An Advocate for LGBTQ Rights — Around the World and at Columbia
Wally Suphap CC ’01, Law’04
Since 2013, when he co-founded Hong Kong’s largest network for LGBTQ legal professionals, Wally Suphap CC’01, LAW’04 has steadily built a resume as a global champion for diversity and inclusion. Now, Suphap has brought that advocacy home to Columbia, where he worked with the College and the Columbia Pride Board to create and launch the Pride Scholarship. Started in 2020, the scholarship will be awarded to Columbia students who effectively advocate for LGBTQ rights. He says the time has come for LGBTQ students to be “radically visible.”
“It’s not only the recipients who will benefit from the scholarship but the entire Columbia community,” Suphap says. “It’s for the 17-year-old first-year who hasn’t found acceptance by her family to come out; it’s for the international student arriving from parts of Africa or the Middle East where same-sex relations are punishable by death or imprisonment; it’s for alumni who had struggled to come out during their college years; and it’s for all the allies (students, parents, faculty, and staff) who support LGBTQ diversity and inclusion.”
Suphap was born in Bangkok, Thailand; his parents separated when he was very young, and he stayed in Bangkok with extended family while his mother emigrated to the U.S., arriving in Los Angeles with less than $200. She worked odd jobs until she saved enough to open the Fortune House, a Thai restaurant she still owns. Suphap joined her when he was 7 and grew up in L.A.
Suphap chose the College for the academically challenging, interdisciplinary experience it offered. Later, after graduating from Columbia Law, Suphap began his legal career as a corporate finance attorney. He worked in the New York and Hong Kong offices of Clifford Chance, Skadden Arps, and Latham & Watkins, and most recently served as vice president in legal and compliance at Morgan Stanley Asia.
When he co-founded Hong Kong’s LGBT+ Attorneys Network in 2013, his aim was to champion inclusion in the legal profession and promote LGBTQ advocacy and pro bono work. It didn’t take long for his work to be recognized. In 2017, he was named Hong Kong’s LGBT+ Inclusion Champion of the Year. In 2018 and 2019, he was ranked in the top five on the OUTstanding Top 50 Global LGBT+ Future Leaders’ Lists. And he was named a Top 10 Diversity Consultant on the 2020 Global Diversity List published by The Guardian.
“Like many of my LGBTQ peers, coming out has been a continual process — there’s no one moment that I can point and say that was my ‘coming out’ moment,” he says. “It’s been a gradual shift from the private into the public sphere, from silencing myself to being a vocal advocate for others.”
In a career twist, Suphap is preparing to bring his advocacy into a new sphere: writing. In late 2019, he stepped back from the law and returned to Columbia to take creative writing courses through the School of Professional Studies, and in September, he’ll begin the MFA program in nonfiction writing at the School of the Arts. He was awarded the prestigious Lenfest Fellowship to support his writing. Like his advocacy, his writing focuses on the plight of marginalized people who’ve been mistreated.
“I intend to explore queer and trans narratives and themes,” he says, “particularly those that foreground the Asian and Asian-American experience.” Inspired by the historical narratives and hybrid-form memoirs written by Columbia professors Saidiya Hartman and Margo Jefferson, Suphap hopes his writing will “shift the gaze toward narratives and counter-narratives that have been silenced or neglected.”
And as a Columbia graduate student, he’ll still be deeply involved in the Columbia Pride Network and the Pride Scholarship.
“We raised enough to sponsor a scholarship for one LGBTQ ally/student this fall,” he says, “but we’d love to raise enough to fund scholarships for several students, who with our support can make the campus, the nation and the world a more equitable place.”
Support the Pride Scholarship and advocacy for LGBTQ allies or students at Columbia.