Social Justice: Achieved From the Bottom Up or Top Down?
by Belinda Dronkers-Laureta on May 11th, 2016

Keeping Families Together

The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

February 18, 2011

Social Justice: Achieved From the Bottom Up or Top Down?


From the Bottom UP

Asian and Pacific Islander Family Pride exists to end the isolation of Asian and Pacific Islander families with LGBT members. We do this by providing a safe space to talk one-on-one with parents or family and education through our programs and workshops. We do it this way because there is an immediate need from those who seek answers. But this way we are only connecting with people who want to know and not with those who are convinced that being LGBT is wrong and deny their LGBT member their family’s support. Our strategy in working with individual families, working from the bottom up, is to build an ever growing community of accepting families that may serve as models for those who do not. It is a two step process: first get families to accept, then get them to testify. Sometimes the second step is more difficult than the first because that API habit of keeping shameful things within the family is strongly ingrained. Still we do have success stories.

From the Top Down

We don’t believe that just changing individual attitudes will achieve social justice. To understand this, just ask why APIs reject their LGBT children. They do so because of the shame associated with being LGBT and the consequence of that shame, namely, rejection from their ethnic community. API families live within a context of their ethnic communities and to focus on just the family ignores the impact of tradition, culture, and community on family behavior. There is a field of inquiry termed “structural racism” which we adopted and call “structural homophobia.” There are policies and practices in place that automatically cause social injustice. The denial of same sex marriage is one such structural device. What is one of the first things you fill out on an employment form? Isn’t it: Are you married? As soon as you mark “Yes” all sorts of benefits automatically accrue to you. But what if you want to be married but are not allowed, then no benefits. There are other examples where structural arrangements foster social injustice, because those structural arrangements favor the dominant group at the expense of those on the margins.

We Need to Do Bottom Up And Top Down

What Asian and Pacific Islander Family Pride does at the family level is necessary but insufficient. What organizations do at the national level, for example, fight for marriage equality is necessary but also insufficient. Is there racial justice almost 150 years after the Confederacy surrendered? Does a glass ceiling exist 92 years after women achieved the right to vote? It seems to us that attitudes must change and then laws and then the work to remove all those structural remnants of previous laws that enshrined obsolete attitudes begins. Again, marriage equality provides us with a good example. Laws are on the books that prevent same sex marriage and nasty campaigns still result in the occasional ballot box victory retaining those laws. But the opposition to marriage equality is steadily eroding. The Pew Research Center reports that after 15 years of polling less then half the public opposes same sex marriage and 42% actively support it. Social justice is achieved by working from the bottom up to change attitudes and from the top down to change structures.

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride


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