Move Over, Shang-Chi: 9 Real-Life LGBTQ+ Asian American Superheroes

by Matthew Wexler

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday September 19, 2021
Originally published on September 18, 2021

Georgia State Rep. Sam Park
Georgia State Rep. Sam Park  (Source:repsampark/Instagram)

Marvel's "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" has become a worldwide mega-hit, earning more than $257 million to date, according to Variety. The splashy film, starring Simu Liu as the title character and Awkwafina as his bestie Katy, is pure fantasy, but it's also breaking real-life stereotypes.

"We get to have fully fleshed out characters who also kick (butt) and do martial arts. ... That's the biggest difference that I feel right now," said Olivia Liang, star of the new "Kung Fu" at last month's "Shang-Chi" premiere. Palm strikes and ax kicks aren't necessary for these nine LGBTQ+ Asian Americans, whose real-life presence offers representation and inspiration for the next generation of queer youth.

Margaret Cho
"My work as a comedian is really about personal journey and problems and relationships," said Cho in a recent interview with EDGE. "Having grown up in San Francisco with parents who owned a gay bookstore," she says, "queerness has always been a really important part of my existence."

Earlier this year, Cho was honored alongside the Go Go's, Cherie Currie of The Runaways, and Heart's Nancy Wilson by the She Rocks Awards, which credits women who display unique talent and leadership within the music industry. She's currently starring alongside Iliza Shlesinger in Netflix's hit rom-com "Good on Paper."

Chella Man
Artist. Advocate. Actor. The list goes on and on for Chella Man, who identifies as Deaf, trans, Chinese, and Jewish. His recent jewelry collaboration with Private Policy amplified "the beauty of being Deaf," while his new book, "Continuum" (part of Penguin Random House's Pocket Change Collective series), targets young readers who might be facing similar struggles. "As an artist who has been tokenized for my marginalized identities, I am familiar with the battle over the agency to define myself," Chella Man told EDGE earlier this year. "Through my words and art in my first book, I hope to accessibly share my findings of the missing, key component."

Sam Park
"I think in the midst of all the chaos and uncertainty that we're all facing, I do believe that LGBTQ leaders continue to demonstrate, especially in their success, hope — that if we can make it, anyone can make it," says Georgia State Representative (House District 101) Sam Park. It's been nearly five years since Park made history as the state's first openly gay male state legislator, and he's never looked back. Park, who is Korean American, told People for the American Way, "It's important for the next generation of Americans to lean in and use the power they have by voting in every single election, at all levels of government, to protect and strengthen our democracy."

Chantale Wong
President Biden continues to advocate for LGBTQ+ representation in his administration with the nomination of Chantale Wong as the first out lesbian to an ambassador-level position in U.S. history. NBC News reported that she was "truly humbled" by the nomination and went on to post on social media: "If I am confirmed by the U.S. Senate, I will serve with humility and with [the] purpose of advancing U.S. interest at the Asian Development Bank and the region on behalf of my fellow Americans."

"Chantale will represent the most powerful nation in the Asian Development Bank at a time when many of its member states criminalize LGBTQ people and deny them the right to marry," said Annise Parker, president of the LGBTQ Victory Institute in a statement. "Her presence and leadership can change perceptions of LGBTQ people among representatives from other nations — potentially inching countries toward more acceptance of LGBTQ citizens."

Schulyer Bailar
A Harvard graduate, Bailar became the first trans athlete to compete in any sport on an NCAA Division 1 men's team and the only one to have competed for all four years. He is an internationally celebrated inspirational speaker and a respected advocate for inclusion, body positivity, and mental health awareness. He can now add author to his list of accomplishments. "Obie is Man Enough" (Crown — Random House), which was released September 7, tells the story of a middle school swimmer who also happens to be trans — another step in humanizing his experience and lifting up all people, but particularly trans people. Bailar joins EDGE for a Facebook Live interview on October 19.

George Takei
Known for his portrayal of Mr. Sulu in the original "Star Trek" series, Takei has appeared in more than 40 films and has spoken openly about his childhood in internment camps during World War II, which led to his development of the Broadway musical "Allegiance." With more than 1.4 million Instagram followers and 3.2 million on Twitter, Takei, at the age of 84, has harnessed the power of social media to advocate for COVID-19 vaccinations, common-sense gun laws, and a host of other issues.

Evan Low
Representing Silicon Valley, Low was the youngest Asian American legislator ever elected to California's State Assembly. Before that, he made history as the youngest openly LGBTQ+ mayor in the country at age 26. Most recently, Low joined Grindr to promote a "No" vote on California governor Gavin Newsom's recall election. He also authored a state bill (which has passed both the Assembly and Senate) to "require retailers to have a gender-neutral section to display 'a reasonable selection' of items 'regardless of whether they have been traditionally marketed for either girls or for boys,' " as reported by KUSI News.

Bowen Yang
Bowen Yang has soared this year, in part for his roles on "Saturday Night Live," including a spot-on Fran Lebowitz impersonation, a powerful anti-Asian hate monologue on Weekend Update, and a historic Emmy nomination (Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series) for playing the iceberg that sank the Titanic. He can also be seen playing high-strung cousin Edmund in "Awkwafina is Nora From Queens."

Malinda Lo
Best-selling author Malinda Lo delivers much-needed representation to the world of young adult literature. Her latest title, "Last Night at the Telegraph Club," caught the eye of Oprah Magazine, which named it one of the 50 Best LGBTQ Books That Will Heat Up the Literary Landscape in 2021. She was also recently awarded the Alice B Award, given to writers of lesbian fiction for their contribution to the lesbian community, culture, and identity.

Matthew Wexler is EDGE's Senior Editor, Features & Branded Content. More of his writing can be found at www.wexlerwrites.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @wexlerwrites.