Another virus has been spreading throughout our country since former President Donald Trump racialized the coronavirus by repeatedly calling it the “China virus” or “kung flu:” Hate. His thinly veiled racist dog whistles encouraged identification of the virus with Asians and a justification for punishing anyone perceived as Chinese, which is liberally misapplied to almost all East Asians. Asia comprises 49 nations and is more a convenient geographic term than a homogenous continent, and the use of which always risks obscuring the enormous diversity among the vast regions and peoples it encompasses. Violence experienced by Asians spans microaggressions to assaults and murder. These incidents have increased in recent years and reveal a growing tolerance for aggressive harassment that has consequences for LGBTQ+ people.

To understand the scope of the problem, the Stop AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) Hate reporting center was launched March 19, 2020 through the combined effort of Chinese for Affirmative Action, AAPI Equity Alliance (formerly the Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council), and San Francisco State University’s Asian-American studies department. Over the first two years (March 19, 2020, to March 31, 2022,) the reporting center recorded 11,467 incidents from individuals nationwide who contacted the center. 

Stop AAPI Hate recently published a National Report on its data assessment and found “AAPI communities around the country experienced a surge in harassment, bullying, and other acts of hate. News media cited an increasing number of horrific attacks targeting AAPI community members. A large number of these incidents employed anti-China rhetoric that blamed AAPI communities for the emerging COVID-19 pandemic.” An analysis of the data found:

  • Two in three (67%) incidents involved harassment, such as verbal or written hate speech or inappropriate gestures.
  • One in six (17%) incidents involved physical violence.
  • One in six (16%) incidents involved avoidance or shunning.
  • More than one in nine (12%) incidents included possible civil rights violations, such as discrimination in a business or workplace.
  • Two in five (40%) incidents took place in public spaces, such as a street, sidewalk, road, park, hiking trail or beach.
  • More than one in four (27%) incidents took place in businesses, such as grocery stores, pharmacies or “big box” retail.
  • One in 10 (10%) incidents occurred online.

License to target one group has given permission to dehumanize and extend grievances to others. AAPI individuals who are also female, nonbinary, or LGBTQ+ have a higher risk of experiencing hate incidents that target them for their multiple identities, as the report noted:

“During the lockdown, I needed to go to the store, and a man stopped me in front of the store and started yelling at me, telling me this was my people’s fault. I am perceived as a Vietnamese woman and he kept calling me a Chinese pest along with many other slurs. I am nonbinary but haven’t come out of the closet. He made comments about my haircut and how I looked like a d–e.” (Lubbock, TX)

 “I am a part of the LGBTQ+ community so I was wearing a mask that showed love and support for the community. As I walked away, a woman proceeded to walk up to me and stop me. She looked me up and down and said, ‘Oh so you’re one of them?’ I was confused but then I remembered I had on the LGBTQ+ mask. I politely responded ‘Excuse me?’ She proceeded to say slurs that were both directed towards Asians and the LGBTQ+ community.” (Jeffersontown, KY)

The Stop AAPI Hate report found consistent patterns: Many hate incidents occur as people attempt to go about their daily lives–buying groceries, riding public transit, or walking their children to school. Personal testimonies provided a more nuanced understanding of what anti-AAPI hate looks like. The majority of hate incidents, though harmful and painful, do not meet the legal definition of a hate crime (bias-motivated criminal offenses), and therefore cannot be prosecuted and require solutions beyond law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

Stop AAPI Hate, working with the AAPI community, has identified the most effective ways to begin addressing anti-AAPI racism: education equity, community solutions and civil rights. AAPI students and their issues must be supported and included in curricula and schools. AAPI partnerships need to develop effective community-driven solutions that provide safety models that center on healing as well as prevention with LGBTQ+ people and other communities of color. Better enforcement and expansion of civil rights protections are required through legislation and accountability when civil rights are violated.

Quantifying anti-AAPI hate incidents reveals that intersecting identities also endanger LGBTQ+ people. The normalization of violence against one group inevitably invites a temptation to expand the list of targets and escalate. Every individual traumatic incident reminds us of the urgent need to address systemic racism and anti-LGBTQ+ bias; our collective voice advocating for solutions for all people is how we will do it.

Michael Yamashita is the publisher of Bay Area Reporter.