AbstractThis paper highlights thecultural barriers for Hmong people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual,transgender, and queer (LGBTQ). Hmong American men and women face social andcultural struggles where they are expected to adhere to Hmong requirements ofgender roles passed down to them by their parents. Despite the perception thattraditional Hmong culture holds no place for queer Hmong Americans, individualsadvocating to find acceptance and slowly moving the large Hmong community to aplace of understanding and tolerance. A vital part of this movement is Shadesof Yellow (SOY), an organization that supports queer Hmong. particularly asmore Hmong Americans continue to negotiate multiple identities, includingsexual orientation (Mayo, 2013). Introduction The Hmong are a Southeast Asian ethnic group of peoplewho originated from the region of Hunan in northeastern China. To this day,there are still uncertainties as to the exact time period the Hmong inhabitatedChina.
The first wave of Hmong immigrants came as early as the late 1970s, withthousands who continued to migrate in the past 4 decades. According to the 2010 U.S.
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census, approximately 260,000 HmongAmericans are primarily residing in Californa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and NorthCarolina (Pfiefer et al., 2013), with the majority in the the Midwest and WestCoast. The Hmong culture is strongly rooted in a family-oriented system,meaning family takes precedence over the individual. The Hmong community in theUnited States consists of people from approximately 18 clans.
One of thehighest held Hmong traditions is that each clan maintains its distinctivehousehold/tribal bloodline (Abidia, 2016). The Hmong collectively shares a setof values that all its clans agree on, including practices that are deemedtaboo – homosexuality being one of them. For the most part, homosexuality hasbeen nonexistent (Hahm & Adkins, 2009). In fact, there is no directtranslation for the words gay or lesbian in the Hmong language. Instead, theHmong adapted the Thai word, “kathoy,” to refer to LGBTQ people in general.However, “kathoy” primarily refers to men who dress as women, and does notnecessarily denote their sexual orientation (Yang, 2008). Futhermore, a Hmongperson is not simply viewed as an indivudal, but as a representative of his orher family and must maintain a postive public reputation.
Coming out as LGBTQas serious repercussions not only for the indivudal, but for the entire familyas well. In recent years however, the Hmong community has been forced toconfront their traditional cultural values after their resettlement in theUnited States because LGBTQ Hmong Americans are stepping forward to advocatetheir rights. Downfall of Self-Identifying as LGBTQ Because the Hmongcommunity is such a close social network, any challenge to the culture’s socialnorms may be interpreted as also challenging the culture as a whole.Ultimately, all Hmong individuals are born with the expectancy to carry ontheir family and clans’s name and reputation (Boulden, 2009; Lee & Pfeifer,2006). If one comes out and self-identifies as anything other thanheterosexual, she or he will bring great shame to the family.
This can causeparents, relatives, siblings, and close fiends to disown that individual (Hahm& Adkins, 2009). Once an individual self-identifies as nonheterosexual, theindividual may feel it necessary to withhold his or her sexual identity in fearof being rejected and frowned upon. (Rosario et al.
, 2004). If the individual’s sexual orientation is discoveredagainst his or her will, the consequences may lead to mental health issues.(Hahm & Adkins, 2009). In a study conducted with 10 gay Hmong, ranging from18 to 30 years old, most reported experiences of struggling with fear ofrejection and a variety of mental health issues including periods ofdepression, suicidal ideation, drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, highrisk behaviors, such as gang involvement, and high risk sexual activities(Boulden, 2009). For example, on May 11, 2001, a 17 years old Hmong Americanfemale, Panhia Xiong, and her 21 years female partner, Yee Vang, committedsuicide (Her, 2014).
The incident occurred after Panhia’s mother discovered herdaughter’s relationship with Yee and prohibited them from seeing each other.Situations like this one raise awareness of the LGBTQ Hmong community and thepotential risk of suicide among LGBTQ Hmong individuals (Her, 2014). Self-Acceptance and Networking with LGBTQAdvocates Despite the downfall with identifying as LGBTQ, some havetaken this as an opportunity to reach out to their community and network withadvocates and supporters of LGBTQ.
For instance, in 2003, Hmong community membersin St. Paul, Minnesota, began a social gathering group of LGBTQ youth from theHmong community (Her, 2014). This group established a community known as Shadesof Yellow (SOY), the Hmong nation’s first nonprofit community organization.What began as a safe space for young LGBTQ Hmong individuals to gather anddiscuss the issues they faced in their environment has revolved into a placewhere individuals now gather to discuss ways to promote lasting change in theHmong community (Her, 2014). In 2006, SOY became a formal organizationdedicated to make a difference in the Hmong community in the State of Minnesota.Gradually, conservative elders and parents of LGBTQ Hmong youth began reachingout to SOY support in responsse to familial conflicts (Ramirez, 2012). Harmful or Harmless The social changes brought by LGBTQ Hmong-Americans canpersonally be harmful towards individuals identifying as lesbian, gay,transgender, bisexual, and queer. However, in the Hmong American society, thosewho are identifed as LGBTQ brings no direct harm to members who are willing toaccept the sexual orientation of these individuals.
Being LGBTQ can be harmful towardsone if they are rejected by their community, especially their loved ones. Becausethe Hmong culture is strictly patriarchal where power, authority, and responsbilityare held by the male elders, an individual’s sexual orientation could cause themto be disowned from their family (Boulder, 2009). This would not only bring shameupon the family, but as the entire clan as a whole. This could also break relationshipamong friends who are strictly heterosexual and have no tolerance for homosexuals.The effect of this can cause LGBT individuals to have mental and/or physical healthissues such as what the paper has discussed above.
In worst cases scenerios, thiscould include suicidal thoughts, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and in turn,result in physical self harm (Boulden, 2009). Conclusion As a result of their upbringing by Hmong parents inAmerican, Hmong American men and women are born into a world where they mustnavigate expectations of gender and sexuality on both sides. Men are able toreceive preferential treatment from the family without the societal pressuresof having to uphold their role as a man, while women are expected to fulfillthe expectations of their Hmong parents and in-laws in an environment that saysgender does not matter. Living under a dual set of rules creates stress forheterosexual Hmong American men and women, while creating futher complicationsfor LGBTQ individuals. While Hmong American men and women have the option ofaging out of their immediate family’s gender expectations and have developedmethods of resistance through different channels, the same opportunities arenot available to LGBTQ Hmong Americans.