As the LGBT+ community permeates the mainstream with queer voices, and movies like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians achieve box office success with ethnically diverse cast and crew, Martin Pong speaks about how we’ve entered the perfect time for queer people of colour to have their voices heard and be fully represented in the media, and business.
Martin asks me: “How many A-list queer people of colour you can name? How about queer East or South East Asian people that look like me? My guess is not many. This shows just how under-represented queer people of colour are in the media.”
Martin identifies as a queer Chinese person and has been advocating for equal representation of queer people of colour in the workplace and in the broader LGBT+ narrative.
“Being queer or a person of colour presents challenges, but having an intersectional identity compounds those challenges,” says Martin.
“If the majority of LGBT+ representation in the media is cis-gendered, gay, and white, that makes people who do not fall into that category, like me, invisible.
"This can lead to misrepresentative stereotypes being perpetuated in the wider community based on two-dimensional, underdeveloped characters they have seen on screen.
“We can only reduce the harm that these stereotypes cause by giving queer people of colour the opportunity to talk more deeply about their experiences.”
Martin Pong is recognised by Financial Times and EMpower as a top 10 ethnic minority future leader for pioneering the intersectional reverse mentoring programme at his workplace, Oliver Wyman, a global leader in management consultancy.
This initiative has expanded to offices around the world, creating a space for open and honest discussion about the experiences of those belonging to one or more minority groups.
Speaking about his own experiences, Martin tells me how the lack of LGBT+ East Asian representation has affected him.
“Growing up, Gok Wan was the only person I saw on TV that I could identify with. More than a decade has passed and he is still the only person I see like myself being celebrated in mainstream UK media.
“Without role models in our own image, it is more difficult to find that understanding of a ‘potential self’. I find myself trying to piece together an image of possibility.”
This was disheartening for me to hear but it has pushed Martin to lend his voice to amplify the collective and different experiences of people of colour in the LGBT+ community.
When speaking about his coming out experience, it became clear that being East Asian made Martin’s experience very different to that of his white gay peers.
“We can’t give the same coming out advice to a white gay man and a black gay man, because we shouldn’t assume that coming out is the same for everyone. People of intersectional identities need different support.”
Martin is the Global Chair of Oliver Wyman’s LGBT+ network, GLOW, which involves supporting and empowering LGBT+ colleagues in more than 20 countries, including those where LGBT+ rights are still developing.
“In the west, the majority of LGBT+ diversity and inclusion conversations have progressed on from talking about coming out, but for many queer people of colour living here coming out is still a huge hurdle.
"Eastern and African communities are generally more challenging to navigate for LGBT+ individuals compared to Western communities, making the coming out process much more difficult. As a diverse community, we’ve got to stay mindful of that.
“And it’s not just LGBT+ people of colour who need more representation. We need to be celebrating all people in the LGBT+ community, including the lived experiences of the lesbian, intersex, transgender, non-binary, faith, and disabled communities.
“As minorities within a minority, our voices are already very quiet. We need to rally around one another to amplify our presence.”
After speaking to Martin, it’s clear that his experiences highlight a gap in representation for queer people of colour.
But Martin remains optimistic about the future: “We’ve made so much progress as an LGBT+ community, especially with recent successes such as Moonlight and RuPaul’s Drag Race.
"We need to continue building on this success until all corners of the LGBT+ community are heard and seen. That is what I am continue working towards.”