Queer Asian group to
honor women's shelter
by Heather Cassell
A queer Asian organization will honor the Asian Women's Shelter for its quarter century of service Saturday, April 20 at its annual lunar banquet in Oakland.
Crystal Jang, who is one of the founding board members of the Asian Women's Shelter and a co-founder of banquet host Asian Pacific Islander Queer Women and Transgender Community, will be recognized with the group's Phoenix Award.
"I'm very honored to receive the award," said Jang, 66, who continues to serve on APIQWTC's board.
For the upcoming event she's set up special intergenerational tables to connect older Asian LBT leaders with a new generation of Asian queer women activists, she said. She hopes it will be the beginning of connecting past, present, and future generations of leaders to help them "find their voice and do the work that they do" and to develop leadership.
Hediana Utarti, the community projects coordinator at AWS, also feels honored about Jang receiving the award.
"I am very, very grateful they have been a big supporter to us," Utarti said of APIQWTC. "I feel like the community actually acknowledged our hard work."
The award comes with a donation of a portion of the proceeds from the Lunar New Year banquet, said Jang. She estimates that $1,000 will be raised at the banquet to aid the shelter that has been hit by funding cuts.
APIQWTC is an all-volunteer umbrella organization that produces political and social events and supports queer Asian women's and transgender activism. Jang declined to provide the organization's annual budget.
She added that she hopes the award will also inspire other donations.
Long history for shelter
ASW was founded in 1988 to help Asian women, in particular those who didn't speak English, escape domestic violence. During the last 25 years, ASW has grown into a $2 million organization, according to its 2011-2012 fiscal statement. The project has broadened its scope, assisting not only queer and transgender women survivors of domestic violence, but also working in partnership with other organizations in anti-trafficking efforts.
The shelter counted 3,236 bed nights and its crisis line received 1,060 calls during the 2011-2012 fiscal year, according to Utarti.
The shelter's 14 staff members, three of whom are part-time, are assisted by 50 volunteers. There are another 50 language advocates who are trained as cultural and language liaisons in a variety of languages from Arabic to Russian, said Utarti.
Since its inception AWS has always been open to lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women escaping domestic violence. Jang said that was in part because all of the founding board members are lesbians.
"I think that was really, really crucial," said Jang. "They were way ahead of their time."
Yet, it wasn't until the late 1990s that AWS led the way by formally establishing a program specifically for queer Asian women escaping domestic abuse. It is one of the few women's shelters in the U.S. that has an LBT women's program, according to Jang and Utarti. In recent years, the program changed its name to the Queer Asian Women and Transgender Support Program, to include transgender people, said Utarti.
"We support all queer women who are in domestic violence," said Utarti, a 53-year-old queer woman who has headed up the anti-trafficking and QWATS programs for a decade. "We realize that unhealthy relationship or ... domestic violence ... happen in our relationships – heterosexual as well as non-heterosexual."
She explained that the shelter's philosophy is based on anti-oppression, anti-homophobia, and anti-racism.
"We want to include everyone in our support," Utarti said. "Thus, we also acknowledge violence also happening in same-sex relationships, as well as in different kinds of relationships in the queer world."
She estimates her team, which includes AWS associate director Orchid Pusey, helped two queer women survivors of domestic violence (out of 24 cases) and four queer women trafficking cases (out of 18 cases) in 2012. This year, the shelter has helped three queer women survivors of domestic violence and one queer woman victim of trafficking so far, said Utarti.
Many of the referrals to aid queer women in domestic abuse situations are through word-of-mouth, said Utarti, because many LBT women are uncomfortable reaching out to the shelter for help.
"Queer folks [do] not feel super comfortable to call 911 or Asian Women's Shelter to speak to one of us if they feel they are in an unhealthy relationship," said Utarti, who is usually contacted by referral, email, or phone by queer women who do reach out to the shelter.
"Sometimes I talk to them on the phone for three to six months," without ever meeting them, said Utarti, who invites the women to the shelter, but they resist going.
"Most queer women are not too crazy about going to a shelter," said Utarti, who tries to debunk a persistent myth that shelters are only for straight women. Still, from Utarti's experience, LBT women are uncomfortable in shelters and fearful that they will be judged for their relationships on top of surviving abuse.
Utarti and her team do a lot of community outreach and work closely with hospitals and police departments who refer women – straight and queer – to the shelter, she said.
To learn more, visit http://www.sfaws.org.
Saturday's banquet is almost sold out and tickets at the door ($45) cannot be guaranteed. Check http://www.apiqwtc.org for availability. The event takes place from 5 to 11 p.m. at the Legendary Palace Restaurant, 708 Franklin Street, Oakland.