CALVIN HO, one of the most energetic and active volunteers at APIENC, identifies as a gay Asian-American of Cambodian, Thai, and Chinese ancestry, though his ethnic identity is complex. Calvin currently studies psychology at San Francisco State University. With APIENC, he has been an intern and a trainer, and has spent much of his time as a volunteer on the Dragon Fruit Project.
Belonging in and serving the queer API community has been important to Calvin since early in his childhood. Being raised in a traditional family environment and attending a very religious school with an atmosphere of homophobia, he struggled with depression and self-harm until deciding to find a new community and insisting upon transferring to a more accepting school. At the new high school, Calvin delved into leadership within the API student community, and helped to start an LGBT student space—two experiences which pushed the edges of his comfort zone and helped him to explore and contextualize his identities. Involved in fundraising and community spirit events through these clubs, he also faced the challenge of dealing with the Catholic school’s administration, which was uncomfortable with the presence of an LGBT space in the school. Calvin says that his experience being in unsafe environments and fighting for inclusion has been fundamental to his goal to become a psychologist and to work in mental health. Further, his family’s recollection of the Cambodian genocide has shown Calvin how difficult it is for many Southeast Asians to openly express their emotions. “I want to help the person who is an outsider or who feels that they don’t belong,” he says.
Unsatisfied with the lack of a space that was both queer and API, Calvin sought and joined APIENC as a volunteer, where he says the inclusiveness and the vibe makes him “feel comfortable enough to just be myself.” One of his most memorable experiences at APIENC was during the Summer Leadership Exchange, in which his small group had to summarize a case study of Helen Zia experiences as a queer Asian organizer. Calvin recalls how the story was emotionally powerful and dramatic – qualities which his cohort captured as they turned the story into a dramatic skit, depicting a stark scene where Zia burns her diaries. Group members acted out a fire while Calvin pushed another person into the fire to represent the burning of the diary. Calvin recalls, “That was pretty representative of the energy I get and the inclusiveness and the vibe I get at APIENC – I feel comfortable enough to just be myself.”
Outside of APIENC, Calvin has volunteered at Kaiser Permanente in a project aiming to increase accessibility to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a preventative treatment for HIV, for gay males in the Bay Area. The project has become personal for him, as some of his friends have contracted HIV during his time working to publicize more accessible PrEP options. His volunteering at the Dragon Fruit Project has also connected with HIV prevention advocacy; his first interview, with three Asians involved in HIV prevention during the 1980s, helped to destigmatize HIV/AIDS for him after being raised with the stigma in his childhood.
“That was such an enlightening experience – growing up, my mom really trained me to stigmatize and fear HIV because when she immigrated here that was the first image of gay people that she saw. Her number one fear for me was that I was going to get AIDS one day. I got to talk to people who have had it and helped other people who had it live rewarding lives. Hearing that really broke down all the barriers that my mom created in me.”
Calvin hopes that the queer API community can overcome cultural and national barriers that have historically divided people across the API diaspora. Particularly, he sees the way that historical differences have divided the Southeast Asian community and how this has made it difficult for the queer SEA community to express themselves and unite. He also sees the poor representation of queer SEAs in queer API spaces as an important issue, and the work of queer APIs living in Asia “who are tired of being silenced” as being a crucial part of queer API activism in the future.
Fun fact: Calvin says that he doesn’t have a fun fact, but we know from his stellar baking that this just isn’t true! He would like to add how appreciative he has been of the people he has worked with in the past and present, and particularly would like to thank MLin for their welcoming efforts in serving as a mentor to Calvin and other volunteers, as they realize their full potentials.