R.I.P. Joannie Chang

August 6, 2010


I'm shocked and devastated to report that Joannie Chang, lawyer and longtime advocate for the rights of Asian Americans and other minorities, died last Saturday of stomach cancer, just a month after giving birth to twins. She was 41. Apparently, she was diagnosed only seven weeks ago, during her pregnancy. She leaves behind her partner, Luna Yasui, and her twin daughters, Ayumi and Yuuki Chang-Yasui. Here's her obituary.

Ironically, Joannie is best known for her advocacy for paid family medical leave and health insurance.

Ms. Chang devoted her legal career to representing workers, women and minorities as a lawyer with Equal Rights Advocates, the Employment Law Center and the Asian Law Caucus.

From 2007 until March, she worked for San Francisco's Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, drafting rules, contacting employers, and handling public inquiries about the first-in-the-nation ordinance providing care for the uninsured at a network of clinics and hospitals.

I worked with Joannie for years when she sat on the board of Asian American arts organization Kearny Street Workshop. She was sweet, funny, and clear-spoken; always firm, straightforward, hard-working, always reliable. She put her heart into everything she did, and she did much more than could be expected of the average Joan. Even years after we'd stopped working in the same organizations, my thoughts still turned to her when I needed help or advice.

I last emailed with Joannie in April, just after she and her partner Luna moved from their longtime home in the Bay Area to New York City. She didn't tell me she was pregnant, though. What she did do was, as usual, help me out by sending me a list of lawyers in the Bay Area I could contact for help with nonprofit work. Her last word to me was exactly like all the others over the years: kind, sweet, and helpful.

My thoughts are with Joannie's family, and especially with Luna and their newborn children.

There will be a memorial service in the Bay Area later this month. I'll update as the news comes in.

ETA: The San Francisco Board of Supervisors paid tribute to Joannie in their session on August 3. You can see the tribute in this video (just jump ahead to 2:06:00.)

And if you'd like to donate to help with medical costs and the care of her two newborn daughters, please go here.

Photo courtesy of Luna Yasui/Bob Hsiang Photo