Thursday, February 11, 2010
The Gay Asian Pacific Alliance (GAPA) presented their annual Lunar New Year Banquet Gala at the Empress of China Restaurant in San Francisco's Chinatown. The Feb. 6, 2010, event was year 21 for the banquets that are known as a gay Asian vortex of socializing, fashion, and some politics.
GAPA is an all-volunteer organization that encourages gay men from the various Asian communities to draw on their personal resources for camaraderie and self-esteem. Members of GAPA have spoken out as a group against racism and for LGBT awareness in schools, and they countered Asian fundamentalists’ “Yes on Prop 8” campaigning.
There is a challenge for GAPA to add and retain members because of the internet. The annual banquet and GAPA Runway Pageant draw a large turnout of members and guests, especially now that erotic film actor Brandon Lee has been a star attraction. But after some strategic planning meetings it was decided that there is also going to be an emphasis on happy hours, ski weekends, ice skating, movie nights, and brunches.
Fashion excitement rose throughout the pre-banquet cocktails and viewing of the silent auction items. API Wellness Center executive director Lance Toma drew admiring glances to his multi-textured black-on-black attire. San Francisco Community College Board member Lawrence Wong — who was the first openly-gay Asian man elected in the U.S. — wore a custom-made Mandarin suit and kid gloves. AIDS activist Ed Mah wore a Versace scarf and a black leather harness accessories to mix the kept man look with S&M.
Punk drag Monistat was poured into a sleek Halston gown but the classiness evaporated when she loudly announced that she was not wearing underwear. This turned out to be a theme of the evening.
There were various interpretations of drag and a couple of them reared up to over six feet. Two of the most impressive female impersonators were Miss GAPA 2009 BeyonSoy in a zebra-striped ensemble and event coordinator Estée Longah in a luscious pink satin gown. Both sported futuristic hair styles that defied gravity, and it was the crowd’s good luck that they shared the hosting duties without indulging in catfight histrionics. Longah yelled from the stage repeatedly for co-chair Alex Baty, and the joke was that Longah is Baty in drag.
The stage came alive with a performance by the Rice Rockettes, followed by co-chair Felix Tsai’s remarks, which ended with his revelation that guys join GAPA and attend the banquet “for the hot men.” Then a scholarship was given to a young woman named Phuong Tseng who is a queer educator at LYRIC. The Endup’s Sydney Leung received the George Choy Award of Recognition for his leadership contributions to the well-being of GAPA. Horizons executive director Roger Doughty received the Douglas Yaranon Award for the Horizons Foundation’s commitment to LGBT communities of color. The much sought after Godzy Award was given to Dion Wong, who revived the group’s 35-plus program.
Jeff Sead was memorialized by a slide show that gave the audience a cavalcade of not only Sead’s life, but also of GAPA events that included a striking Lunar New Year Parade float that Sead coordinated. Daniel Lee was remembered by the GAPA Men’s Chorus, a group he joined, with song.
The chorus’ conductor, Randy Kikukawa, is an historical figure. He was barred from a Castro leather bar in 1980, and after a week of large angry protests it was made clear to the bar owner and bigoted others that people of color and their friends would stand up to discrimination in the Castro district.
California State Senator Mark Leno and San Francisco Assessor Phil Ting spoke and bestowed proclamations on GAPA, and then the Community College Board’s Lawrence Wong addressed the throng. The openly gay Wong was exposed as gay over and over in local Chinese tabloids, but received the vote of every Chinatown precinct when he ran for City Supervisor. Supervisor Bevan Dufty spoke about his plans if he is elected the first openly-gay San Francisco mayor.
Notable GAPA guest supporters included playwright Charles Belov, attorney Paul Melbostad, and Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club board member Michael Costa, who spoke about his successful Haiti Relief Fundraiser at the Infusion Lounge.
Evan Low, 26-year-old Mayor of Campbell, California, was the keynote speaker and he painted a vivid image of himself flying out of Washington, D.C. just ahead of a giant blizzard to arrive on stage to talk about Prop. 8 and the 2010 and 2012 elections. GAPA had inspired him to run for office, and he had faced severe recrimination and threat of recall because Campbell is a hotbed of “Yes on Prop 8” types. Then Low surprised the audience and also film star Brandon Lee, when he invited Lee onto the stage to auction his underpants. Miss GAPA BeyonSoy held up her voluminous gown’s train and Lee stripped and redressed behind it, and held up the sexy white underpants which earned a large sum for GAPA. Lee is well known for his charity fundraising, sharp personality, the splendor of his body, and that he is an Asian primal top who is assertive as a businessman and as a character in his movies.
Abalone, duck in a bun, and quail and a giant fish with their heads on were taste treats, and then a supreme delicacy arrived — shrimp and walnuts minus the added mayonnaise seen at Brandy Ho’s.
Drag star Keri Hanna, consort to gay comic Marty Grimes, performed followed by another Rice Rockettes show led by the irrepressible Doncha Vishyuwuzme, followed by a last-minute rush for silent auction items that included some from co-founder Donald Masuda’s treasure house.
This journalist has covered every GAPA Banquet Gala, and this one surpassed the other 20 by a wide margin.