Asian Pacific Lesbian Network Is Founded

The Asian Pacific Lesbian Network was formed after Asian lesbian women came together for the second lesbian and gay march on Washington. The network supports and empowers lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Asian women through increased visibility, building leadership within the community, and by developing resources.

Summary of Event

The United States in the early 1980’s saw the growth of support groups and informal networks for Asian and Pacific Islander (API) lesbians and gays, primarily in urban areas such as San Francisco and New York. About one hundred API lesbians from all over the United States met at the 1987 National March Political activism;marches on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in the nation’s capitol. This group included members from organizations such as Asian Pacifica Sisters in San Francisco, D.C. Asian Lesbians, Asian Lesbians of the East Coast, and the South Asian Gay and Lesbian Association from New York. The march—which energized API participants, especially those who lived outside urban areas and did not have access to API-focused support groups—marked the first time that API lesbians in particular had organized to participate in a national event. [kw]Asian Pacific Lesbian Network Is Founded (1987)
[kw]Pacific Lesbian Network Is Founded, Asian (1987)
[kw]Lesbian Network Is Founded, Asian Pacific (1987)
Asian Pacific Lesbian Network
[c]Organizations and institutions;1987: Asian Pacific Lesbian Network Is Founded[1710]
[c]Race and ethnicity;1987: Asian Pacific Lesbian Network Is Founded[1710]
Wong, Doreena
Chan, June
Ordona, Trinity

The Asian Pacific Lesbian Network, now called the Asian & Pacific Islander Lesbian, Bisexual Women, and Transgender Network (APLBTN) had been in the planning stages in 1987 when API women discussed founding the network. The women founded the network after meeting at the home of a cofounder and after participating in the first West Coast Asian Pacific Lesbian Retreat in Sonoma, California, and in the first Asian Pacific Gay and Lesbian Conference in San Francisco.

Two of the founders were Doreena Wong, a Chinese American attorney who has been a part of APLBTN since the network’s founding, and June Chan, who cofounded Asian Lesbians of the East Coast (ALOEC) in 1983. The first national meeting of the APLBTN was in October, 1988, in Washington, D.C., when API lesbians from nine cities around the United States gathered to form a mission statement for the organization.

One of the first activities of the APLBTN was the First National Asian Pacific Lesbian Retreat in Santa Cruz, California, during Labor Day weekend in 1989. The theme of the retreat was “Coming Together, Moving Forward.” More than 150 API lesbians and bisexual women from around the United States and Canada attended the retreat. There were also a handful of international participants, those from England, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Trinity Ordona, a Filipina activist, gave the opening address of the retreat, stressing the continued oppression faced by API’s in both the lesbian community and the Asian American community. She added that, importantly, the retreat was a political solution to that oppression.

Retreat workshops focused on a variety of issues, including internalized oppression and fighting the common stereotype of Asians as the “model minority.” There were also workshops on alcoholism and recovery in the API lesbian community and coping with mixed heritage. Originally, the retreat was billed as an “Asian/Pacific” lesbian gathering, but during the course of the retreat, the terminology changed to “Asian/Pacifica” to reflect the inclusion of all members.

Retreat participants expressed a sense of relief at being in an environment that was lesbian and API focused, but there were also tensions about exclusion within the organization, specifically the focus on Eastern Asians at the exclusion of Pacific Islanders and South Asians. For example, retreat organizers were criticized about the way the brochures and T-shirts pictured East Asian women only. There were also concerns about including bisexuals. The retreat ended with a serious discussion of the network’s goals and the planning of the next APLBTN retreat, which was to be in Hawaii.


The APLBTN helped spread the formation of API-focused support groups and political networks outside large urban centers. It created a central organization to connect all the various existing and newly developed API lesbian organizations throughout the United States. Many women were able to connect with other API lesbians at the first retreat. The social isolation faced by API lesbians within both the Asian American community and the lesbian community has often kept API lesbians apart.

Many women of color have criticized lesbians for their racism and for excluding them from the debate regarding issues that affect women of color predominately, such as economic oppression. APLBTN responded to these criticisms by creating a forum for discussion and political action. Also, South Asians and Pacific Islanders, such as Hawaiians, in particular, were critical that they were included in the early days of APLBTN in name only. The network has since addressed issues of inclusion and exclusion within the API community. In particular, they have addressed the high visibility of Japanese and Chinese American lesbian API’s. Asian Pacific Lesbian Network

Further Reading

  • Chung, Cristy, Alison Kim, and A. Kaweah Lemeshewsky, eds. Between the Lines: An Anthology by Pacific/Asian Lesbians of Santa Cruz, California. Santa Cruz, Calif.: Dancing Bird Press, 1987.
  • Eng, David L., and Alice Y. Hom, eds. Q & A: Queer in Asian America. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998.
  • Hom, Alice. “Addressing Differences: A Look at the 1989 Asian Pacific Lesbian Network Retreat, Santa Cruz.” In Privileging Positions: The Sites of Asian American Studies, edited by Gary Y. Okihiro, et al. Pullman: Washington State University Press, 1995.
  • Hune, Shirley, and Gail M. Nomura, eds. Asian/Pacific Islander American Women: A Historical Anthology. New York: New York University Press, 2003.
  • Islam, Naheed. “Naming Desire, Shaping Identity: Tracing the Experiences of Indian Lesbians in the United States.” In A Patchwork Shawl: Chronicles of South Asian Women in America, edited by Shamita Das Dasgupta. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1998.
  • Kumashiro, Kevin K., ed. Restoried Selves: Autobiographies of Queer Asian-Pacific-American Activists. New York: Harrington Park Press, 2004.
  • Lim-Hing, Sharon, ed. The Very Inside: An Anthology of Writing by Asian and Pacific Islander Lesbian and Bisexual Women. Toronto, Ont.: Sister Vision Press, 1994.
  • Ordona, Trinity A. “Coming Out Together: An Ethnohistory of the Asian and Pacific Islander Queer Women’s and Transgendered People’s Movement of San Francisco.” Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Santa Cruz, 2000.
  • _______. “In Our Own Way: A Roundtable Discussion.” Amerasia Journal 20, no. 1 (1994): 137-147.
  • Williams-León, Teresa. “The Convergence of Passing Zones: Multiracial Gays, Lesbians, and Bisexuals of Asian Descent.” In The Sum of Our Parts: Mixed-Heritage Asian Americans, edited by Teresa Williams-León and Cynthia L. Nakashima. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001.

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