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21 May, 2009

On being Asian, gay and HIV positive in US

New America Media

SAN FRANCISCO – When Jane and Alexander Nakatani lost their three sons – two to AIDS, and one to a bullet – they knew they had to shed their “Asian” inhibitions. They realized that they needed to educate people about how “delicate” the psyche of immigrant children is, and that parenting them should not be taken lightly.

“Three months before Guy (their youngest son) died, he told me he was a triple minority,” an emotional Alexander Nakatani told a gathering at the Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center (APIWC). “He was Asian, gay and HIV positive.”

Nakatani admitted that the struggles his sons faced were in large part because none of them turned out to be the son he and his wife wanted.

Guy died in 1997 from complications stemming from AIDS, just four years after his older brother had died from the same disease. Guy was 27.

The Nakatanis were honored by the Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center for their efforts to transform their tragedy into hope, and to create public awareness about HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in Asian American communities. The couple has embarked on a “mission” to share their story of tolerance, acceptance and healing.

Their story is told in the book and film, “Honor Thy Children,” which was screened at the center on Monday.

“It’s not a story simply about our family, but a story about children who grew up stigmatized and marginalized,” said Nakatani, after the screening of the powerful 90-minute documentary, during which his wife sat crying quietly. “It’s about how delicate and fragile children are.”

The disappointment and anger Guy and his brother Glen faced after coming out to their parents is typical of many Asian families, noted Lance Toma, executive director of the APIWC in San Francisco. The stigma that they face in their families and their communities may be one of the reasons many gay Asian Americans don’t get tested for HIV, Toma said, noting that AIDS diagnosis among Asian and Pacific Islanders is one of the highest among all minority communities. And among those diagnosed, young men having sex with men are the most impacted.

“We knew this could happen,” he said. “We are not getting tested.”

Honor Thy Children was made over the course of 12 years. It shows how the stern and emotionless older Nakatanis drove their two gay sons, Glen and Guy, into a cocoon of isolation by not accepting their sexual orientation.

“Maybe you’re not gay, Guy. A lot of young people experiment,” Alexander awkwardly told the young teenager, when he announced he was gay.

Unable to cope with his overbearing and unsympathetic parents, Glen left their California home when he was 15. Livid, Nakatani took down all the pictures of his first-born and declared, “I have no son.”

Later that night, Guy and his other brother, Greg, made a pact never to do anything to cause their parents pain.

It was probably this pact that kept the once playful, charming and affable Guy from telling his parents that he was raped when he was 15 by a male acquaintance twice his age. When Guy reached adulthood, he dated women, confiding to one of them that he was gay.

Meanwhile, after a short stint in the military, a very sick Glen returned to his parents’ home. He was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS. He died shortly afterward, with his parents lovingly at his side.

Four years later, Guy, weakened by AIDS, which had robbed him of vision in one eye and kept him in a wheelchair, died surrounded by his friends and family. He had spent the last three years of his life going from school to school in the San Francisco Bay Area advocating against casual sex.

Nakatani told the gathering Wednesday, "Know that there are those of us who cherish and love ‘diversity’ in its total and complete sense … and that there always will be voices that will speak for dignity, honor, acceptance and unconditional love for all children."

May 19 marked the fifth annual National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

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