By TRACI ISHIGO
Over 40 community members gathered for “Nikkei Intersections: An LGBTQ Forum for Everyone” at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center on March 23.
As a part of the JACL Pacific Southwest District’s new Nikkei LGBTQ Initiative, this was the first of many educational events intended to bring gender, sexuality and LGBTQ awareness and inclusion to the greater Nikkei community.
Co-organized by the San Fernando Valley JACL chapter, this event was a great opportunity for multiple generations, including many Nisei, Sansei, Yonsei and Shin-Issei attendees, to learn from the moving experiences of the panelists, riKu Matsuda, Ellen and Harold Kameya, and Eric Arimoto.
Before the panel, attendees had the opportunity to reflect on various questions to understand how they have experienced homophobia and transphobia, as well as how inclusive they perceive the Japanese American community to be. As evidence of how much cultural change is needed, an overwhelming majority of attendees responded “yes” to the question “Have you ever sensed or heard homophobic and transphobic comments/language in your family and/or community?”
Matsuda, who works for the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations, then led the group through an “LGBTQ 101” terminology talk and provided the opportunity to answer many questions to clarify the difference between multiple and fluid gender identities and sexual orientations.
Moreover, as a queer mixed-race Nikkei trans-man, his story on the panel spoke to the importance of making the effort to intentionally understand all of a person’s identities, including his/her gender and sexuality. One audience member commented how “it was most touching” that Matsuda’s open dialogue with his family about his identities has also made space for younger family relatives to feel open about their LGBTQ identities as well.
The Kameyas, parents of a lesbian daughter, shared the importance of the greater community showing support for LGBTQ community members. When their daughter came out to them in 1988, they feared what their friends and family would say, and faced painful discomfort from their church. They are now strong leaders in Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbian and Gays (PFLAG), and started their own Asian Pacific Islander chapter in the San Gabriel Valley.
One attendee expressed happiness that now, as two LGBTQ-rights advocate parents who speak to multiple audiences, “Ellen and Harold are so outspoken to share their story that many people can find a way to connect to.”
Arimoto, an LGBT-affirming psychotherapist, shared his journey of struggling with his gay identity since he was a child. As a young adult, with fear of what would happen if his parents knew, he joined the military to suppress his sexual orientation, but decided to come out during this time and was discharged under the recently overturned “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Coming out as a gay Asian man also meant that he would face intense anti-Asian racism from the majority white LGBTQ spaces he navigated through.
Since then, Arimoto has reconciled with his parents, who support him. He also shared how “healing” it was to have had the opportunity to publicly discuss his experiences in the Nikkei community.
Future LGBTQ educational events centering on Nikkei experiences will be programmed throughout the year, leading up to the Nikkei LGBTQ Gathering/conference to be held on Nov. 15 at the Japanese American National Museum. Everyone is encouraged to attend all events.
This article originally appeared in The Pacific Citizen.
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo