“I am a Queer Vietnamese American, But Not Always in that Order”

By Viet Tran 

Originally published on the Human Rights Campaign blog.

The diversity of our nation is what makes us stronger and more connected, and immigrants are a part of the beautiful fabric of this country. Throughout history, immigrants have enriched the foundation and culture of the U.S. with our resilient narratives, colorful traditions, and innovative contributions. This Immigrant Heritage Month, let’s celebrate immigrants, their journey and stories.

As a queer Vietnamese immigrant and the child of refugees, during Pride Month and Immigrant Heritage Month I recognize that I am a queer Vietnamese American, but not always necessarily in that order.

The Vietnamese diaspora carries a heavy history marked by war-torn stories, unspoken trauma and unfamiliar transitions in new homes and customs across the globe. My own story starts with my parents.

After the fall of Saigon in 1975, my father was incarcerated in so-called “re-education camps.” My mother, the only daughter out of seven children, worked to support her family while also pursuing education. She eventually became one of Saigon’s most respected educators and teachers.

It was in the early 1990s when my parents sought asylum to the U.S. However, after enduring years of austere conditions and trauma in the incarceration camps, my father would not make the trip abroad with my mother and me.

They named me “Tran Hoai Viet,” after my father, but my name also translated to “Eternally Vietnam” — a powerful reminder to always remember the country we left.

Immigrant, Vietnamese, Viet Tran, queer

Though I was born abroad, I grew up in the U.S. and, like many other immigrants and first-generation folks, I struggle to navigate and reconcile my Vietnamese roots and my American upbringing.

When I first came out as gay, I was afraid of the ways it would further complicate my multiple identities and two distinct cultures and traditions.

To me, being a queer Vietnamese immigrant means that my coming out experience is a lifelong and ongoing process and oftentimes a two-front battle. In 2008, I came out to my friends in English. In 2018, I came out to my mom — yet this second time was entirely in Vietnamese. It was important to me to come out to my immigrant mother in a language that she understood best.

Heavy cultural expectations and language barriers made my coming out process even more challenging as someone who was navigating at the intersections of being queer, Vietnamese, American and an immigrant.

Many LGBTQ API immigrants will often share similar experiences and challenges. Many of us are at the cusp of two hemispheres, two generations, two tongues and, in many cases, two lives. The process to reconcile our multiple identities and experiences sometimes extends a lifetime.

As I honor Immigrant Heritage Month and my own story, I recognize that there is still a need for more representation and visibility across the spectrum. This Immigrant Heritage Month and Pride Month, I encourage you to explore your own heritage and history, honor the contributions of your communities and share your story to take on the challenges that we still face today.

For more information about the unique experiences of LGBTQ API youth in the U.S., click here. To read more about navigating the intersectional experience of coming out as LGBTQ for API people, click here.

Commemorating the First-Ever AAPI Day Against Bullying and Hate

Cities, elected officials, and advocacy groups rally around a day to fight hate in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community and honor the legacy of Vincent Chin

Today — May 18, 2019 — marks the first-ever Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Day Against Bullying and Hate. This day is led by Act To Change, a national nonprofit dedicated to ending bullying in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. May 18 is also the birthday of Vincent Chin, who was brutally murdered in 1982, catalyzing a national Asian American movement. Cities and other municipalities across the country have officially declared this day. Act To Change is also partnering with elected officials, influencers, and other nonprofit organizations to spread the word and reaffirm a commitment to standing up to hate and bullying.

“We’re seeing an increasingly anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and xenophobic political climate, and kids are facing hate both in and outside the classroom,” says Act To Change Chairman and Co-Founder Maulik Pancholy. “That’s why this inaugural AAPI Day Against Bullying and Hate is so important in highlighting the urgency to act to change this.”

Half of Asian American studentshalf of Muslim American students, and two-thirds of Sikh American students report being bullied. And in one report, over two-thirds of Chinese-Vietnamese, Laotian, Iu-Mien, and Indian American youth said they had been bullied at school. Additionally, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups is at an all-time high, and the death toll tied to the radical right has increased.

Supporters of AAPI Day Against Bullying and Hate include:

  • Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC
  • Boston City Council
  • City of Hoboken, New Jersey
  • City of Miami, Florida
  • City of Seattle, Washington
  • City of San Francisco, California
  • City of Torrance, California
  • Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus
  • Congressman Frank Pallone
  • County of Burlington, New Jersey
  • County of Passaic, New Jersey
  • Georgia State Representative Sam Park
  • Governor Phil Murphy
  • Japanese American Citizens League
  • Los Angeles City Council
  • Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago
  • National Council of Asian Pacific Americans
  • New York City Council Members Margaret Chin and Peter Koo
  • OCA — Asian Pacific American Advocates
  • Senator Bob Menendez
  • Sikh American Legal Defense & Education Fund
  • Southeast Asia Resource Action Center
  • State of New Jersey Senate and General Assembly

To join the conversation on social media, use #DayAgainstBullying and #ActToChange. Through its website ActToChange.org, Act To Change offers anti-bullying and anti-hate resources including in multiple Asian languages.

Pancholy states, “This day is part of a larger movement of uplifting communities across the country, promoting a culture of tolerance and safety, and celebrating our differences.”

Questions? Contact info@acttochange.org.

Related links:

Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!

This month, we highlight the cultures, accomplishments, and challenges faced by the roughly 20 million Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) people in the United States. Every year, Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) keeps me grounded by reminding me of why I’m so passionate about social justice and advocating for the AANHPI community. The stories that come up this month, stories of (s)heroism, love, and triumph against overwhelming odds, teach me that it’s okay to be bold and to dream big – that it isn’t naive to work towards a world where nobody ever has to feel the crushing pain of being the target of bullying.

One of the lifelong effects of bullying is its ability to strip you of your self-confidence, to tell you in so many ways that you are somehow just not “enough.”

I grew up in an affluent suburb of Orange County, CA where the demographics were rapidly changing. At school, my classrooms were diverse and I never felt alone on the basis of my identity as the son of Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants. That’s not to say we all got along though, as the majority of my bullying was at the hands of Korean American kids. I remember being called a “chink” hundreds of times from third grade through my senior year of high school, but it was never by any of my white peers. In this way, adults in organizations that have neglected to disaggregate their AANHPI data, fail to understand a fact that children grasp easily — the AANHPI community is not a monolith.

It is in these moments where I am also reminded that coalition-building and allyship is built into the history of the Asian American identity. Student activists in the 1960s coined the term in an effort to build solidarity across various Asian communities, and to organize with the larger Third World Liberation Front movements on the West Coast.

This history drives me to seek out and advocate for spaces where AANHPI people can come together to build community and relationships, even as I negotiate the fear and hesitation that comes from my childhood bullying in these spaces.

For over a year in Los Angeles, I’ve been part of a community of AANHPI educators and education enthusiasts who have met for monthly brunches to share stories with one another. Not long after we began meeting, we began to envision what it would look like to organize our own conference – one where we could center AANHPI experiences and narratives in the conversation about K-12 educational equity, a topic that is often framed as affecting “black/brown communities”. This framing, at best obscures, and at worst erases, the impact of inequitable education systems and public policies on AANHPI students across the country.

When we started, we had no money, no content, no speakers, and no venue. None of us were being paid to work on this, we were all juggling this in a volunteer capacity in addition to our full-time jobs. But working for six months together and leaning on the strength of our relationships, we had over eighty participants with affiliations from communities all across California attend our SoCal AANHPI Educators Summit: Inward, Outward, Onward.

There’s a lot of things we did at the Summit that I’m proud of. Our content was designed by and for AANHPI teachers, we catered from AANHPI restaurants, everyone got a boba during the closing session, I really could go on and on. But I think more than anything, I’m just proud of the fact that we pulled it off. We created a space based on a need we identified, and AANHPI educators from across Southern California came because it spoke to them.

I firmly believe in the power of human relationships as the foundation for any kind of successful organization or movement. I also believe that we have more power and potential to do good than we ourselves can even recognize, especially if we have been the targets of bullying, whether visibly by other people or invisibly by larger systems of oppression.

At the start of this month I received an email asking me a question credited to the Anpao Duta Flying-Earth of Native American Community Academy. The question was, “What kind of ancestors do we want to be?” This 2019 APAHM, I invite you all to answer that question with me as we work towards a brighter future for our diverse AANHPI communities. A future where bullying does not exist because of the work done by each and every one of us. We are and have always been, uniquely and powerfully, enough.

Richard Leong

Act to Change Board Member

APAHM Week Kickoff with Act to Change

Join Act To Change in Washington DC to kick off Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) Week!

Come kick off Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) Week in Washington DC with Act To Change, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting bullying in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Hear from Act To Change Chairman and Co-Founder Maulik Pancholy as well as other board members about our upcoming activities, including AAPI Day Against Bullying and Hate on May 18.

Interested? Buy tickets here for a suggested tax-deductible donation of $20.

Learn more about updates on our event through Facebook

The Best At It by Maulik Pancholy

Editor’s Note: This year, actor Maulik Pancholy will release his first book, The Best At It. The book is about the story of 12-year-old Rahul Kapoor who begins to realize he is gay. It explores the struggles he faces with peers, family, and identity and his own journey in finding himself.

This interview with Maulik was originally published on the blog “Watch. Connect. Read.” on February 14, 2019.

Hello, Maulik Pancholy! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read.! I am a huge fan of yours and The Best At It. I could not put it down. Rahul, Chelsea, Bhai, Arun, Sarita, Anish, and the Auntie Squad and Uncle Brigade will stay with me for a very long time. 

Maulik Pancholy: Thank you so much! I’m honored to be featured on your incredible blog, and to receive such a warm welcome for my debut novel. To hear that these characters will leave a lasting impact on you is a compliment that means a great deal to me.

I am honored you’re here. What ran through your head (or your heart) the first time you saw Parvati Pillai’s cover illustration and Cara Llewellyn’s design for The Best At It.

Maulik: I remember that as soon as I opened the pdf, my heart leapt. I kept nodding and saying, “Yes, yes, yes!” After staring at it for what seemed like an eternity, I forced myself to put it away. Only to immediately open it back up again. 

Parvati really captured the spirit of the book. To me, the movement in it reflects the flurry of activity in Rahul’s world, the bold colors are a nod to both his cultural background and his identity, and I love how determined he looks flying into the air. It’s a very optimistic cover, which feels exactly right. I’m beyond grateful for what she so thoughtfully illustrated.

Scenario: You’re in an elevator at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference when a teacher-librarian spots you holding a copy ofThe Best At It. He asks you what it is about. You have approximately 30 seconds (the elevator stops at almost every floor) to book talk it. What do you say? 

Maulik: Well, first I thank him for asking. Then I hover my finger over the “close door” button…just in case. 

The Best at It is about Rahul Kapoor, a twelve-year-old Indian-American boy who’s beginning to realize that he might be gay. Struggling to come to terms with his identity, he believes that all of his anxieties will disappear if he can just prove to the world that he’s the best at something. But he’s got two major problems…what is he going to be the best at, and what happens if he falls short? It’s a story about friendship, family, and the courage it takes to own your truth.” 

I love your booktalk. What would The Best at It have meant to 11-year-old Maulik? 

Maulik: I loved reading books as a kid. I still do. But growing up, I never saw characters who looked like me in the books I read. Let alone kids who were dealing with the things I was dealing with. I think seeing a kid of color grappling with his sexual identity and the anxieties of feeling “different” — on multiple levels — would have made me feel a little less alone in the world. 

It’s vital for young people to see their stories reflected back in the books they read and in the television shows and movies they watch. As an actor, it’s something I’m very conscious of. Because I know firsthand that when you don’t see yourself, you can start to question how you fit into the world. Or think you need to be someone you’re not. Because you’re effectively being told that your story doesn’t exist, that it isn’t valid, that it doesn’t matter. 

So, I certainly could have used a book like The Best at It in middle school. But I also hope Rahul’s story will have universal appeal, just like so many of the books I loved as a kid. Because I think every child can relate to feeling different and needing to prove their worth. Sometimes, even to themselves.

Please finish these sentences starters: 

I hope The Best at It
 finds a home in the heart of any kid who’s ever thought they needed to be ‘better’ than they are just to exist. I hope that Rahul’s journey inspires, offers understanding, and provides some good laughs along the way. 

School libraries are magical places. I remember disappearing in the stacks for whole afternoons going on adventure after adventure, one book at a time. 

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me if I was a Mathlete! Which I’m proud to say, I was.

Maulik Pancholy is an award-winning actor whose television work includes30 RockWhitney, Web TherapyElementaryFriends from CollegeThe Good WifeThe ComebackThe SopranosLaw & Order: Criminal Intent, and more. He is also the voice of Baljeet on the Emmy Award–winning animated series Phineas and Ferb and of Sanjay on Sanjay and Craig. Maulik is the recipient of an Asian American Arts Alliance Award and the Human Rights Campaign’s Visibility Award. In 2014, he was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. While at the White House, he helped launch an anti-bullying campaign called Act To Change, which he continues to lead today. Maulik lives with his husband in Brooklyn, NY. This is his debut novel.

The Best At It is available for pre-order.

Bullied Because of My Lunch

By Max Le

Ten-year-old Max Le shares his story about the first time he faced bullying and what he learned from it.

Today, I’m going to tell you my story of being teased and bullied. This is a TRUE story. My name is Max Le. I am in 5th grade and I’m 10 years old. My bullying problem started in elementary school in first grade. I have never forgotten this moment.

It all started at lunch, when I opened up my lunchbox and saw that my Grandma had packed sushi rolls (rice wrapped with seaweed). My grandma is the best grandma IN THE WORLD. Since my family is Vietnamese, my grandma makes amazing Vietnamese food. But sushi isn’t Vietnamese; my grandma just likes to make it for lunch because it is quick and easy. At lunch, a girl in my class teased me saying, “You are weird. What is that food?” I started crying and crying, but I didn’t want to tell anyone. Then, a teacher came over and asked me what’s wrong. I told her, “She teased me about my sushi.” My teacher got really mad at the girl and gave her timeout.

When I got home, I told my parents about what happened, and they started to get scared. They asked me questions like, “Are you ok?” and “Was it scary?” They really cared about me and were scared I went through it. They soon called my principal to tell him what happened and that my Grandma’s lunch food was amazing. The next day, my principal complimented my lunch and I felt a bit better. After a month, I went back to eating sushi rolls.

It really was good to experience it all, so I can help other kids not to be bullies, and also help protect them from bullies’ words. Sometimes, one small moment can help you realize A LOT. If the bullying didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be able to share my experience with you today. Now as a 5th grader, I want the WORLD to learn, especially people who are treated differently or bullied, that you can tell someone you trust and feel better. Sad and happy are like the yin and yang, and you can be who YOU want to be.

THE END of my story…

But not yours.

Join Max and share your experience with #ActToChange: info@acttochange.org.

Take the #ActToChange pledge against bullying and learn more at ActToChange.org.

Obama White House Campaign ‘Act To Change’ Relaunches As Anti-Bullying Nonprofit

The new organization co-founded by actor and activist Maulik Pancholy tackles bullying, especially among Asian American and Pacific Islander youth


Contact: Nicholas Hatcher at info@acttochange.org

NEW YORK, NY — As National Bullying Prevention Month comes to an end, the work is just beginning for nonprofit organization Act To Change, which tackles bullying, especially among Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) youth. A public awareness campaign originally launched under the Obama Administration, Act To Change now relaunches as a nonprofit organization with an inaugural Board of Directors comprising educators and government, business, and nonprofit leaders. The organization aims to empower students, families, and educators with the knowledge and tools needed to stop and prevent bullying.

AAPI youth face unique struggles including language and cultural barriers with peers, a lack of AAPI-specific community resources and racial stereotypes. Some studies have found that half of Asian American students are being bullied. Furthermore, two-thirds of Sikh American students and half of Muslim American students have reported being bullied. With the rise of incendiary rhetoric towards immigrants and Muslims, community-specific and culturally sensitive anti-bullying work is essential to ensuring that bullying is identified and addressed.

Led by actor and activist Maulik Pancholy, Act To Change originally began in October 2015 as a public awareness campaign under President Obama’s White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI). The initial launch garnered the support of a coalition of more than 60 media platforms and nonprofit organizations. Over the years, celebrities such as Hasan Minhaj, Kal Penn, Jenny Yang, George Takei and Jeremy Lin have supported the campaign by posting videos and sharing their own stories of bullying.

“Our work to end bullying is more important than ever. At this moment in our country, bullying and prejudice from the top down is setting a tone that gives permission for hatred and bigotry,” said Pancholy. “That’s why we have kept the Act To Change movement alive, now as a nonprofit organization, so that we can fight for safer, more inclusive spaces for our children and our communities.”

Pancholy’s Act To Change co-founders are former Obama WHIAAPI staff members Rebecca Lee and Jill Yu.

Act To Change’s inaugural Board of Directors are:


For more information on the board, visit Act To Change’s website. Follow Act To Change on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and with #ActToChange.


Note to Press: For interviews with any of the board members, please contact info@acttochange.org.



Act To Change is a 501(c)3 organization working to end bullying, especially among Asian American and Pacific Islander youth.


Apply for the #ActToChange Inaugural Board of Directors!

Have you been teased for the way you look, what you wear, what you eat, where you’re from, how you talk, or other stereotypes?

Are you interested in working with students, educators, and school administrators to create supportive and safe learning environments?

Kids and teens are bullied in schools all across the country. Unfortunately, many Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) youth who are bullied face unique cultural, religious, and language barriers that can keep them from getting help. Learn about it. Talk about it. Stop it. Join more than 3,600 advocates and take the pledge. See our #ActToChange campaign supporters!

#ActToChange is seeking applicants for its inaugural Board of Directors. Board of Directors will support the campaign’s strategy, programming, outreach, and fundraising. Students, parents, educators, and community advocates are encouraged to apply!

We are looking for applicants of all ages and backgrounds, based anywhere. The minimal time commitment is 5-10 hours a month.

To apply, submit your application by August 31, 2018, and send your resume to info@acttochange.org. Applicants will be interviewed on a rolling basis.

Call for Submissions for #ActToChange Digital Exhibit!

Are you a storyteller? Do you use paints, pencils, dance, or music to express yourself? Do you write poetry, short stories, or plays? Do you produce video or film? We want to showcase YOU and your stories!

#ActToChange is calling for submissions for a Digital Exhibit! #ActToChange is a public awareness campaign working to address bullying, including in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. Kids and teens are bullied in schools all across the country. From the way you look, what you wear, how you talk, what you eat  — let’s celebrate YOU! Everyone is unique and expresses themselves in different ways. We want to showcase music, essays, photos, and art that tell your story.

Send your submissions to info@acttochange.org with subject line “Digital Exhibit” to be featured in our Digital Exhibit. The possibilities are endless, and we are encourage you to be creative!

Join more the #ActToChange movement and take the pledge. See our #ActToChange campaign supporters!


#ActToChange Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Celebration

#ActToChange is hosting its Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Celebration to talk about how we can fight bullying in our community! The event will be held on Friday, May 25 from 2 – 4PM at the Google DC Office. We especially encourage K-12 youth to attend.

During the event, #ActTochange will announce exciting project launches including opportunities to engage in bullying prevention efforts through new programs and initiatives.

Featured speakers include:
Maulik Pancholy, Actor
Thomas Hong, U.S. Olympian, Speedskating
Moderated by Jill Yu, #ActToChange Board of Directors

RSVP at bit.ly/ActToChangeAPAHMLive

Watch the livestream starting at 3PM: bit.ly/ActToChangeAPAHM2018