Volume 77 | Issue 3
May 2009

2009 Annual Conference: B.D. Wong keynote

From when he first walked on stage, most audience members could envision the movie, musical, or television show in which they had seen B.D. Wong. An actor with many talents, Wong has had roles in everything from blockbusters to independent musicals; and more recently, he stars as Dr. George Huang on “Law and Order.”
Wong’s keynote address to the Anaheim delegates focused on diversity. A gay Asian American, Wong is somewhat of an expert onWong2009 intercultural proficiency, one of the union and activities field’s core competencies and a growing concept in higher education.
Wong started his speech by reflecting on his childhood. He grew up in California during the time of the civil rights movement. This allowed Wong to develop an appreciation of diversity, and assisted in him realizing who he was early on in life.
“Growing up, I was a strong candidate for ‘gaydom,’” he said. “I was a particularly arrogant, knitting child that had a visceral response to Batman … and Robin.”
Wong felt as if he were different. He recalled one time finding a pamphlet in his mother’s nightstand regarding what to do if you disapproved of something your child was doing. While he had no proof that the pamphlet had anything to do with him, Wong said he knew instantly that everyone else in his life thought he was not normal. This started Wong’s long journey to self-acceptance.
While Wong struggled to accept himself, he also desired to be accepted by his family—something that he thought may never happen.
“I have a problem with the word ‘tolerance.’ It notes a sense about something not being right,” Wong said. “I wanted to be embraced.”

During puberty, Wong had to not only deal with his gay identity, but also the pressures of being an Asian-American child. He told ACUI delegates that in Asian culture it is common for one’s parents to determine their career. And Wong knew his parents would not be excited about his future aspirations.
“I remember that I always wanted to be someone else,” he said. “I wanted to be white and a heterosexual. I did everything I could to be white.”
Wong did know one thing about himself, despite his confusion about sexuality and heritage: Wong knew that he wanted to pursue a career in acting. And he finally had a chance.
“I had the opportunity to be in a Broadway play, ‘M Butterfly,’ written by an Asian American, about the relationship between a French diplomat and a male opera singer,” Wong said. “Through this play, I really embraced being an Asian American; I felt proud. But I did not accept the gay aspect of the play or my life at first.”
That was until he met the man with whom he developed his most meaningful relationship.
“There are many stages of being out,” Wong said. “First, you are out to yourself. Then you tell your friends and family. And as a public figure, I had to come out to the world.”
Wong felt strongly about his relationship and wanted to come out to his family. While scared of their reaction, Wong was pleasantly surprised he had their support. The only thing left was to come out in a public way, which Wong did inadvertently.
Ten years into their relationship, Wong and his partner decided to have children. The surrogate gave birth to twins 12 weeks too early. One child was lost, but the other one survived and had to stay in the hospital for three months.
During this time, Wong e-mailed friends and family about his thoughts and feelings. Some who received the e-mails were moved to pass them along to acquaintances. One of those people happened to work for a publishing company.
“He e-mailed me and said, ‘I think you wrote a book,’” Wong said.
The e-mails were put together into a book, and the night before he left to go on his first book tour, Wong realized what was about
to happen.
“I kind of freaked out because I thought about how I was coming out; this was it,” he said. “But after I thought about it, I felt very relaxed. It was like I was completing a journey.”
Wong experienced a lot in his life. And while he did not go to college, a lot of his growing experiences happened during those years when, if not pursuing acting, he may have been in college. It is these years, according to Wong, when we all truly grow up and start accepting ourselves; those who work as professionals in the college unions, those who touch students’ lives, play an important role in this process.
“Parents drop these kids off and are entrusting you to take care of them,” Wong said. “Students are given freedom and accessibility for the first time. As professionals, you need to create a sense of openness and inclusion for all students.”
Wong’s hope is that college union professionals are creating a positive environment that will encourage both intellectual and intercultural growth.
“We need to demystify ideas of being gay,” Wong said. “But not just gay—all people. We need to start an active dialogue on campus about these topics.”