As a leading Asian American civil rights activist who has been advocating for transgender people for more than 20 years, Cecilia Chung carries a number of firsts under her belt. Her presence on the San Francisco Human Rights Commission and the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS changed the face of advocacy in those spaces, but these auspicious appointments were a far cry from her humble beginnings.
Born in 1960s Hong Kong to a traditional Chinese family, Chung became aware of the complexity of gender at a young age. After moving to Australia for high school and later California for college, she grappled with finding her place as a budding trans woman in gay male-dominated culture. After coming out as trans after college, Chung quickly found herself rejected by her family, facing homelessness, and engaging in sex work to survive financially. These difficulties contributed to her HIV diagnosis in 1993.
Today, as the Senior Director of Strategic Projects at Transgender Law Center, Chung directs Positively Trans: a project addressing the structural inequalities driving poor health outcomes and high rates of HIV/AIDS among transgender people through research, policy advocacy, and storytelling. Through its National Advisory Board, this initiative strengthens the leadership of a host of transgender people living with HIV and AIDS. We caught up with Chung to discuss her legendary career, being a first-generation Asian American immigrant, and her journey to loving herself.