By GANN MATSUDA
A Celebration of Life honoring long-time Manzanar Committee, San Fernando Valley Japanese American Citizens League, and LGBT community leader Takenori “Tak” Yamamoto, who died on Nov. 9, 2012, will be held on Saturday, Jan. 26, at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center in Pacoima, starting at 6:30 p.m.
Yamamoto served as president of Asian and Pacific Islanders for LGBT Equality, and was one of the founders and a long-time president of Asian/Pacific Lesbians and Gays (now Asian/Pacific Gays and Friends) in Los Angeles, an organization formed to fight discrimination against Asian and Pacific Islanders. It remains the oldest active group of its type in the United States.
During his tenure as president of the SFV JACL, Yamamoto was open about his sexual orientation, refusing to allow it to be an obstacle to his work, and in 1994, he was instrumental in pushing the National JACL to support same-sex marriage.
“I believe Tak Yamamoto should be held up as a model for all of us, as someone who courageously chose to be out of the closet at a time when very few, particularly Japanese American gays, were willing to do so,” San Fernando Valley JACL board member Phil Shigekuni wrote in The Rafu Shimpo. “He took an independent stand of conscience, much like Fred Korematsu or Gordon Hirabayashi. He could have chosen to stay in the closet and not make any waves.
“If Tak were to have suffered discrimination being Japanese during and after the war, at least he could take refuge in turning to his friends and family. But to be openly homosexual at that time, you were out there all alone. You not only would not get support from friends or family, you would be seen as bringing disgrace to your family.”
Yamamoto is best known for his leadership in the Manzanar Committee, sponsor of the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage since 1969, and more recently, the Manzanar at Dusk program, since 1997.
“Tak was a fighter, firm in his convictions and eminently patient,” said Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey, after learning of Yamamoto’s death. “He was one of the first who took on the struggle for redress and civil rights for the LGBT community, and that’s why, to those who knew him, Tak is a hero.
“Tak embodied so many qualities that we all aspire to possess — honesty, integrity and determination. We want to celebrate Tak as a person, to celebrate his generosity, his kindness, and commitment to making everyone’s life a just little better.”
“Tak was an early, unheralded, behind-the-scenes civil rights leader,” said Rose Ochi of the Manzanar Committee and the Friends of Manzanar. “He did not seek glory, yet he openly took brave stands to advance the cause. He will be sorely missed.”
Embrey stressed that the event is a celebration of Yamamoto’s life, not a wake.
“Family and friends, many of whom worked with Tak in the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s Office, or alongside him in the LGBT community or the redress movement, felt compelled to honor him for a life well lived,” Embrey noted. “This isn’t a memorial. This will be a celebration of Tak’s life by all of those whose lives he touched.”
June Lagmay, city clerk for the City of Los Angeles, Eric Wat, author of “The Making of a Gay Asian Community: An Oral History of Pre-AIDS Los Angeles,” Ochi, Embrey, and representatives of the SFV JACL will join members of Yamamoto’s family at the event.
An oral history video, “Asian American LGBT Pioneer – Tak Yamamoto,” will also be shown.
The San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center is located at 12953 Branford St. Dress for the event, which is free and open to the public, is casual. For more information, call (323) 662-5102 or email [email protected]manzanarcommittee.org.