Abstract a family-oriented system, meaning family takes precedence

Abstract

This paper highlights
some of the cultural barriers that exist for Hmong people who identify as
lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ). Hmong American men and
women face social and cultural struggles where they are expected to adhere to
Hmong requirements of gender roles handed down to them by their parents, and
the expectations of the country they were born in. Despite the perception that
traditional Hmong culture holds no place for queer Hmong Americans, individuals
are finding spaces for acceptance and slowing moving the large Hmong community
to a place of understanding and tolerance. A vital part of this movement is
Shades of Yellow (SOY), an organization that supports queer Hmong. particularly
as more Hmong Americans continue to negotiate multiple identities, including
sexual orientation.

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Introduction

            The Hmong are a Southeast Asian ethnic group of people
who originated from the region of Hunan in northeastern China. To this day,
there are still uncertainties as to the exact time period the Hmong inhabitated
China. The first wave of Hmong immigrants came as early as the late 1970s, with
thousands who continued to migrate in the past 4 decades.

            According to the 2010 U.S. census, approximately 260,000 Hmong
Americans are primarily residing in Californa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North
Carolina (Pfiefer et al., 2013), with the majority in the the Midwest and West
Coast. The Hmong culture is strongly rooted in a family-oriented system,
meaning family takes precedence over the individual. The Hmong community in the
United States consists of people from approximately 18 clans. One of the
highest held Hmong traditions is that each clan maintains its distinctive
household/tribal bloodline. The Hmong collectively share a  set of values that all its clans agree on,
including practices that are deemed taboo – homosexuality being one of them.
For the most part, homosexuality has been nonexistent (Hahm & Adkins,
2009). In fact, there is no direct translation for the words gay or lesbian in
the Hmong language. Instead, the Hmong adapted the Thai word, “kathoy,” to
refer to LGBTQ people in general. However, “kathoy” primarily refers to men who
dress as women, and does not necessarily denote their sexual orientation (Yang,
2008). In the Hmong community, heterosexual couples are essential because they
can have children and preserve the culture – same sex couples cannot bear
children in the same fashion as does a heterosexual couple (Boulden, 2009).
Although the Hmong culture does not denounce the homosexual behavior per se,
conventionally a group of Hmong people is likely to disown individuals who are
self-identified as homosexual. Moreover, the Hmong community has been forced to
confront their traditional heterosexist values after their resettlement in the
United States as the the Hmong American LGBTQ community is slowly making its
mark.

 

 

Downfall of Self-Identifying as LGBTQ

            Because the Hmong
community is such a close social network, any challenge to the culture’s social
norms may be interpreted as also challenging the culture as a whole. Ultimately,
all Hmong individuals are born with the expectancy to carry on their family and
clans’s name and reputation (Boulden, 2009; Lee & Pfeifer, 2006). If one
comes out and self-identifies as anything other than heterosexual, she or he
will bring great shame to the family. This can cause parents, relatives,
siblings, and close fiends to disown that individual (Hahm & Adkins, 2009).
Once an individual self-identifies as nonheterosexual, the individual may feel
it necessary to withhold his or her sexual identify from others (Rosario et al.,
2004). However, she or he may act on feelings of same-sex attraction and pursue
relationships with other same-sex individuals in secrecy (Boulden, 2009;
Rosario et al., 2004).

            If the individual’s sexual orientation is discovered
against his or her will, the consequences may lead to mental health issues. (Hahm
& Adkins, 2009). In a study conducted with 10 gay Hmong, ranging from 18 to
30 years old, most reported experiences of struggling with fear of rejection and
a variety of mental health issues including periods of depression, suicidal ideation,
drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, high risk behaviors, such as gang involvement,
and high risk sexual activities (Boulden, 2009). An example took place on May
11, 2001, when a 17 years old Hmong American female, Panhia Xiong, and her 21
years female partner, Yee Vang, committed suicide (Her, 2014). The incident
occurred after Panhia’s mother discovered her daughter’s relationship with Yee
and prohibited them from seeing each other. Situations like this one raise
awareness of the LGBTQ Hmong community and the potential risk of suicide among
LGBTQ Hmong individuals (Her, 2014).

Self-Acceptance and Networking with LGBTQ
Advocates

            Despite the downfall with identifying as LGBTQ, some have
taken this as an opportunity to reach out to their community and network with
advocates and supporters of LGBTQ. For instance, in 2003, members from the
Hmong community in St. Paul, Minnesota, began a social gathering of LGBTQ youth
from the Hmong community (Shades of Yellow, 2007). This group established a
community known as Shades of Yellow (SOY), the Hmong nation’s first nonprofit
community organization. What began as a safe space for young LGBTQ Hmong
individuals to gather and discuss the issues they faced in their environment
has become a place where individuals now gather to discuss ways to promote
lasting change in the Hmong community (Her, 2014; Shades of Yellow, 2007). In
2006, SOY became a formal organization dedicated to make a difference in the
Hmong community in the State of Minnesota (Her, 2014). Gradually, conservative
elders and parents of LGBTQ Hmong youth began reaching out to SOY support in
responsse to familial conflicts (Ramirez, 2012). 

 

Conclusion

            As a result of their upbringing by Hmong parents in American,
Hmong American men and women are born into a world where they must navigate expectations
of gender and sexuality on both sides. Men are able to receive preferential treatment
from the family without the societal pressures of having to uphold their role as
a man, while women are expected to fulfill the expectations of their Hmong parents
and in-laws in an environment that says gender does not matter. Living under a dual
set of rules creates stress for heterosexual Hmong American men and women, while
creating futher complications for LGBTQ individuals. While Hmong American men and
women have the option of aging out of their immediate family’s gender expectations
and have developed methods of resistance through different channels, the same opportunities
are not available to LGBTQ Hmong Americans.