As API LGBTQ community activists of faith, we often maintain busy schedules full of meetings and events. In order for us to discern how to best bring about justice for our community and sustain our spirits in the struggle, it is important for us to have a space for spiritual reflection. But as API LGBT people of faith, many of us experience isolation and alienation from our families, home churches, and communities. For many NRJizers, NRJ meetings are one of the few spaces in which we can be all of ourselves in our complex and multi-layered sexual and political identities.
The NRJ Talking Circle provides a sacred time and space for API LGBTQ people of faith to share feelings and thoughts about important issues in and affecting our lives with other API LGBTQ people of faith in a safe and structured way. In the NRJ Talking Circle, we sit in a circle together and meditate, talk, listen, sing, and reflect with each other.
Talking Circle Topics
This month we will talk about our responses to the recent Time article that publicized the InerVarsity policy that affects not only all staff but also all college students around the country and globe: basically, the policy gave the staff a two-week time line to admit their theological stance regarding same sex marriage and to leave their current position on staff if they supported it. Here are some questions that can shape our discussion:
- The view that homosexuality is not wrong if celibacy is practiced: is that supported by scripture? Why or why not?
- Non-affirming Christians believe that like alcoholism, homosexual practices must be curbed. How is alcoholism different from or similar to homosexuality?
- Non-affirming Christians say that they love the sinner but hate the sin (of homosexuals). What is your feeling about this, and how would you respond?
- It feels terrible to be rejected by others but especially when that rejection is not supported theologically. How can you respond to such rejection, and what can others do to support you?
Love, Sex and Spirituality
- In most spiritual traditions, sex has long been held as an obstacle to enlightenment. It has been seen as something to overcome, to transcend, or to go beyond. How might we see sexuality as a vehicle to spiritual growth?
- Do the ways you practice love (of all types) and intimacy in your life reflect your personal and collective values? If so, how so? If not, why not?
- How might your identity as an API, LGBTQ, and/or a person of faith, help or hinder the ways you think and talk about sex and sexuality?
Resolutions and Revolution
- "Resolutions" have somehow become super uncool it seems, but do you have certain goals or hopes for yourself or your different intersectional communities this next year? If not, why not?
- Do these hopes reflect your personal and collective values? If so, how so? If not, why not?
- How might your identity as an API, LGBTQ, and/or a person of faith, help or hinder you as you try to realize these hopes?
- How can we align our hopes and goals with the greater work that is being done locally and abroad to help bring liberation to the oppressed?
Family, pride and marriage?
- How was pride for you this year?
- What does the Supreme decision on marriage quality mean for you? and your family? what are your feelings and thoughts about marriage/ expectations from your cultural perspective?
- Do you have a faith community/family? If so, does their support/ or lack of impact your spiritual growth?
- Given all the media attention around LGBT pride, has this impacted you in any way- in your community, family, and place of employment?
- Who are the people in your life that you consider family? If not biological, why have you decided to make them your chosen family?
- Do you have a faith community/family? If so, what role do they have in your spiritual growth? If not, why?
- Are you out to your family? If so, how did you come out? If not, why?
- What different roles do you have in your family(ies)?
Race/Assimilation/Colonization/Being API in the US
- What's your experience been being an Asian or Pacific Islander in the US? Has this changed when you've lived in different places? Or at different times in your life?
- Do you think Ferguson relates to Asian and Pacific Islanders? Why? How?
- It seems API’s sometimes get caught in the space between Blackness and Whiteness. Sometimes invisible and trying to stay out of the crossfire, and sometimes quietly relieved to benefit from our non-blackness. Are there other options? Where do you want to be in all of this?
- Do you feel connected to the Black Lives Matter movement? Have you participated in recent Black Lives Matter protests? Why or why not?
- When have you experienced true reconciliation? How did it come about? How did you feel before? during? after?
- Are there relationships in your life that you'd like to reconcile right now? Do you feel there is anything that you can do to make that happen? Or do you need the other party to initiate the reconciliation?
- What would it take for you to reconcile a broken relationship (with your church, parents, children, friends, etc)?
- What does it mean to you when a (Methodist) church declares itself to be "Reconciling"? What do you think a Reconciling Church should do, have, or look like?
What does it mean to be children and heirs of God?
We read Romans 8:14-17 used it as the basis for our sharing.
- Which verse speaks to you?
- What does it mean for you to be heirs of God or God's children?
- Was there a time where you felt enslaved to act from fear rather than freedom?
- Knowing that you are a new creation and Christ and heirs to everything God has, what are some things you feel led to do or change?
We also watched a sermon by Rev. Christine Lee of All Angels Church in New York City. Rev. Lee is the first Korean American woman to be ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church.
We watched the documentary Paris is Burning and used it as the basis for our sharing.
- What have your experiences been at drag shows?
- What would you wear if you were to dress in drag?
- Have you ever tried to blend in to survive? Did it work? How did you feel?
- Where do you go to feel 100% right and have the opportunity to shine?
- What spaces do you hold sacred like the ballroom in the film?
We watched the film (A)sexual by Angela Tucker and used it as the basis for our sharing. Check out the film trailer here.
- How would you respond to someone who came out to you as Asexual/Gray-sexual?
- How are the struggles of asexual people similar to or different than the struggles of LGBT people?
- What are some specific struggles an API asexual person might face?
- Are there any characters in the Bible or other religious texts you think may have been asexual?
There's Always Hope
In light of Robin Williams' recent suicide, we watched the film Prayers for Bobby and discussed the following questions:
- Do you feel confident in who you are at this point in your life?
- Is there a time when you felt there was no hope?
- What's the difference between feeling sad and feeling depressed?
- What do you say when someone quotes a Clobber Passage to you?
- If someone an LGBTQ person believed that the Bible condemned their sexual orientation or gender identity, what would you say to help them?
Religious Fundamentalism and Family
We watched the film For the Bible Tells Me So and shared what the film brought up for us.
New Year's Reflections
We reflected on what we've learned and experienced this past year and looked ahead to our hopes and dreams for the new year!
Dari Project Book
We read a story from the Dari Project: LGBTQ stories from people of Korean descent book together and shared our experiences as they related to the story.
Dari Project Book
We read a story from the Dari Project: LGBTQ stories from people of Korean descent book together and shared our experiences as they related to the story.
- Do you associate God with a gender?
- What significance does gendering God have?
- What would it mean to un-gender or re-gender God? Would that affect the way we interact with God?
- Has the way you've gendered God in the past affected the way you view God?
Immigration and Migration
As a result of the recent debates about immigration reform, there has been much talk about the connections between LGBTQ and immigrant issues. We talked story about these connections:
- Did you or your family immigrate to the U.S? What motivated your immigration?
- How did you get to where you live now?
- How have past or current immigration policies impacted you, your family, or your friends?
Where do you find acceptance and affirmation as a queer, Asian Pacific Islander, person of faith and how can we create more of it?
- In what circles do you find it most easy to be your true self and why? (at church, work, school? with family and with friends? in places where you can be anonymous like bars and clubs?)
- Who gives you affirmation and acceptance just as you are? How do they show it?
- What part of your identity is most difficult for you to accept and affirm? What part is easiest? Why?
- What makes it easiest for you to reveal your identity as Queer, Asian, Christian? What makes it difficult?
There have been a number of trans women of color beaten and killed recently. In light of these recent events, some LGBTQ people have called for Pride parades to return to their radical political roots (i.e. Stonewall), while others are boycotting Pride parades in their locales. We discussed our experiences and thoughts around Pride:
- Do you go to Pride? Why or why not?
- What your first Pride experience like?
- How do you feel at Pride? Do you feel different than you do in everyday life?
- What do Pride celebrations mean to you?
Queer API Christian Pride
APIs are culturally conditioned to be sensitive to issues of shame. Possibly because our cultures emphasize the larger group notion of family rather than the individual, the psychology of bringing shame to the family has always had a stronghold on children and youth, keeping us in line with values pounded into us from our elders. Pride is something that doesn't bring shame -- it's the opposite, in fact!
- What feelings did you have as a child about having pride about something you did or something you were?
- What feelings do you have about being LGBTQ now – does it include pride? How do you show it?
- If our families seem too fragile or too traditional to handle our LGBTQ-ness, what are ways we can still be ourselves and show pride about being us?
- Nonverbal communication is huge in Asian families. Could our families be accepting of us, have pride in us, and yet not mention our LGBTQ-ness at all? Is verbal acceptance obligatory?
- Where do God and faith fit in our attitudes about pride?
- Who is your family?
- Who in your family has most influenced or affected you?
- What do we hope from our family? What do we wish for our family?
- How has coming out affected your family relationships?
- How does faith affect your family relationships?
- What does acceptance look like?
Being Open and Vulnerable in Community
We shared about a time we felt comfortable and safe enough to be open and vulnerable.
- Where were you?
- Who were you with -- a group or one other person?
- What was it that made you feel comfortable being vulnerable?
- What happened?
- How did others respond?
- How did you feel?
Race and Safe Spaces
In forming the new NRJ choir, the issue of interracial relations and what kind of space we want to create with the choir came up. This has come up in the past at various NRJ functions and raised a number of strong emotions, so we thought it would be good to use the NRJ Talking Circle as a space to talk about it:
- Have you ever encountered racism at a mixed race queer event? What happened? How did you feel in this situation? What can friends and allies do in the future to help address the situation?
- What have been your experiences in queer people of color spaces? How do you feel in those spaces?
- How do you feel in queer API only spaces?
- What is important to you about API specific spaces?
- Can we envision a space that welcomes people of all racial ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations that is also safe for API LGBTQ people of color?
The Faith and Spirituality of Youth
Recently in Lousiana, there was a group of gay men who were harassed and physically assaulted for being gay (click here to read article). As sad as that was, what was worse was that all of it happened at a movie theaters where children were present. That got me to think about children and their beliefs, and how their innocence was taken away, much like it did in Newton, CT. So for this month's Talking Circle, we will be reflecting on our faith and spirituality when we were children or younger. To remember what was it like before we became an adult and had different, and at times challenging life experiences. Here are some guiding questions:
- What was faith or spirituality to you as a young API LGBT person? Try to think of the silliest memory you had about your conception of God or the higher being, and sit with it for a bit to see what that reflected about our faith back then? What mattered back then when it comes to faith/spirituality?
- If you had a chance to go back and meet your young self, what would you say to them?
- As an adult, is there an aspect of your naive/young faith that you want to bring back? What is it, and why?
In spirit of the holiday season, the topic for this month's Talking Circle is Family (and its many incarnations)
- Who is your family? What makes them your family?
- "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam" is a Sanskrit phrase that means that the whole world is one single family. Only small men discriminate saying: One is a relative; the other is a stranger. For those who live magnanimously the entire world constitutes but a family. When has this been a truism for you? While a beautiful thought, as one who may have been marginalized for your beliefs/gender/sexual orientation/race etc. when has this phrase seemed furthest from the truth?
- How do you hope to build up your future family?
How has NRJ impacted your life?
As we prepare to talk structure and priorities at the NRJ retreat at the end of October, we invite you to reflect on the role of NRJ in your life:
- What does NRJ mean to you? What has NRJ meant to you in the past? Has this shifted over time?
- How has NRJ affected your life? What was your life like before you came to NRJ? What has your life been like since you started coming to NRJ?
- What's your favorite part of NRJ?
- What parts of NRJ are really important to you?
- What do you wish NRJ did more of?
Our Authentic Selves
- When do you feel most authentic?
- What people in your life guide your authenticity?
- In what areas of your life do you wish you could be more "truthful"?
- When has being more vulnerable been a good thing for you? When has it been not so great?
- At the heart of “My Authentic Self” is the concept of being who you have always been. Rather than going through life pursuing the person you think you “should be” or are “supposed to be”, “My Authentic Self” has you stop – breath – shift your perspective and connect with the authentic self within. If fear is the defender of ego, how has fear stopped you from being your most authentic self?
Traditioning, revisioning and dis/continuity in API queer community
What meanings and functions do we find and create in maintaining, reclaiming, modifying, and breaking from our different cultural traditions (as people in particular ethnic, sex/gender identity, political, faith, and other communities)?
- What meanings does silence have for you? (Is it meditative, observant, safe, reluctant, loaded, defiant?)
- What forms or experiences of silence do you try to cultivate? What forms or experiences are you trying to unlearn?
- How is silence a form of communication for you? What does it say or unsay? What does it do or undo?
Messages of Spiritual Sustenance
- What religious or spiritual message gives you hope or gets you through when times are tough? Where, how, or from whom did you learn this message?
- Has the message that's been helpful to you changed over time? Or changed at different points of your coming out process?
- Have you ever used a mantra? If so, what was it? When did it help you?
- Can you sum up your faith with a slogan? Or are you weary of the pop-religion trend of over-simplification?
Family, API Family, Church Family, Queer Family
- Tell a story about your family of origin. How did/do you see them?
- How did that family see you as a child? How do they see you now? What is your role in the family?
- What is the most wonderful thing about your family? What is the worst?
- Any holiday stories to tell us? Hopes, fears, tragedies, comedies?
- How has your queer experience affected your sense of family? In the past? In the present?
- How has your API identity affected your sense of family? How is your own family similar or different to others in your ethnic group? To families in the dominant culture?
- How does your religion shape your family? How has your family shaped your sense of religion?
- Who is your "church family"? What is your "church family" like?
- What does "queer family" mean to you? What role does "queer family" play in your life?
- Are you a parent? Do you plan to be? How does LGBT identity affect your parenting?
- Are there other relationships in your life you call family, other than your family of origin? What makes them family?
- How are you shaping your family today?
- How would you like to describe your family, ten years from now? What do you imagine will be true?
- What role does queer identity play in your life?
- How has LGBT politics and culture been helpful in your life? Unhelpful? Complicated?
- How do your queer identit(ies) support or conflict with your racial or ethnic identity? With your religious identity?
- Does queer spirituality inform your life and practice?
- What does community mean to you?
- What communities are you a part of? Spiritual? Ethnic? Gender, sexuality? Workplace? Neighborhood? Hobby, volunteer association, social action group? Past, Present, Future?
- What role does community play in your life? What role do you play in your community? Is it different for different communities?
- They say one of the biggest differences between Eastern and Western cultures is the importance placed on the group vs. the individual. What do you think about this? What do you personally believe? What do the people around you believe? Have you ever struggled with a choice about which to prioritize, yourself or the larger community? What did you do?
- What, ideally, do you think a community provides for its members? What do the members provide the community?
- What are your hopes and fears for your community life?
- In what ways has a community failed you? Or not lived up to its ideals?
- Have you ever failed to do what you should in your community?
- Have you worked to change a community "from within," or while still remaining a part of it? What was that like? Do you have experience or advice to share? Have you worked to change a community "from outside"?
- What do you believe about how communities change?
- What kind of a community is NRJ? What is your role in the community? What is the role of the Talking Circle?
- What happens when you and someone close to you (partner, parent, coworker) are members of different communities? Is there conflict? Is there enrichment?
Spirituality and Spiritual Practice
- What is your current spiritual practice?
- What did you learn about spirituality, God, or spiritual practice as a child? What have you learned since then?
- Who are your ancestors? How do they relate to your current spiritual practice?
- How does API community affect your spirituality? How does your spiritual practice affect your API community?
- How does LGBTQ experience affect your spirituality? How does your spirituality affect your LGBTQ identity?
- How does your spirituality affect your activism? How does activism affect your spirituality?
- What conflicts do your spiritual commitments create in your life? What gifts do they bring?
How do our experiences as APIs, LGBTs, religious people, activists, or allies affect our understanding of leadership? What roles have we played in the past; what might we be called to do in the future?
Celebrating (s.e.x.) with our Families
- Do family holidays—christmas, chinese new year—stress you out?
- How do you negotiate sexuality with family expectations/rituals?
- Does our sexuality—identities as LGBT—influence, agitate and/or enliven family traditions and holidays?
During the NRJ retreat last weekend, we began an NRJ Talking Circle on the topic of gender identity. Many full stories and deep questions emerged, but time was short, so this Sunday, we will continue to explore the topic of gender identity:
- What is your gender identity? How do you self-identify?
- Have you ever questioned your gender?
- What gender roles do you take on in your queer relationship?
- What gender do you aspire to be? Who are your gender role models?
- What's your relationship to Christianity? What's your relationship to Christianity as an LGBTQ person? What's your relationship to Christianity as an API person?
- What does Christianity mean to you? What does the Church symbolize for you? What values did you learn from the Church?
- Do you love the Church or hate the Church?
API Culture and Activism
- What parts of your API culture support your activism/standing up for justice?
- What parts of your API culture make it challenging for you to stand up? How do you navigate those challenges?
API Cultural Rules about Expressing Feelings and How We Feel About Them
- Growing up in an API family, what did you learn about expressing emotion? Were you supposed to be stoic or was showing your emotions okay?
- How was love and affection shown in your family? Did your family hug? What rules did you learn about expressing joy, sadness, and anger?
- Were the rules different for males and females? How has this affected how you express emotion and affection in your gender identity?
- How does how you express emotion play out or come into conflict in your friendships and/or romantic relationships? Have you found that your White or Pilipino or Samoan or Japanese or Chinese friends/partners express their feelings differently or act differently when you do when they're feeling joyful or sad or angry?
- Do you have different rules about expressing your feelings now than your family taught you growing up? Do you want to change the norm in your culture about how feelings are expressed?
API Queer Religious Community
- What does API queer religious community look like to you?
- Where do you find it?
- Have you found it useful? Why or why not?
- What's your relationship to the API community or communities?
- When/where/how have you experienced queer community?
- What has queer community been for you?
The CA Supreme Court Ruling on Prop 8, Marriage, and Critiques of Marriage
On the morning of Tuesday, May 26, 2009, the CA Supreme Court announced its ruling on Prop 8. We used this opportunity to be in community with each other after the ruling. We also used this opportunity to share our feelings about marriage and our critiques of the institution of marriage, in general.
- How do you feel about the ruling? What does the ruling mean for you and your relationship(s), future plans, and dreams?
- Do you want to get married? Are you theoretically opposed to marriage, but in a monogamous long-term relationship?
- Do you see same-sex marriage as symbolic of gays and lesbians assimilating into straight society? Or do you see same-sex marriage as revolutionizing and totally flipping the script on marriage?
- What purpose does marriage serve/what purpose has marriage served in your life? What alternatives to marriage/other sustainable family structures have historically existed in our API cultures? What alternatives to marriage currently exist in our communities?
The Heteronormative Path Versus Our Queer API Realities
Before you came out to yourself...
- Who did you think you would partner with?
- Who did you think would be your support system?
- What were your life goals?
- What did you see as your vocation or role in society?
- After coming out to yourself, did these things change?
- What is prescribed by our heteronormative society? What is our actual lived realities?
Why are ethnic churches important to ethnic people?
Some people question why API LGBT Christians who have felt excluded by their API churches don't just go to a Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) or another church that is reconciling or open & affirming. It is important for many API LGBTs that their church is an API church. Why is this? Why don't API LGBT folks just go to White MCCs or other reconciling or open & affirming churches? Why is it important for us to create LGBT-affirming API churches?
What's your API coming out story?
Though coming out is a common bond that most people in the LGBTQ community share, everybody has different coming out stories. The mainstream White coming out story is that an LGBTQ person comes out to their parents and their parents disown them and throw them out of the house. Is coming out different for APIs?
What would you do with the $45 million that was spent on the No on Prop 8 Campaign? (or What does the API LGBT people of faith community need right now?)
Many national and statewide LGBT organizations are focused on winning same-sex marriage rights and marriage equality. Forty-five million dollars went into the No on Prop 8 campaign and because we lost, people are still trying to figure out how we’re going to win the next campaign and the campaign in the next state. So from the outside, it looks like this is the most important thing for LGBT people right now… but is it really what’s most important to us or the only thing that’s important to us?
- What do you think are the things the LGBT movement today needs to be about?
- How would you use that $45 million dollars?
- What’s really important to us and going on in our lives as Asian American and Pacific Islander LGBT people?
The Community-Wide Call to Come Out
During the No on Proposition 8 campaign, organizations urged LGBTs to call and email our friends, family, and co-workers to ask them to vote No on Prop 8. After the passage of the Proposition 8 Ban of Same-Sex Marriage in California in the November 2008 election, community leaders have called for LGBT people to come out to their families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
The theory is that if we LGBT people come out to our families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers, they will personally know us and they will think of us (and not the negative stereotypes of LGBTs) the next time same-sex marriage and other LGBT rights are up for a vote. The theory is that through the act of coming out, we can win the next election.
This community-wide call to come out has put pressure on LGBT people to come out. In doing so, this call to come out has also raised anxieties in LGBTs who have not come out for a number of reasons -- many of us do not come out for fear of losing important relationships or because the risk to their careers is too high.
- Do we have to be out to be good API LGBT activists? Or is coming out just a White thing?
- Is coming out to homophobes and having dialogue with them about marriage equality what we need to do for our community right now?
- What do we need as API LGBT communities right now?
- What API cultural strengths do we have to contribute to the LGBT movement at this particular point in history?
Q: What is the NRJ Talking Circle?
A: The NRJ Talking Circle is a rare safe place to be all of your fabulous API LGBT person of faith self with other API LGBT people of faith. It is a place for activists to not act, but to just be and reflect -- no agenda, no brainstorming, no decision-making.
"Refreshingly, it was just talking!"
~ Rev. John Oda
Q: What exactly do you do in the NRJ Talking Circle?
A: We sit in a circle around a candle, sing a couple of songs, and talk about what is on our hearts at this point in time.
"I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about things that would be difficult to talk about in the classroom, at home, and in church."
~ Lai Shan
Q: What do you talk about?
A: We talk about things that are relevant in the lives and communities of API LGBT people of faith. Past topics have included leadership and spirituality; and the community-wide call to come out. The conversations have grown into conversations about the particular experiences of API LGBT people of faith, what we have to offer to queer social justice movements. You don't have to stay on topic - just talk about what is true to you or on your heart at the moment.
Q: How many people will be there?
A: Recent NRJ Talking Circles have ranged from 4-12 people. Small groups allow space for everyone who wants to talk to talk.
Q: Do I have to talk?
A: No, there are many ways to participate. You may participate by listening to others, meditating on your own thoughts, or talking.
The fall leading up to the November 2008 elections was an emotional roller-coaster for many Asian American and Pacific Islander LGBT community activists in California. As the hope that Barack Obama would be elected president filled the air, the campaigns for and against the Proposition 8: Ban on Same-Sex Marriage raged an assault on LGBTs.
It seemed like almost every other commercial on the radio and on primetime television was about Proposition 8. Yes on Prop 8 ads in English, Spanish, and Chinese implied that same-sex relationships were akin to beastiality, incest, and pedophelia. No on Prop 8 ads featured White parents and friends of LGBT people and big-name White politicians talking about how LGBT couples should have the same rights as heterosexual couples, but didn't feature any LGBT people, much less any APIs or people of color. Other No on Prop 8 ads had no people at all - just black, white, and red pictures of the state constitution, gavels, and government buildings. Not only was our humanity as LGBT people the subject of public discourse, but API LGBT people were not a visible part of the discourse.
Behind the scenes of the mainstream ad campaign, many worked tirelessly, educating our families, friends, and communities about the issue and encouraging them to vote No on Prop 8. At the same time, many of us felt conflicted about the statewide and national LGBT movement focusing almost solely on same-sex marriage rights.
In the midst of all this, the Network on Religion and Justice for Asian Pacific Islander LGBT people felt compelled to create a sacred space of spiritual reflection and renewal for API LGBT people of faith, activists, and community members. Long alienated from our API families, communities, and congregations because of our queerness and alienated from the queer community because of our ethnicity, we realized that we had to create the space that we needed for ourselves and for our community.
In November 2008, we initiated a new NRJ program: the NRJ Talking Circle. Since then, we have met once each month to light a candle, be together in the company of other API LGBT people of faith, sing a few songs, and just talk. Unlike most activist meetings, there is no agenda and no business decisions are made. It is a space for us to just be - a rare space where it is safe to be all of who we are: queer Asian Pacific Islander people of faith.[top of page]