3-4), 82-97.

Han, C. (2008). No fats, femmes, or asians : The utility of critical race theory in examining the role of gay stock stories in the marginalization of gay asian men. Contemporary Justice Review, 11(1), 11-22.

Kumashiro, K. K. (1999b). Supplementary normalcy and otherness: Queer Asian American men reflect on stereotypes, identity, and oppression. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 12 (5), 491-508

Mao, L. M. (2002). Ethnic and gay identification : Gay asian men dealing with the divide. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 4(4), 419-430.

Museus, S. (2008). The role of ethnic student organizations in fostering african american and asian american students' cultural adjustment and membership at predominantly white institutions. Journal of College Student Development, 49(6), 568-586.

Oswalt, S. B., & Wyatt, T. J. (2011). Sexual orientation and differences in mental health, stress, and academic performance in a national sample of U.S. college students. Journal Of Homosexuality,58(9), 1255-1280.

Poynter, K. (2005). Multiple identities: Creating community on campus for LGBT students. New Directions For Student Services, (111), 41-47.

Ridge et a. (1999). " Asian" men on the scene : Challenges to "gay communities". Journal of Homosexuality, 36(3-4), 43-68.

Yost, M. R., & Gilmore, S. (2011). Assessing LGBTQ Campus Climate and Creating Change. Journal Of Homosexuality, 58(9), 1330-1354.

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