Sue Weller • AFFA Board President • Age: 33 • Charleston • 14 years out
Born in Vietnam, Sue Weller came to the United States when she was one year old. She earned a BA in Fine Arts from Montclair State University and worked as a photographer for the advertising department at Macy's prior to earning a master's degree in arts and cultural management from Pratt Institute. She has long been active in LGBT groups as a volunteer, a passion that was fueled by cycling in charity rides such as the Boston-New York AIDS Ride. She has volunteered on the HELPLINE for the Gay Activist Alliance of Morris County and on campus groups. Today, she works at the Alliance for Full Acceptance, where she is the current board president, and serves on the gay-friendly Welcoming Congregation Task Force at the Unitarian Church in Charleston.
Tell me a little bit about how you came to live in the United States.
I came to the United States as part of Operation Babylift in 1975 during the fall of Saigon. Operation Babylift was a program that placed Vietnamese children, most of them orphans, into adoptive homes in the U.S., U.K., and Australia. The program was designed to garner U.S. support for the war, but left bad feelings with the Vietnamese. I was raised in New Jersey by American parents and had many adopted siblings from Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines. I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in a predominately white, upper middle-class town.
You have been involved with many LGBT groups as a volunteer. What got you started?
I started to come out in high school, not knowing any other gays, and I was fully out when I went off to college. It took my family about a decade to come around to it, to accepting me and my "condition." My siblings were very supportive, but my parents really kind of grappled with what the Catholic Church was telling them about homosexuality. I got my start in gay activism when I went to Montclair State University. I was president of the college gay group. I did work for the Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation in New York City, put on shows with them, and I've really been active in the community ever since. I made it my mission to battle the homophobes of the world.
And you've been able to continue that work with AFFA in Charleston.
Yes. I'm pretty active putting on programs and making contacts and alliances with other groups in town. I'm also active with the Unitarian Church. I sit on a bunch of committees there. It is nice to have a community that really embraces you for who and what you are. I was most apprehensive when I was first coming down South about going to church. It's usually an older generation, and I didn't really understand what Unitarians were about. I figured they would be more on the conservative side. Now, I'm on the Welcoming Congregation Task Force at church, and everyone has been super supportive.
You've been in Charleston for a few years now. What are your thoughts?
I really like it. It's a lovely community, very different from New Jersey. Up North, being gay is sort of a non-issue. Down here, I'm fighting for rights that I used to have. It made me realize that there is such a need in Charleston to be active in the community. It made me more political than I had been before, but it has been a good trip so far.