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Articles on GLBT Asians

New study finds LGBT Asian American youth face cultural pressure
By 365gay Newswire
07.28.2009 5:32pm EDT

(Boston) A new study has found that young LGBT Asian Americans often face unyielding family and cultural social stresses that affect their ethnic and sexual identities. The study, done by Hyeouk Chris Hahm, an assistant professor at Boston University School of Social Work, and Chris Adkins, an HIV/AIDS clinical social worker, showed that many factors affect young LGBT Asian Americans. According to the United Press International, these factors include "central societal stresses including the role of family life, personal sacrifice for family tranquility and generational clashes, as well as external factors such as racism, sexism and acculturation."

For many, a choice must be made between maintaining an ethnic identity and repressing their sexuality or face being rejected by their family and come out. According to Science Daily: "Often, the result for both young men and women is to mask homosexual behaviors and avoid alienating their family and parents' communities. In their relationships with others, they often have to decide which identity will take precedence: an ethnic or sexual identity."

No Asians?
By John Corvino, columnist, 365gay.com
01.22.2010 12:03pm EST

Not long ago a friend approached me for relationship advice. He's a white guy who was contemplating dating a black guy, and, as he put it, "I thought you could give me some insight since you're in an interracial relationship."

His query took me by surprise. To be honest, I had forgotten that I'm in an interracial relationship (though I've been in one for eight years and counting).

It's not because I "don't see color" or anything like that. Of course I see color. People who don't see color in this society are blind to an important feature of others' experience.

Maybe it's because I frequently don't see Mark's color. That's partially a function-for better or worse-of our intimacy. But I suspect it's equally a function of the fact that Mark is Asian.

Like many Americans, I tend to think of color in terms of a black/white paradigm. Living in Detroit, as Mark and I do, tends to reinforce that paradigm. "Interracial" means "black and white." I'm well aware that it's a false paradigm, but that doesn't mean it isn't common and powerful.

It doesn't follow that people don't notice Asians, don't stereotype Asians, or don't discriminate against Asians. All of the negative stuff still applies (in varying degrees). The difference, I think, is that when we white people make efforts to be more sensitive to race issues, we sometimes forget that there are more than two races. It's not so much that Asians are invisible; it's that discrimination against them is overlooked.

The gay Filipino-American comedian Alec Mapa is currently touring with a show entitled "No Fats, Femmes, or Asians"-highlighting a phrase he sees commonly in personals ads.

Mapa retorts that he objects to the idea-I'm quoting from memory here-"that belonging to a certain class of people makes you inherently unfuckable."

I missed the next ten minutes of Mapa's routine as I pondered the moral implications of his analysis.

Put Fats and Fem(me)s aside for the moment, and let's focus on the "No Asians."

Having been with Mark for nearly a decade, I recognize that the sentiment is common. Growing up, Mark was painfully aware of the fact that there were (virtually) no Asians in the Abercrombie and Fitch catalog or other standard markers of our notions of beauty.

Before we started dating, lots of guys told him, "You're cute, but I don't date Asians." For that matter, people have told *me* that "I'm not into Asians, but Mark's cute-you're lucky you found each other." (Yes we are, thank you.)

On the one hand, I think personal tastes are just that. For example, I'm not into beefy, muscular guys. Give me a cute scrawny nerdy type over a football player any day. Other people have the opposite preference. To each his own.

What's more, there are some guys who are really into Asian guys (the slang term is "rice queens"). More power to 'em, I say.

I would add that people get enough grief about their sexual tastes-especially LGBT people-that the last thing I want to do is give them more. Sexuality is a gift to be enjoyed, not an occasion for affirmative-action programs. As I've sometimes explained, "I'm not into women sexually, but that doesn't make me sexist."

On the other hand, our notions of beauty don't arise in a vacuum, and some of our preferences are premised on false-and morally troubling-stereotypes. They're hurtful. And the social structures that lead to them are an appropriate subject for moral scrutiny.

So my advice to people contemplating-or consciously avoiding-an interracial relationship? Keep an open mind. Listen and learn. And wherever you find love, celebrate and enjoy it.

John Corvino, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, and philosophy professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. His column "The Gay Moralist" appears Fridays on 365gay.com.

For more about John Corvino, or to see clips from his "What's Morally Wrong with Homosexuality?" DVD, visit www.johncorvino.com.

Report on GLBT Asian Americans
May 22, 2007 In my writings and my classes that I teach, however paradoxically it may sound, I've always felt that the more that we unite under the collective identity of "Asian Americans," the more power and authority we will have in asserting the specific needs of unique subgroups within our community, whether they relate to different ethnic groups, or to those among us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). In that context, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force has come out with its annual report on the state of LGBT Asian Americans. Some major findings are:

  • Nearly every respondent (98 percent) had experienced at least one form of discrimination and/or harassment in their lives. Nearly all respondents (89 percent) agreed that homophobia and/or transphobia are problems within the broader API community.
  • 78 percent of respondents agreed that API LGBT people experience racism within the predominantly white LGBT community.
  • Only 50 percent of respondents said that English was their native language. Yet nearly all LGBT informational and advocacy materials are produced in English.

    Thanks, Cynical Anti-Orientalist, for reminding me of the report. In my former life, I used to be the Director of Education for the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS in New York City, and can personally concur with many of the findings detailed in the report in regard to the continuing challenges that LGBT Asian Americans face from both the predominantly heterosexual mainstream Asian American community, and from the predominantly White mainstream LGBT community. Like I also tell my students and readers, the social injustices that we face are all interrelated and in the words of the immortal Martin Luther King Jr., "A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." As Asian Americans, we cannot effectively address the racial inequalities we as a collective group face without also addressing the homophobia (or for that matter, the sexism, class inequality, xenophobia, etc.) that many of our brothers and sisters face as well.


    George Takei Comes Out
    October 31, 2005
    As many news organizations are reporting, including CNN.com, George Takei - Mr. Sulu in the original Star Trek TV series on the late 1960s and a beloved icon of Asian American entertainment, has just publicly announced that he is gay:

    Takei told The Associated Press on Thursday that his new onstage role as psychologist Martin Dysart in "Equus," helped inspire him to publicly discuss his sexuality. Takei described the character as a "very contained but turbulently frustrated man."

    "The world has changed from when I was a young teen feeling ashamed for being gay," he said. "The issue of gay marriage is now a political issue. That would have been unthinkable when I was young." The 68-year-old actor said he and his partner, Brad Altman, have been together for 18 years.

    Takei, a Japanese-American who lived in a U.S. internment camp from age 4 to 8, said he grew up feeling ashamed of his ethnicity and sexuality. He likened prejudice against gays to racial segregation.

    I commend George for his courage in going public with his identity as a gay man. I had a very high opinion of him before and this "news" hasn't done anything to change that. If anything, I have even more admiration for him now that he has found the courage to come out of the closet and proudly proclaim his identity and solidarity with the Asian American GLBT community.

    You're still an inspiration to many of us, George.


    GLBT Asians as a pocket population
    "API teens and young adults identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender face a different set of challenges than their western or Caucasian peers, which can lead to rejection from their families who emigrated to the U.S. and a stigmatization by the larger Asian community".

    Hyeouk Chris Hahm and Chris Adkins. "A Model of Asian and Pacific Islander Sexual Minority Acculturation". Journal of LGBT Youth, 6:155-173, 2009

    GLBT Asians as a high-risk group: Social Realities within the Asian Community
  • Asian communities and families and tend to place high-to-unreasonable expectations placed on Asian individuals that emphasize scholastic achievement, work-ethic, following a narrow social script that specifies marriage to the opposite sex and making a family.
  • Asians are a "model-minority" who aspire to high social expectations of achievement and therefore GLBT Asians are often prime candidates for self-destructive behaviors, due to their perceived failure to meet exceptionally-strict social and cultural norms.
  • Many GLBT Asians are faced hard choices in which they feel that they must choose between their ethnic identity or sexual orientation.
  • In-the-closet, out of fear, misinformation and ridden with guilt, GLBT Asians face despair, isolation, and indifference and struggle privately, languish silently in shame and alone without any form of support.
  • Just like mainstream society, GLBT Asians receive and internalize the same misinformation about themselves, coming-out and HIV awareness.
  • The social outcomes often include workaholism, alcoholism, drug abuse, loneliness, suicide, emotional problems, lack of self-respect and risky sexual behaviors.
  • GLBT Asians who do come-out, or are "found-out" by their families most often face punishment, humiliation, shame and ridicule or become estranged or disowned by their families and communities.

    GLBT Asians as a high-risk group: Social Realities within the GLBT Community
  • The conventional wisdom surrounding racism suggests a singular black/white paradigm, whereas all racial and ethnic groups are vulnerable to the effects of racism.
  • While racism is generally less overt in the gay community, nonetheless even indirect forms of racism have very direct, real and lasting effects on GLBT Asians.
  • GLBT Asians are frequently disenfranchised from the gay community as "not real Americans", rendering them invisible and isolated. While Asians are often overlooked, discrimination against Asians is also overlooked as well.
  • This is demonstrated in the gay culture through personals which often read "…no fats, femmes or Asians…"
  • Not all Asians are the same. "Asians" is a term that encompasses the peoples who originate from many different countries, each with their own rich culture and language.
  • Many GLBT Asians are exceptionally more vulnerable than their counterparts due the differences in cultures and many face a language barrier.
  • GLBT Asians who seek refuge in the gay community in search of support often do not find a safe haven.
  • Significantly-older Caucasian men often are those who express the most interest in dating GLBT Asians. Often there is a radical difference age, size, income and education which put some GLBT Asians at a disadvantage. GLBT Asians are more likely to be abused, exploited or ignored.
  • Many Asians are international students in the United States, with a large portion who seek legal permanent residency and have tremendous talent to offer. Heterosexuals are able to sponsor their foreign-born spouse, however despite the fact that same-gender marriage is recognized in 5 states, immigration is a federal issue and explicitly forbids an American citizen to sponsor a same-gender partner.

    GLBT Asians as a "Model Minority
    Despite perceived socio-economic advantages, Asians who are gay are one of the demographics least-likely to be offered social-support, and often must choose between a potentially-exploitive environment or the closet.

    GLBT Asians are a severely underrepresented and marginalized group of people that often face issues of exploitation or indifference in the GLBT community, or condemnation within their own ethnic communities.

    Yet when allowed to thrive to their full human potential, Asians as a group tend to outperform many other demographics and consistently make significant positive contributions to society.

    Understanding The Process Of Homosexual Identity Formation Among Asian And Pacific Islander Youth
    ScienceDaily (July 14, 2009) — Young American-raised Asian and Pacific Islanders (API), who are in the sexual minority, face psychological and social stresses in dealing with their families' values and ancestral cultures that significantly impact the development of their ethnic and sexual identities.

    API teens and young adults identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender face a different set of challenges than their western or Caucasian peers, which can lead to rejection from their families who emigrated to the U.S. and a stigmatization by the larger Asian community.

    In a new study, Hyeouk Chris Hahm, Assistant Professor at the BU School of Social Work has developed a new intellectual framework for the development of positive ethnic/sexual identities among API gays and lesbian adolescents.

    The process of homosexual identify formation among API youth, where the role of family life, personal sacrifice for family tranquility and generational clashes are central social stresses, is in addition to the external factors as racism, sexism and acculturation, that many Asian Americans face. This combination of ethnic and gender differences has led the BU researchers to develop a new model of identity formation for this group which also serves to increase understanding of the diversity of the "new gay teenager."

    Their study is based on Hahm's earlier study, about 1,000 Asian American adolescents and young adults (18 to 27 years old), who said they were attracted to the same sex. This group struggled to both fit in with the prevailing American culture and also establish an authentic sexual identity that they knew was different from the norms of mainstream U.S. and their parents culture ( primarily from China, Japan and Korea).

    "For instance, in South Korea, where male children have obligations to marry and create a traditional notion of family, homosexuality is considered a deviant behavior that brings family dishonor and shame," the study states, noting that this cultural barrier leaves this sexual minority with multiple oppressions and a sense of fear and inability to accept their sexual identity.

    API women who are gay also face an Asian culture that requires them to stick to family values, marry men and have children or place shame on their families, neighbors and community. Researchers found that many Asian cultural norms render women invisible and silent. Thus these women compared to heterosexual API women and both heterosexual and homosexual API men had a higher prevalence of tobacco, binge drinking, marijuana and other drugs.

    The reasons? The API women who were gay were less likely to adhere to traditional family-oriented gender roles, were unable or willing to gain or receive emotional support from their families and were likely to compete with men for masculine privileges so they could escape sexist oppression.

    Often, the result for both young men and women is to mask homosexual behaviors and avoid alienating their family and parents' communities. In their relationships with others, they often have to decide which identity will take precedence: an ethnic or sexual identity.

    "In the Western gay and lesbian community, 'coming out,' is final revelation that you are homosexual while for API in America of Korean descent, there is 'coming home,' where you want to integrate culturally and be both an American and Korean," said Professor Hahm. "This is not staying closeted but rather alluding to your sexuality to a family member, who may not challenge it, as long as the status quo within the family is maintained."

    Over time, many manage the conflicts that arise from choosing one over the other and enter into a homosexual identity with many negative stereotypes and assumptions related to their ethnic identity. Still others sublimate their sexual identify and appear asexual until they are able to synthesize an identity that incorporates both ethnicity and sexuality.

    The researchers developed an API sexual minority model that simultaneously explores sexual development and cultural identity development in four stages: initiation, primacy, conflict and identity synthesis. These are combined with the four strategies of acculturation – the process by which foreign-born individuals and their families learn to adopt the language, values, beliefs and behaviors of their new cultural environments. Those strategies are assimilation, integration, separation and marginalization. Together they set API sexual minorities apart from Western gays and lesbian community.

    Journal reference:

    1. Hyeouk Chris Hahm and Chris Adkins. A Model of Asian and Pacific Islander Sexual Minority Acculturation. Journal of LGBT Youth, 6:155-173, 2009. Adapted from materials provided by Boston University Medical Center, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

    Young, Gay, and APA
    Asian Americans who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) frequently face a double or even triple jeopardy -- being targets of prejudice and discrimination because of their ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. The following is an article entitled "Young, Gay, and APA," originally published in the July 17, 1999 issue of AsianWeek Magazine, written by Joyce Nishioka. It captures many of the obstacles and challenges that LGBT Asian Americans go through as they search for acceptance and happiness with the multiple forms of their personal identities.

    Double Jeopardy: Nineteen-year-old Eric Aquino remembers a day not that long ago when he kneeled down to tie his shoe during P.E. class. He looked up to find a boy towering over him, saying, "That's where you belong" and making a comment about oral sex. "People teased me because they perceived me as a gay, fag queer," he remembers. "What could I do but ignore it? One thing I always did was ignore it."

    While feelings of rejection and questions about "being normal" haunt most adolescents, they often hit harder at those who are minorities, either racial or sexual. And too often, those are the kids who get the least support. A 1989 study from the Department of Health and Human Services found that a gay teen who comes out to his or her parents faced about a 50-50 chance of being rejected and 1 in 4 had to leave home. Ten years later, a study in The Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that gay and bisexual teens are more than three times as likely to attempt suicide as other youths.

    Surveys indicate that 80 percent of gay students do not feel safe in schools, and one poll by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed 1 in 13 high school students had been attacked or harassed because they were perceived to be homosexual. Nationwide, 18 percent of all gay students are physically injured to the point they require medical treatment, and they are seven times as likely as their straight peers to be threatened with a weapon at school, according to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

    Protecting homosexual Asian teens from discrimination requires double-duty measures, advocates say. Ofie Virtucio, a coordinator for AQUA, San Francisco's only citywide organization for gay Asian American teenagers (now known as the API Wellness Center), maintains that they are especially likely to be closeted and ignored. "Asians are the model minorities," she says, describing a common stereotype. "They can't be gay or at risk; they don't commit suicide or self-mutilate." In reality, Kim says, "There are many API youths in the California public school system who are gay or perceived as being gay and face angry discrimination and harassment. And there is nothing to adequately protect them."

    As Kwok and thousands of others might attest, to be young, gay and APA is to simultaneously confront the ugly specters of barriers and discrimination that come with being gay in America and those that come with being Asian in America. "With the anti-Asian sentiment, students are harassed more for being Asian because it's more visible than sexuality." says San Francisco school district counselor Crystal Jang.

    The Closet is a Lonely Place to Live: "People don't think there are API gays and lesbians," Virtucio says. "There is hardly any research, and no money goes to them." Consequently, no one knows precisely how many of San Francisco's Asian American children are gay. But if the often quoted figure of 10 percent of a population holds, the figure could exceed 1,300 in the public junior high and high schools alone. Asian American students, says Jang, account for about 90 percent of the kids she sees through the district's Support Services for Sexual Minorities Youth Program. Though there are more support groups for gay youths than ever before, Virtucio said many Asian American teens find it difficult to fit in. Nor do they have any role models. This decade's most noted gays and lesbians -- actresses Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche, Ambassador James Hormel and former Wisconsin congressman Steve Gunderson, Migden and Kuehl -- are all white, and so is society's perception of gay America.

    "They can't go to programs for queer gay youths when no one speaks their language," Virtucio says. "How can they be understood when they talk about their close-knit family they can never come out to? They need to see people like them. Even if it's just serving rice, they need something familiar so they could [relate] and feel like they could be part of this community," says Virtucio, who touts her four-year-old group as "a channel to come out." In the summer, 20 to 30 teens -- half of whom are immigrants -- go to AQUA's weekly drop-in sessions. Though the group initially attracted mostly college-age men, most of its members today are younger, and half are female. At a recent get-together, the girls seemed much less vocal than boys, and though several young men agreed to be interviewed, no girls did. Jang explains that girls are more likely than boys to refrain from expressing their sexuality, possibly because of the shame they think they may bring on themselves and their families. One girl, she recalled, fell in love with her godsister and wanted to tell her, but she was afraid that if she did, everyone in Chinatown would find out.

    For both genders, though, coming out to family and friends is a huge issue, one that Virtucio says cannot be put off indefinitely. "Parents want to know," she said, adding that many AQUA members have told her that they suspected that their parents knew about their sexuality long before their children would admit it to themselves. Mothers, she said, might ask daughters questions like, "Why to you dress that way? Wear a skirt." Or they might tell their sons, "Don't walk like that." At the same time, she said, cultural pressures to put the family first or to hide one's feelings often convince Asian and Asian American youth to internalize their sexuality. Each family member often is expected to fill an explicit role. For example, she explained, a Filipina, particularly the first-born daughter, "is supposed to take care of the family, and get married and have kids." A first-born Chinese son, she added, "can never be gay. He is supposed to extend the family name."

    Desmond Kwok says his parents accept his sexual orientation -- though they don't necessarily support him emotionally. He acknowledges an ongoing "starvation for love" that he blames on his parents. Both have been distant, he says, especially his father, a businessman who lives in Chicago. Kwok says he found support for coming out not from his family, but from a gang he was in two years ago. "They were really cool with it, and it boosted my confidence in the whole coming-out process," he said. "They'd say, 'If someone has a grudge against you for being gay, we're there for you. We'll kick their asses.' "

    Now, Kwok dates "older" Asian and Asian American men -- at least 19 -- because few come out before then, he says. He admits that he has tried to find boyfriends over the Internet, at bars and cafes, "the worst places to meet a good boyfriend. A graduate of the School of the Arts, a magnet academy, Kwok said he intends to continue his work as an advocate for gay Asian and Asian American teens. Yet even now he cannot rid "the feeling of being alone -- being around people who really love you, but still knowing they are heterosexual. They'll be with their girlfriends or boyfriends, and here I am all alone, sitting around, boo-hoo, no boyfriend."

    'Straight' Into Isolation, 'Out' Into Happiness: Eric Aquino never had such peer support growing up in Vallejo, Calif., and especially in junior high school. "I felt alone," Aquino said. He avoided his locker, where the popular kids hung out, and instead took long, circuitous paths to classes to dodge their cruel comments. "A good day for me was being able to walk down the hall without having anyone ask, 'Are you gay? Do you suck dick?' His grades fell. "I would be late to class and wouldn't bring my books," he explained. "I couldn't concentrate. I looked at the clock until it was 3 o'clock and time to go."

    Aquino's high school years were both the happiest and one of the most depressing times of his life. He joined marching band and had friends for the first time, but he also started feeling that he was, in fact, gay. "Friends were important to me because I never had any, but they didn't know me for what I was," he said. Aquino thought perhaps he should wait until he was 18 to come out, so that if his parents rejected him, he could run away. He also considered living in the closet and spent much of his time thinking of ways to keep his secret. "I thought of different alternatives, other options. Like, I'll get married and have kids, [then divorce] and be a single parent, and my parents would just think I never found love again.

    Another Perspective: Once gay/lesbian Asian Americans come out of the closet, do they find more support and acceptance within the mainstream gay/lesbian community? Many do, but unfortunately, anti-Asian racism among the predominantly White gay/lesbian community still exists. For a closer look, read Edge, Boston's article "Gay Anti-Asian Prejudice Thrives On the Internet

    Ofie Virtucio, 21, can relate to the feeling of isolation. "Maybe it's the feeling where you know you're Asian but sometimes in situations you're embarrassed to be," she said. "That's where I was for a long time. Of course I was lonely." When she was 13 and still in the Philippines, she recalls, her mother asked her, "Tomboy ca ba?' -- are you gay? She looked me in the eyes; she was worried," Virtucio said. "I said, 'No!' " She wishes that her mom had replied, "Whatever you are, it's OK. I still love you, Ofie.' " Two years later, the family came to the United States. "I had to be white in a month," she recalled. "When I started talking, I had an American accent that I could use, so I could make friends," she said. "During senior year, I was in denial being Filipino and didn't talk about being gay. Most importantly, I had to get friends. I had to get to know what America is all about. I had to survive."

    She recalled: "I was trying to be straight but didn't want to have sex. I didn't want a man's penis in me." Though she had a boyfriend in high school, she secretly had crushes on girls, especially the teenage lesbians who were "out." At the same time, she recalls, she "couldn't relate. They were more 'we're-here-we're-queer' ... I knew I was gay, but I thought, 'I'm not like that.' It made me think I could never be like that." So, she said, "When my friends would talk about cute guys, I would jump into the conversation. I thought, 'OK, I have to do this right now,' so I'd say things like, 'Oh, he's so cute.' "Then when I would go home, I'd be like ... oh," said Virtucio, covering her eyes with her palms. "It hurts. It really, really hurts."

    Virtucio finally acknowledged her sexuality during her college years, "the happiest time in my life." At age 18, she found her first girlfriend and experienced her first kiss, but it took many more years before she felt truly comfortable about being a lesbian. "I knew it was going to be a hard life," she said. "I thought, 'How am I going to tell my siblings? How am I going to get a job? Am I going to be constrained to having only gay friends? What are people going to think of me? I thought people would know now -- just because I know I'm gay -- that they'll just see it."

    Virtucio never had the opportunity to come out to her mother, who passed away when she was 15. But in college, she did tell her father. She remembers he was in the garden watering plants when he asked her, out of the blue, whether her girlfriend was more than a friend. Startled, Virtucio says she denied it, but later that day, she opened the door to his bedroom and said it was true. They took a walk on the beach after that. "He told me whatever made me happy was fine," Virtucio recalls. "My father used to be mean to my mom, pot-bellied, chauvinistic," she says. "But for some reason he found it in his heart to understand. That moment was amazing for me. I thought if my dad could understand, I really don't care what the world thinks. I'm just going to be the person I am."

    Author Citation

    Copyright © 1999 by Joyce Nishioka and AsianWeek Magazine. Reprinted in accordance with Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976.

    Suggested reference: Nishioka, Joyce and AsianWeek Magazine. 1999. "Young, Gay, and APA" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. ( October 10, 2010).


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