There has long been a need for a Chicago organization which would attract and nurture queer Asian Pacific Islanders (APIs) and provide a safe space for them. An organization that would promote our visibility and voice to the larger community; and facilitate networking, friendship, and empowerment. In the late 1990s, organizations like PALs (Pacifica Asian Lesbians), Khuli Zaban, and Lavender Phoenix emerged for lesbians. And the organization GAPIC (Gay Asian Pacific Islanders of Chicago) emerged for gay men. But i2i would be the first queer API group to embrace all gender identities of queer Asian Americans in Chicago under one roof. This would allow us all to work side-by-side for our common goals.
In late 2003, David Amarathitada and Karl Kimpo met through their jobs doing API, HIV-related work and opportunities like LCAPA (Leadership Center for Asian Pacific Americans). David and Karl were deciding between creating a community space for gay Asian men, or the larger LGBT Asian Pacific Islander community in Chicago. But 2004 was the year that truly marked the birth of i2i. Spurred by an offer from Glenn Magpantay of GAPIMNY (Gay API Men of New York) to come speak in Chicago -- Karl and David put out a call for an LGBT Asian roundtable. Though the turn out was largely male, the event on October 19, 2004 at Cafe Sol had 25-30 people in attendance which was a promising start.
ILi Hsiao invited Lola Lai Jong to the potluck gathering at David’s home on December 11, 2004. The Chicago Queer API Interim Group Task Force (nicknamed “Funforce” by Lola) was formed and the first meeting on April 2, 2005 was attended by: Clarence Cheuk, Dan Rodriguez-Schlorff, David Amarathithada, Dennis Emano, Denys Lau, I Li Hsiao, Karl Kimpo, Liz Thomson, Lola Lai Jong, *Michael B, Rima Malhotra, and Sharmili Majmudar.
At the June 19, 2005 meeting the interim group agreed to consensus decision-making. Also Liz’s suggestion to name the group i2i (Invisible to Invincible) was adopted -- as was a mission statement. The Chicago Queer API Interim Group was dissolved; i2i began to come into its own. Jin, Liz and Lola marched together in The Dyke March—API presence. I Li joined us at the end rally. In November, Liz and Karl represented i2i at the first National Queer APA Alliance held in conjunction with The 2005 Task Force's Creating Change Conference in Oakland, CA. In December, I Li offered his home for a winter potluck, which continued to be an annual event.
The year 2006 was an exciting year. i2i co-sponsored the 5th Annual Lambda Legal Freedom To Marry Reception in February. With the Gay Games being held in Chicago, Karl co-organized with Jin a sushi party for the Games. Funding for the Gay Games sushi event was from the Illinois Department of Public Health for the purposes of distributing culturally competent HIV prevention materials targeting gay Asian men. Karl secured these funds. The party was well publicized and attended by over 100 people including the entire lesbian softball team from Taiwan. Liz, Lola, and Jin, marched again in the Chicago Dyke March, and was joined by Lani Montreal. Amanda Lowrey and Lola marched in Chicago's first immigrant march. In October, Liz attends the 10th Annual National APA Women's Forum (NAPAWF) in Los Angeles, where she specifically represented i2i in a special one day convening for lesbian, bisexual, transgender APA women.
In 2007, Dwight Okita and Liz were aware that there was a serious drop in the group's activity and momentum. Would i2i disappear like other groups before it due to lack of interest or volatile group dynamics? Liz and Dwight began to talk in earnest about how to provide more structure and events for the members. Dwight decided to spearhead regular monthly socials at Cosi Cafe starting in February, and worked on launching the i2i website (chicagoi2i.org). Liz decided to spearhead regular i2i business meetings, and guided the group through various decision-making models. Around May 2007, Liz and Dwight had stepped forward as co-facilitators of the group. i2i's first quarterly newsletter called inSight came out in December 2007. Dennis Emano led us in a special workshop looking at the effects of different personality types on group dynamics. The goal was to better equip the group to resolve conflict by better understanding the role of personality within organizations. Members were able to take a standardized personality test to see where they themselves fell on the personality spectrum.
The group also established a visual marketing campaign using a color scheme of pale pink, beige, and dark eggplant to help fuel our marketing/branding efforts--web site, business cards, t-shirts, and a logo! We added a Chicago i2i@yahoo e-mail address, too. The web site visits have increased over 400% since 2006 with about 70% from North America, but even more significantly...30% from elsewhere.
Some of the highlight events of the year included: i2i's First Open Mike Night at Pressure Cafe where members shared their personal writings with a public audience; i2i's co-sponsoring of queer Asian films in collaboration with the Reeling Film Fest; participation in the Dyke March with members carrying a hand-stitched i2i banner (made by Lola, Liz, and *Alana P.); a tour of the new Center of Halsted; and monthly socials at various venues in Chicago.
In 2008, Dwight proposed that a Core Group be created which could help with decision-making and in carrying out events. The co-facilitators began to schedule regular core meetings where issues could be resolved and decisions could be made. Members continued to suggest and spearhead a variety of events for the benefit of the members. "Roll into Spring" was an event led by Lola and Liz inviting women to try their hand at making Vietnamese spring rolls together, while working on a collaborative art mural. I Li continued to host the popular Winter Social's in his home, with an understanding that for many Asians food is a community-building activity. "Story of My Heart" was a closed event at Dwight's home where members were asked to share a true story of someone they had loved, along with a show-and-tell item from that relationship. Liz attended the Creating Change Conference in Detroit and the National Queer API Alliance Leadership Summit. Dwight was featured in the WTTW documentary "Out & Proud in Chicago," while Lola authored the queer APA section of the book and Liz was part of the marketing campaign.
Liz became Interim Director of University of Illinois at Chicago’s Gender & Sexuality Center in November of 2008. This affected i2i, because she could now more formally and professionally support i2i regarding her support and time. While she has always done outreach for i2i at UIC, the new position allowed her even more capacity.
Core Members I Li Hsiao and elisa armea stepped up to be the new i2i co-facilitators in October 2009. With their fresh enthusiasm, they expressed an interest in finding new ways to combine activism with our monthly socials, to offer more educational events to members and to encourage more partnering with other queer groups of color. Highlights of the year included the first i2i Retreat in which the group tried to focus their vision for programming for 2009; a transgender presentation by Helena Bushong, president of the Illinois Gender Advocates; a trip to the Garfield Conservatory, and regular monthly socials and Core meetings. In celebration of i2i’s 5th Anniversary, Liz made small buttons to give out.
New outreach efforts were led by I Li and elisa during the Chicago 2010 Chinese New Year Parade where i2i postcards were distributed. A day long retreat was lead by elisa at her house. The retreat focused on power, privilege, and looking ahead for i2i. Members continued to march in the 2010 Chicago Dyke March and supported Co-facilitator elisa in her organizing efforts. Core members divided up organizing monthly dinner socials for outreach and retention during the spring and summer months of 2010.
Though 2009 marked the 5th Anniversary of i2i, it was celebrated on August 28, 2010 at the Japanese American Service Committee in collaboration with NQAPIA. We are only five years old! We've met some great people, had some great times, and hopefully opened a few hearts and minds along the way. We look forward to our next five years. We hope you will be a part of them.
During 2011, we experimented with a new leadership paradigm. Instead of having two co-facilitators, we divided up the various tasks of leading the group amongst the core members (socials, activism, webmaster, education, treasurer, member recruitment, youth outreach) -- and Dwight stepped forward to be the Point Person for i2i. This was very different from being co-facilitator. The Point Person's role was to oversee that the org was growing and the core members were carrying out their duties. To provide assistance and oversight. This has proved to be a very productive paradigm, and allowed core members to share ownership and influence. Joy, Ryan and Nebula came aboard as new core members.
* In honor of i2i's 5-year anniversary, "The Evolution of i2i" was updated in Summer 2010 by Core Member Lola, I Li, Dwight, and Liz.