Helen Zia: A Sapphic Trailblazer in Journalism, Activism, and LGBTQ Rights
As a journalist, author, and activist, Helen Zia has made significant contributions to the fight for equality in America. As an openly lesbian woman of color, she has been a powerful advocate for the LGBTQ community. Zia pushes for marriage equality and raises awareness about the unique challenges faced by queer people of color. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at her life and career, exploring her impact as a trailblazer in journalism and the feminist movement.
Early Life and Education
Helen Zia was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1952, to Chinese immigrant parents. Growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, Zia experienced both racial and gender discrimination, which fueled her passion for social justice.
At the age of 5, she joined her 5 siblings by helping in her parents’ floral novelty business. Zia was her high school’s valedictorian and after graduation, she wanted to continue with her education. Her father didn’t think that appropriate for a girl. Zia fought with her father and he finally agreed to allow her to enroll at Princeton University, which wasn’t far from the family. She was a member of the school’s first graduating class to include women.
As an undergraduate, she was active in the anti-Vietnam War movement and the Asian American student movement. After earning her bachelor’s degree in 1973, Zia went on to study public health at Tufts University but quit the program in 1976.
She relocated to Detroit, Michigan, where Zia worked as an automaker, construction laborer, and a community organizer.
Soon she discovered her passion for journalism.
Journalism and Activism
Zia began her career as a journalist in the late 1970s, working as a reporter for various publications. These include the Detroit Free Press, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Ms. Magazine. Her work focused primarily on social issues, such as civil rights, the feminist movement, and the LGBTQ community.
In 1982, Zia’s activism took on a new dimension when she became involved in the case of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American man who was brutally beaten to death in a racially motivated attack. Outraged by the lenient sentences given to Chin’s killers, Zia co-founded American Citizens for Justice, an organization that fought for federal civil rights charges against the perpetrators. This marked the beginning of her lifelong commitment to civil rights activism and her passion to highlight individuals who are invisible.
Helen Zia’s Contributions to the Feminist Movement
As a feminist, Zia has been particularly concerned with issues affecting women of color. She has written extensively about the intersection of race and gender. Zia’s writing sheds light on the unique challenges faced by women of color in America. In 1984, Zia became the executive editor of Ms. Magazine, a position she held for seven years. During her tenure, she helped to reshape the magazine’s content, ensuring that it reflected the diverse experiences of all women.
LGBTQ Rights and Advocacy
Helen Zia has been an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights throughout her career. As an openly lesbian woman of color, she has used her platform to raise awareness about the unique challenges faced by queer people of color, including racism within the LGBTQ community and the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality.
In 2008, Zia married her partner Lia Shigemura in San Francisco, becoming one of the first same-sex couples to legally wed in California. She has been a vocal advocate for marriage equality, arguing that the right to marry is a fundamental civil right.
Legacy and Influence
Helen Zia’s work as a journalist, author, and activist has had a profound impact on the fight for civil rights and equality in America. By using her platform to amplify the voices of marginalized communities, she has raised awareness about issues such as racism, sexism, and homophobia, and helped to pave the way for greater understanding and acceptance.