I used to work for a homophobe.
I felt nauseous. My hand trembled, and I shook for a good few minutes until I calmed down to write a response. The former president of the organization that I used to work for, S.J. Jung, had vehemently slammed marriage equality and doubled down on it. And that’s the platform that he’s running on to be elected to New York State Senate. I had inadvertently helped advance his career.
A whole presidential cycle ago, a miraculous thing happened. After 14 years of living dangerously as an undocumented immigrant, I got a work permit through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. My first “real” job was a communications officer at a small Korean American nonprofit with a deep history of serving marginalized Korean Americans. I was happy.
As an immigrant rights organizer, my specialty was in communications. Being a grassroots organizer in the days when Facebook and Twitter were on the rise, my expertise as the default young twentysomething was social media (N.B.: I didn’t even have a smartphone back then). I’ve lifted the efforts of the organization up.
Back then, the president of the MinKwon Center for Community Action was S.J. Jung, a Democratic Party district leader, a one-time Working Families Party nominee for New York City Council, and a local businessman. Because he was self-employed, he took a lot of time out to be the public face of the organization, speaking at rallies, participating in actions, and doing press conferences.
Although I had somewhat of a grassroots traction as a mid-to-low-profile immigrant rights activist, I gave up my public-facing activist persona for a while to focus attention on my organization. Because it was change I could believe in.
I’ve been hearing things about S.J., who has since resigned from the organization in order to be able to run for a New York State Senate seat. I doubted it and thought that it might be a smear from the Queens Democratic Party — after all, he is challenging an incumbent who had been in the seat for an eternity and a half. Then, the Daily News confirmed it.
I used to work for this person. I am so deeply ashamed that my work has benefited his candidacy by building him up while he was the president of the MinKwon Center. I made sure that he was visible on our social media channels. I made sure that his pictures were the ones we were pushing.
And now I feel utterly disgusted. But I must take action.
I hereby publicly challenge my former employers at the MinKwon Center for Community Action to really make an impact in the Korean American community in a truly meaningful way. Because community action is a lie if you don’t include the entire community.
- Disavow homophobia. Take a stand against homophobia especially in the Korean American and AAPI communities and show support to the LGBT Korean American and AAPI communities through a public statement.
- Stand with LGBT AAPI organizations. New York City is a hotbed of LGBT AAPI organizing efforts such as GAPIMNY, Q-WAVE, SALGA, and the Dari Project. Take the time to meet with these organizations. Work with them and lift their efforts up.
- Be inclusive of the LGBT AAPI individuals. Say that your organization is a safe space for everyone. Center them in your work. Participate in LGBT immigrant coalition efforts through United We Dream, etc.
I feel violated. My hopes, my dreams, and my youth were wasted in elevating his hateful political ambitions. I didn’t work at the MinKwon Center for Community Action to be paid well. There were plenty of times I wanted to leave, but I was there because I wanted to organize the entire community — not just the cisgender, straight model minorities.
I challenge the immigrant and the AAPI community and implore them to be brave and bold in inclusion. Radical inclusion is the only way that we’re going to win.
I will end with this. When I first started community organizing, I thought I’d be taking a hard stance on people like Donald Trump and the evil Republicans. I never thought that my own community would be my enemy.