Coming Out and Living As a Double Minority

October 11, 2012


Originally published at the International Examiner and New America Media

By Collin Tong

In the 1990s, homosexuals in the small, predominantly white college
town of Moscow, Idaho faced the same discrimination barriers they faced
everywhere. For Mike Chin, however, growing up as a gay Asian American
meant having to reconcile the twin challenges of race and sexual
Like many Asian Americans, Chin, the soft-spoken middle
child and only son of traditional first-generation Chinese American
parents, kept his sexual orientation a secret until he was 22. As an
undergraduate at Washington State University, his first exposure to
other gay students came in June 1995 when the university opened an
on-campus center for gays, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered students.

wanted to belong to the center but was afraid of being labeled or
associated with other GLBT students who were mostly white. At the same
time, I didn’t want to jeopardize my friendships with other Asian
Americans. I chose to hide my identity,” he said.

Years earlier
as a student at Moscow High School, however, Chin already knew he was
attracted to men. Coming out was not that easy, he discovered. “Even
though Moscow is a liberal place, it was not a racially diverse
community and fairly conservative,” he said. Chin’s mother was a high
school teacher in a rural community, while his father was a business
owner. “I learned from my parents the survival skills of not rocking the
boat and bringing attention to yourself.”

As the only son to
carry the family name, Chin was worried about his family’s reputation.
“You are a reflection of your family, and being openly gay wasn’t
something I felt comfortable about,” he said. Chin, 36, is an
enforcement manager at the Seattle Office for Civil Rights and oversees
investigations of discrimination in employment, housing and public

As it happened, it was Chin’s younger sister who
first disclosed her brother’s sexual orientation to her parents. At the
time, Chin was a study-abroad student in London in the spring of 1999.
His sister emailed her two sisters to inform them about their brother’s
relationship to another man and inadvertently sent the message to her

Although Chin had already informed his sisters, he had
not planned to tell his parents. “I knew they would be devastated,” he
said. Chin immediately made a long-distance call from London to his
parents and had a six-hour conversation with them. “I didn’t know if my
parents would still love and support me. I’ve always wanted them to be
proud of me.”

Ironically, coming out has brought Chin closer to
his parents. For the eight years prior to disclosing his sexual
identity, he struggled with the impact that knowledge would have on his
family. “I was ashamed and didn’t feel I could be who I was,” he said.
“I wasn’t sure they would accept me as their son. When I learned I was
gay, it took me a long time to come to terms with myself. I felt guilty
sharing it with anyone, including my parents.”

When his sister
revealed his gay orientation, Chin said it became a real test of his
parents’ love for him. “I prepared myself mentally that I could lose my
family and friends because of who I was. I have some gay friends whose
parents kicked them out of the house. I was so relieved that although my
parents have a hard time accepting the fact that I am gay, they still
loved me as their son,” he said. Both parents are retired and now live
in Pullman, Wash.

Since coming out, the reaction of his friends
and family has mostly been positive. “My immediate family has been very
supportive.” Chin hasn’t shared his sexual orientation with his extended
family, or friends of the family, out of respect for his parents. “My
friends have been very supportive as well. A lot of my friends are
people of color. My friendships have become a lot richer now that I can
be more open about who I am.”

These days, Chin has a partner,
German Gornalusse, 36, who is a postdoctoral research fellow at the
University of Washington School of Medicine. Both met at Dharma Buddies,
a Buddhist gay men’s meditation group and have been together since last
December. Gornalusse, who is from Argentina, received his Ph.d. in
microbiology at the University of Texas and did research on HIV AIDS.

American gay men and women face the unique challenge of straddling the
divide of ethnicity and sexuality, Chin said. “Being an Asian American
gay male, I never felt like I was a part of either community. I have
experienced a lot of racism in the gay community in terms of accepting
peoples of color.”

Chin acknowledged that he also faced
additional pressures from the more tradition-bound Asian American
community. “Some of the homophobia that exists has come from my own
community. If I were a white gay man, it would be easier. Being a double
minority is oppressive in a dominant white heterosexual society. It’s a
struggle to feel fully accepted in both communities.”

“In our
society, there’s no embracing of being gay and a person of color,” Chin
continued. “I’m wearing two hats and have learned to navigate between
being an Asian American and a gay.” Chin feels a great deal of empathy
for the ailing former Seattle City Councilwoman Cheryl Chow after her
recent announcement that she is a lesbian.

“My heart goes out to
her. It makes me happy that she came out as a lesbian, but I’m also sad
that a pillar in our community couldn’t be who she was publicly. It
makes me reflect on who we are as a society and how we deal with the
intersection of being Asian American and gay.”

Collin Tong is a freelance journalist for Crosscut and Seattle-based stringer for the New York Times.




This piece is awesome! I think reading this has helped me think about my own situation a little more deeply. Thanks!