In a previous column I mentioned Melvin Fujikawa, who came out of the closet last year on Oct. 10. What is notable about him is not only is he a Christian minister with an evangelical background, but also the fact that he was 56 at the time.
In that I am focusing on the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the military, and how this process exists in our community, I asked Melvin if he would share with us something about his coming out experience. He graciously consented. Melvin grew up in Gardena. He presently lives in Berkeley, but recently has been spending time in Torrance looking after his parents, both of whom are recovering from falls they suffered earlier this year.
PS: Tell me something about your ministry these past few years.
MF: I served at the Evergreen Baptist Church (San Gabriel) until 2006 when I accepted a position at a non-denominational Asian church in Berkeley. I resigned from this position a few months before coming out on Coming Out Day, Oct. 10, 2010.
PS: I was told that about 15 years ago, in front of the congregation at the Evergreen Church (before it divided), you denied being gay. Is that true?
MF: Yes, that is true. There was talk in the congregation that I was gay, so my colleague ministers thought it best I make a statement. I loved serving the people in the ministry there, and, of course, I had personal responsibilities and I wanted to continue to work in the Asian American Evangelical community. Admitting being gay probably meant having to resign.
PS: How old were you when you felt your same-sex attraction?
MF: I knew I was gay very early on. I was pre-teen, around 10 or 11.
PS: When you came out, who did you tell first?
MF: I first told my roommate whom I had roomed with for several years, then my family, and lastly some other close friends. I was surprised that none of these people were surprised. I guess I wasn’t very good at “hiding” in the closet! My Christian friends were generally accepting, although some admitted it was a struggle for them. My mother was the most affirming. She wrote a wonderful letter to me, telling of her understanding and love. My father, for the first time in my life, sat me down for a talk and told me he loved me in spite of anything. This one conversation made my coming out so very worthwhile!
PS: Some of your evangelical friends, because of their religious beliefs, may never completely accept you. Have you considered joining another more accepting Christian group that would more fully accept you as a gay man?
MF: Yes, I am now attending a very welcoming and affirming church in San Francisco, but I still love the people I have known all these years. I want to stay in dialogue with them so that we can form “bridges” of love and respect in spite of the fact we may not agree with one another.
PS: Do you have any regrets about coming out? Do you wish you had done it earlier?
MF: No, I do not have any regrets. The one word that best describes my experience is “freedom.” At last, I was able to experience the freedom of being all of who I was, and risk being open about it. I know that being gay is a gift from God. At 56 years of age, by the grace of God, I was able to more fully accept and celebrate who God designed me to be. You may be surprised to hear I would not have wanted to come out any earlier. Being older, and having more life experience, I was able to more fully develop my ability to feel the pain of others. I see it as a gift of mercy honed from all those years in the closet. With this gift I think I can better help others because I can identify with their pain and suffering.
PS: Since you have come out, what experiences have affected you the most?
MF: Last year I went with my sister to Japan. It was my first trip there. It was truly wonderful to feel, as a Japanese, I fit in — I belonged. Early this year, I joined the 300-member San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. I had a similar feeling of arriving at a place where I belonged. I could feel very keenly the pain many of the men felt as they told me about the rejection they experienced from their family and former friends. I felt fortunate I did not have to experience this degree of rejection.
PS: Melvin, thank God, at last we, in our community, have started to ask and to tell. I sincerely thank you for your willingness to share this important part of your life with us.
Phil Shigekuni can be reached by email. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.