By: Al Ballesteros

The API PI community is one of immense diversity in ethnicities and cultures, representing more than 6 million people in California. This makes them the third largest community after Latinos and Whites in the state. For Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage month, we seek to learn a bit more about the API PI community and the LGBTQ population within the API community.

To this end, Adelante Magazine chatted with Jury Candelario who leads one of the largest and most innovative organizations working with our API PI friends.

The Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team, APAIT is one of the most robust community organizations meeting the needs of LGBTQ people who are of AAPI decent. Founded in the late 1980s, the organization began as an AIDS services organization to respond to the crisis but since has grown to provide much more. APAIT’s mission is to positively impact the quality of life for vulnerable populations experiencing challenges with behavioral health, sexual health, housing insecurity, justice involvement, and human trafficking.

APAIT serves the diverse communities of color populations in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Their services include HIV/STI testing, prevention, and treatment; a reentry and diversion program for the justice involved; mental health counseling, psychiatric care, and intensive case management services; interim, short-term, and permanent supportive housing; anti-human trafficking advocacy, legal services, case management linkage; and community-based participatory research programs.

Jury Candelario is the Executive Director APAIT and a well-known advocate for AAPI communities since 1995. We asked Jury about his organization and specific issues affecting the AAPI community.

What is the history of your organization and why do you exist?
APAIT’s humble beginnings started in 1987 as a grassroots AIDS Service organization (ASO) for Asian and Pacific Islanders (APIs) who were dying alone from AIDS-related stigma and shame.

What are the unique challenges when dealing with the AAPI communities?
The AAPI community is not monolithic and even have diverse languages spoken. Therefore, that poses as a challenge when mainstream society try to lump them in together. The reality is each Asian group has their own unique cultures, values, and needs. It’s important to recognize this nuance. We also deal with multi-generational challenges with some being 2nd or 3rd generation, some even 4th generation, so just like other populations.
How, if any, are LGBTQI AAPI communities different than other LGBTQI people here in Los Angeles?
There’s definitely a lot of diversity in Los Angeles, but there’s also a lot of segregation geographically that spills over into enclaves because of the size of Los Angeles. Therefore, you’ll see API LBTQI folks throughout Los Angeles County, not necessarily concentrated in certain areas. I’d say most young queer APIs hang out more in urban settings while those more settled are in the suburbs.

What are some of the areas of major need, from your perspective?
Inequity and inequality are continuing to impact the fabric of society and Los Angeles is no exception. We have a horrible affordable housing crisis that continues to rise as a result of inequity in wealth distribution. Our ongoing polarized American culture is not helping us move forward as a nation because we are so divided and fractured. All this contribute to a decaying of sorts which impacts the most vulnerable communities, like the ones APAIT serves – low income, socioeconomically disadvantaged, communities of color.

The level of discrimination and violence against the API community reared its ugly head during the pandemic. Are you still seeing a lot of this happening?
Yes! The vitriol lodged towards the Asian community increased during the pandemic and continues to permeate. The LA County Human Relations Commission’s hate crimes report that all communities have seen an uptick in hate related incidents and hate crimes, Asians and the LGBTQ+ are not exceptions. This is why we have programming specifically geared towards anti-Asian hate as well anti-Trans hate, where we support the community to report their hate incidents, provide mental health resources, as well as linkage to referrals as needed.

Is there discrimination towards the API PI LGBTQ community from other parts of the LGBTQ community? Or is everything integrated?
I think you only have to turn to social media, as well as meet-up apps like Grindr, etc., to see that there’s still discrimination towards the API PI LGBTQ community. You’ll still see hateful or insensitive comments “No Asians please,” or “No submissive Asians,” etc.

How accepting is your “average” API family of LGBTQ persons?
I don’t believe there’s an “average” API family who accept LGBTQ persons. However, I will say that the dial has moved significantly in support from Asian families towards LGBTQ rights. This support from API families began mostly during the marriage equality movement that spurred in the mid-2000s, particularly in LA, by a group called API Equality-LA. Their mission was to change hearts and minds of API communities in support of marriage equality. I believe that movement, through their sheer grassroots, door to door canvassing of API families, and their advocacy efforts, really turned the tide on how API families are more accepting of their LGBTQ+ loved ones, and as a result, become better allies.

We hear that mental health needs and substance mis use is a problem among LGBTQ persons. Are you seeing this?
Yes, one of our largest programs focus on providing behavioral health services for LGBTQ+ communities. It’s not a stretch to imagine that many in the LGBTQ+ still experience homophobia, transphobia, and for Asians, xenophobia. This forms of discrimination result in complex trauma for the community. This is particularly true for the transgender gender nonconforming community; a population that remains living in constant threat of violence and fear for their safety.

A lot of API LGBTQ people say they often have struggled with self-acceptance. What do you think contributes to this, if you agree.
To an extent, yes. Many in the API LGBTQ+ community come from a collectivist culture where you must not bring shame to the family. Although younger generation of API LGBTQ+ are not seeing this as frequently in their immediate families, you will still see this collectivist culture in their extended family. For many, particularly among immigrant populations, being queer / LGBT is still considered something to be ashamed of, and that’s where self-acceptance continues to be a struggle.

Tell us about some of the future things your agency plans to do?
APAIT plans to continue being part of the solution to the homelessness crisis, and hopes to expand from its current nine housing programs throughout Los Angeles. We will also continue to expand and provide high impact culturally affirming services to our queer gender nonconforming constituents through quality mental health services. Also because of the overlap and high need, we also plan to support additional reentry services for the justice involved community. Finally, we hope to improve our internal research infrastructure so we contribute to scaling up promising interventions that we develop internally.

If someone needs services, how can they access help?
You may contact APAIT at 213-375-3830, or walk-in at our main office in Koreatown located in 3055 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90010. APAIT is located at 12832 Garden Grove Blvd., Suite E, Garden Grove, Orange County, and could be contacted at 714-636-1349. You could also visit us on social media @apaitonline, #apaitonline, on FB, Insta, and X.