Rozita Villanueva Lee, a familiar face on Capitol Hill during the fight for Filipino World War II veterans rights, and Hector Vargas Jr., a well-known gay rights activist, were named as new members of the Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Lee is national vice chairperson of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), an umbrella of various Fil-Am organizations across the United States.
Vargas is executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GMLA), which claims to have a membership of over 2,000 medical professionals spread over 50 states and 12 countries.
Lee helped establish the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce as well as the Asian Pacific Forum.
She vigorously campaigned for President Obama in the last elections and has strong ties to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the senior Democrat from Nevada.
Lee was instrumental in prodding the Senate to take up the Filipino veterans’ equity bill which was eventually folded into the 2009 stimulus bill, granting $198 million in lump-sum payments to about 18,000 aging Filipino World War II veterans.
NaFFAA chairman Greg Macabenta cited her “leadership of FilVote that has been instrumental in bringing thousands of Filipino Americans to register and participate in this country’s political process”.
“With energy and enthusiasm, she has drawn upon her coalition building and networking skills to help move our community’s empowerment goals forward,” he added.
A proud grandma, Lee had produced and hosted a TV program for the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) in Las Vegas that focused on the Asian American community. She also runs the entertainment company RVL Inc.
The San Francisco-based Vargas has served as GLMA director since June. He was previously deputy director of the Education and Public Affairs Department of Lambda Legal, the largest national legal organization dedicated to the recognition of civil rights for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those suffering from HIV.
He was also assistant director with the American Bar Association and national student organizing director with the National Association for Public Interest Law.
“At the NaFFAA’s founding in 1997 and in subsequent national conferences, Hector worked diligently with community leaders to ensure that NaFFAA would be inclusive of the LGBT community,” Macabenta said.
Beyond the prestige the advisory posts carry, they will have the opportunity to influence White House policy as it affects Asian Americans in general, and Filipino-Americans in particular.
For people like Vargas, the post could be an added avenue to push for his LGBT advocacy.
“We are extremely proud of Rozita Lee and Hector Vargas,” the NaFFAA statement read, “We know they will be strong voices and a dynamic presence in this commission”.