By Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.)
It is no secret that I am a strong supporter of equal rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. Sometimes people ask me why. I know that often there is a question behind the question: Why fight so ardently for a group that you do not belong to?
The answer, of course, is that LGBT people are my people. They are Americans. They are Californians. And yes, they are Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) too.
A recent study from the Williams Institute at UCLA reports that nearly 3% of all AAPI adults, or roughly 325,000 individuals, identify as LGBT. About ten percent of them are in same-sex relationships according to the latest U.S. Census data, and more than a quarter of all same-sex AAPI couples are raising children.
The study is both fascinating and a call to action. Do we want to raise the rate of college completion among AAPIs, increase the employment level, and expand health insurance coverage?
Then we also need to focus on LGBT Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
According to a recent Gallup survey, only 42 percent of LGBT AAPIs had completed college, compared to 59 percent of non-LGBT AAPI adults. Likewise, the unemployment rate for heterosexual AAPIs is 8 percent, whereas among our LGBT friends the rate is 11 percent. As for health insurance, only 71 percent of LGBT Asian-Pacific Islanders report coverage, compared to 87 percent of non-LGBT AAPIs.
One likely factor behind this higher unemployment rate and lower health insurance coverage is the fact that in 29 states it is still legal for employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, and 38 states permit discrimination on the basis of gender identity. This is a disgrace, and it impacts LGBT people who just want, like all of us, an honest day’s wages for an honest day’s work.
No one should be fired, denied a promotion, or receive lower pay just because he or she is gay. That is why I am proud to have co-sponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013. The bill will end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace and protect the civil rights of LGBT people – including thousands of AAPI LGBT people – around the country.
The Williams Institute report does have some good news. Gay couples are actually faring better in a number of respects than heterosexual AAPI couples. Their median income is on par with or slightly better than that of opposite-sex couples, and it is more likely that one of a same-sex pair has attended college than an opposite-sex pair. The disparity in health coverage is still there, but less pronounced than it is among the population as a whole.
I don’t know whether being in a couple leads to these positive results or vice versa, but these same-sex couples deserve to have their unions recognized by the state and federal governments. That is why I welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to allow same-sex marriages to resume in California and require the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where it has been legalized. The Respect for Marriage Act that I have co-sponsored would repeal once and for all the entire discriminatory and shameful Defense of Marriage Act.
As I read the Williams Institute report, another statistic about AAPI couples stood out: In 26 percent of LGBT Asian-American and Pacific Islander couples raising children, at least one partner is not a U.S. citizen. Among their heterosexual counterparts, that figure is 37 percent. Both figures are significant, and underscore the fact that broken immigration policies impact straight and gay couples alike.
This is why I have repeatedly introduced the Reuniting Families Act – part of my long fight for family-friendly immigration policies that unite all families, including those headed by same-sex couples. Comprehensive immigration reform will help address these and many other problems in our country’s byzantine immigration system, ultimately improving the lives of both LGBT and non-LGBT AAPIs.
The Williams Institute study tells us what we should already know, and what I frequently tell others: The fight for LGBT rights is my fight because it is a fight for all of us.
Rep. Mike Honda currently serves as the U.S. Representative for California’s 15th congressional district, encompassing western San Jose and Silicon Valley.