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Tired of wasting hours stuck in traffic? Traffic is bad for the economy, our health, and our environment. Freedom of mobility should be afforded for all. No one should have to drive to work or school if they don’t want to. We need #TransitForAll Convenient reliable public transit options are key to solving our traffic problems. That's why in the Assembly I will fight for: – Expanded Bike Infrastructure & Last Mile Transit – Expanded Bus & Rail Coverage – Completion of State High Speed Rail – Merging of All Bay Area Transit Agencies Learn more at www.VoteAlexLee.com
Alex Lee is currently running for a seat in Assembly District 25, representing Alameda and Santa Clara counties in California. If elected, he will be the youngest Asian-American and first openly bisexual person elected to the California State Assembly.
Queerty chatted with 24-year-old Lee about his Asian and bisexual identities, the challenges you faced growing up, and why diversity matters in politics. Here’s what he had to say…
QUEERTY: Why did you decide to run for the state assembly?
LEE: I’ve been fascinated by government and politics as a kid. Growing up, I was a history nerd and realized that social progress comes from (this) hard work. When I was in college, I was student body president and rallied to protect tuition increases. After college, I worked for the State Senate with Senator Henry Stern and Assembly Member Evan Low and there, I learned about the power of integrity. Right now, politics has many negative connotations around it I want to turn it around. I want what’s best for my community and I am looking forward to representing my minority community that often that’s overlooked in regional politics. I want to bring back faith to our democracy.
If elected, you would be the youngest Asian-American and first out bisexual elected on the California State Assembly. What does that mean to you?
It says a lot that it would be a record I would hold. What’s important to me is this intersection of my recent Asian-American immigrant background and being a part of the LGBT community.
It’s always been difficult to express my identity. I remember as a kid, I would leave out that I’m Asian, trying to assimilate. That’s the first-gen struggle. But also, there is a lot of bi-erasure and invisibility, even within our very progressive state. Some people in the community say that bisexuality doesn’t exist. If you date women they say, “you’re not actually queer” or “If you’re bi, you’re not really gay” from both the straight and queer community.
There are ignorant people who will try to judge your identity for you. This is one of the biggest challenges of publicly expressing myself, and if I am elected and able to champion that more, I want to bring more awareness and visibility to our community.
What are the challenges you faced growing up as an Asian-American?
One of the challenges I faced was that my family expectation was not to go into government or politics. It was to do something more “stable” and my parent’s dreams of being a doctor or an engineer. I tried giving being a doctor a shot, but I realized that wasn’t for me.
And another of the challenges of being a part of the Asian community is the conservative views, from marijuana to education, or even me being bi. This is something ongoing that we’re working to bring our community more inclusive values. There is a rift. A lot of older Asian-Americans are not quite mainstream America.
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Public Education means everything to me. I’m a proud product of public schools from elementary school in Milpitas to UC Davis. For the 5th wealthiest economy in the world, CA’s schools are among the worst funded. We need to prioritize education again. That’s why in the Assembly I will fight for: ?Reinvesting in our classrooms and teachers ?Accountability for all charter schools ?Tuition free college & student debt relief Learn more about my priorities at www.VoteAlexLee.com
When did you realize that you were different from everybody else and embrace your bisexual identity?
In high school, my then-partner, called me “hetero-flexible”. People recognized my own behaviors before I recognized it as a turning point. I was always comfortable about pushing my boundaries. I’ve always been that way. I knew I was comfortable with who I am. “I like who I like” sort of way. I think that’s difficult to do in the LGBTQ+ community – always being able to be proud to say that “this is what I want”. But you have to do it. You have to express yourself as authentically as you can.
Why is diversity and representation important in politics?
Diversity is incredibly important. Diversity makes us stronger. If elected, I’ll be the first bi, and youngest Asian-American, but also be the first gen-z member. At the end of the day, if we don’t have the right experiences, we will lean on the people who have the experiences. But why not have the people who have that experience than making decisions in the first place? I want to be up there making decisions helping my Asian-American community, my LGBTQ+ community, and my youth committee.
Because if everyone was a 70-year-old straight white male, do you want only (their decisions) for black and brown communities? Or women and transgender folks? And if you don’t have people who went to school in the 21st century, who was recently in the classrooms, who recently went to college, how will we adequately make reforms? That’s why it’s important to have as many different people looking at legislation and making sure that it makes sense for the community. Because if not, we’re passing legislation that doesn’t work for real people.
Do you have any queer or Asian icons that have impacted you?
This beauty influencer Bubz. She is Cantonese-British with a similar upbringing as I and it gave me comfort knowing how someone else went through their journey, growing up as an adult. I really looked up to her. I also look up to Evan Low. He is also a gay Asian Assemblymember, one of the youngest elected in the state. And as a kid, Jackie Chan. It sounds corny, but there was not a lot of Asian people in media at that time. He was someone I looked up to as representation on-screen.”
Why is it important how to be who you are and stay true to yourself?
If we cannot personally live our own everyday lives as authentically, even in politics… if we’re not confident with who we are, then we aren’t bold enough to make our laws inclusive for everyone. I want to build on this so that my future LGBTQ+ children can have a different experience than mine. That is the best you can hope for. I want in my own community, I want the people to feel completely comfortable about saying they’re gay, lesbian, trans, however, they want to identify. We have to be true to ourselves. If not, we’re making laws that aren’t completely aligned that improve our lives.
Steven Wakabayashi is a second-generation Japanese-Taiwanese-American, creating content and spaces for queer Asians in New York City. He is the host of Yellow Glitter, a podcast on mindfulness for queer Asians, and shares a weekly newsletter of his projects on Mindful Moments. You can find him on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.