LGBTQ Pride Month

One Woman Started A Project About LGBTQ Asian Americans For This Important Reason

“This work needs to keep continuing."

It took a trip abroad and an awareness of her own surroundings to push Mia Nakano to start an oral series project for LGBTQ Asian Americans.

A decade ago, Nakano was taking photos of LGBTQ Nepalese people in Nepal. Her work then inspired her to think about what was happening with the community back in the United States. As a queer Japanese-American, she said she felt alone and didn't have a strong community surrounding her in San Francisco, so she wanted to learn how other people find communities and build relationships across the country.

This idea fueled her passion. So she returned home and created The Visibility Project, an endeavor that primarily focuses on queer Asian American Pacific Islander women, transgender, and gender-nonconforming community members whose stories are told through oral histories, and a collection of portraits and videos.

Nakano's initial interest was more than just collecting responses from individuals across the country, it was about learning the different complexities a person faces coupled with the dynamics of a large or small city.

"Those communities have completely different cultural ties, and challenges and struggles, and also ways that they support one another," she said to A Plus. "And I wanted to really get into that."

Photo Credit: The Visibility Project
Photo Credit: The Visibility Project

With more than 100 interviews under its belt, The Visibility Project has grown to include a variety of voices across the United States. Earlier this June, it released Visible Resilience, a photo book that compiles images and quotes from these participants. The book also includes a survey that asks readers to describe how they identify themselves in regards to gender, culture, race, and more.

"It's not just LGBTQ," she said. "If someone is a queer, trans, Vietnamese person, their lived experience is very different from first generation, second generation, third generation, and they each have their own definition of what being a trans Vietnamese person is like."

Nakano notes that through this process, she's learned that many people's circumstances won't allow them to publicly identify themselves as queer, transgender, or both. But their words still made their way to the pages of the book.

"People can be visible in different ways," she said.

Despite the anti-LGBTQ beliefs of some within President Donald Trump's administration, Nakano said it doesn't interfere with The Visibility Project's day-to-day operations.

"I don't think that the heart of the project has changed," she said. "It's an online platform where people can share their stories totally unedited and have a photo that people will be able to see."

Photo Credit: The Visibility Project
Photo Credit: The Visibility Project

While Nakano said she can't believe that the project has gotten so big, she and her team have expanded to include a curriculum that college professors can implement into their classrooms. Nakano's goal is to teach current and future generations that there's no one way to be Asian or LGBTQ, and that Asian Americans can have multiple identities.

"This is a way for me to kind of bring in the mindfulness and intentions and values that I bring into this work, and disseminate that information to other educators," she said.

Even in her own life, Nakano has not stopped learning about her own community.

"It's a constant process of self-education that I embrace," she said. "I think that I'm always learning more about language and approaches and practices."

And as she continues her own journey of self-education, Nakano is still pushing The Visibility Project's mission forward.

"This work needs to keep continuing," she said. "The acceptance of younger generations and the struggles that the elders faced when they were younger and the struggles now are different, but there are still struggles."

Celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month by checking out some more portraits below:

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Photo Credit: The Visibility Project
Photo Credit: The Visibility Project

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Photo Credit: The Visibility Project
Photo Credit: The Visibility Project

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Photo Credit: The Visibility Project
Photo Credit: The Visibility Project

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Photo Credit: The Visibility Project
Photo Credit: The Visibility Project

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Photo Credit: The Visibility Project
Photo Credit: The Visibility Project

To learn more about The Visibility Project, visit the website here.

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