Today we honor and celebrate Chinese American journalist, author, activist, and feminist Helen Zia. She was born in 1952 in New Jersey to first generation immigrants from Shanghai. She was a member of Princeton’s first graduating class of women in the 70s. As a student, Zia was among the founders of the Asian American Students Association. She was also a vocal anti-war activist and developed a firm belief in and strong voice for feminism.
After a brief flirtation with medical school, Zia moved to Detroit, where she worked as a construction laborer and autoworker. She began volunteering as a community organizer, during which time she discovered her life’s work as a journalist and writer. She is former Executive Editor of Ms. Magazine. Her articles, essays and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, books and anthologies. Her writing has received numerous journalism awards; her investigation of date rape at the University of Michigan led to campus demonstrations and an overhaul of its policies, while her research on women who join neo-Nazi and white supremacist organizations provoked new thinking on the relationship between race and gender violence in hate crimes.
Zia remained closeted during much of her early career. She came out during a live C-SPAN broadcast in the early 90s. She currently resides in the Bay Area with her wife, Lia Shigemura, whom she married in 2004 and again in 2008. Zia testified for the plaintiffs at the trial on the constitutionality of California Proposition 8. The defense moved to exclude her testimony on grounds that her individual experience was irrelevant, but Judge Vaughn Walker denied the motion. Zia spoke at the trial of discovering she was a lesbian at age six, of being confronted by coworkers about her sexuality in the 1970s, and of feeling great joy upon getting married in 2004. She also discussed how Proposition 8 had degraded her, and had led to her being the subject of gross insults.
For more on this accomplished woman’s life and sharp insights, listen to this wonderful interview with Democracy Now.