Members of the “Family: API LGBTQ Gathering” planning committee. • Photo Courtesy of Sarah Baker
Members of the “Family: API LGBTQ Gathering” planning committee. • Photo Courtesy of Sarah Baker

The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) is the driving force behind a new program for Asian Pacific Islanders who identify as LGBTQ called “Family: API LGBTQ Gathering.” The program has garnered support from other API and LGBTQ organizations.

The program was inspired by the story of Aiden Aizumi and his mother Marsha from California. Marsha came into town a few years ago to speak with JACL about a similar project that she started down in San Gabriel Valley. She co-founded and is currently the president of the San Gabriel Valley API PFLAG Chapter, which was started as a support group for API LGBTQ individuals, and for their parents, families, and friends. She was able to open up a dialogue with API families about her own experiences with her transgender son, Aiden, in the LGBTQ community.

Marsha and Aiden wrote, Two Spirits, One Heart, which was published in 2013. The book tells the story of Aiden’s journey from facing intolerable cruelty daily in high school and being diagnosed agoraphobic with panic attacks to transitioning into an outspoken speaker, activist, and mentor to LGBTQ youth.

Aiden will be the keynote speaker for a JACL-led event in Seattle this summer on June 13. The conference-style event will take place at North Seattle College and will consist of hour-long workshops for people to break off into, and share experiences with one another. The event will bring people within the LGBTQ community together to celebrate diversity and show people that they have a place to speak out and to be supported.

On both the local and national levels, JACL has been a strong supporter of LGBTQ rights. The Seattle Chapter JACL endorsed Washington Referendum 74, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2012.

Paul Tashima, current Seattle Chapter JACL president, said he felt the program was a powerful thing, and something that the entire Seattle community would benefit from.

“I’m a gay man from Ohio, and I know what silence can be like,” Tashima said. “I just know that this program can do a whole lot to benefit the youth and families. I want to create a better community and try to make a difference in one family’s life.”

The 18-person planning committee for “Family: API LGBTQ Gathering” is made up of individuals representing JACL, Asian Counseling Referral Service, PFLAG, Tadaima, and API Chaya as well as a student from Lakeside High School who is representing campus diversity clubs.

Sarah Baker serves as the president-elect of the Seattle Chapter JACL and is a Pacific Northwest Youth Representative for the National Youth Student Council. Baker said she became involved in “Family: API LGBTQ Gathering” after she was inspired at a JACL national convention last July where she was able to see many Japanese Americans come together to make a real impact in the world.

“This project has been a really amazing experience for me getting to know different community groups both in and out of Seattle. I am touched every day by people who really care about others,” Baker said.

The Seattle Chapter JACL said that despite the large API population in the Northwest, there has been a lack of representation for API LGBTQ people at past community events such as the Pride Parade.

Everyone is welcome to join the program, which will be a support group to teach people what the LGBTQ community is about in a safe and healthy environment, Baker explained.

“A lot of Asian families aren’t big on sharing these issues, so we want to make sure the youth have the resources they have to be safe, healthy and happy,” Baker said. She described how hard it can be for people, particularly in the API community, to talk about topics like sexuality and gender identity, but that the event could be a place to start for many.

Additionally, many API families do not have the resources they need to support their LGBTQ children, Baker said.

“The goal of creating an API PFLAG support group and subsequent smaller gatherings for youth and their families [is to ultimately] bring together the API LGBTQ community in Seattle to help create a safe space where we can celebrate our diverse and unique lives,” Baker said.

Hana Fulghum, a Lakeside High School student, said she has had her fair share of experiencing micro-aggression and racism.

“The whole idea of individuality is super important,” Fulghum said. “I have a lot of friends that are LGBTQ or questioning, and I’m an ally. I’m straight, and it’s something I’ve never had to go through, but I never want others to feel like a minority.”

Fulghum said she heard about the program through Baker and wanted to support the movement as a female member of API community.

“If I can’t relate to a friend on a personal level, then I can help them on a larger scale and do something important,” Fulghum said. “I want people to understand that it’s difficult. People need to recognize that they [LGBTQ] are still people and have basic human rights.”

Fulghum is also involved on the diversity board and part of the student advisory committee at her high school. She helps plan a two-day retreat for students to discuss gender, race, and socioeconomic class issues.

Tashima also stressed the need for people to be able to start talking about their experiences.

“We hope this starts a conversation within families, within people that really need the support right now, where it’s difficult to talk to friends and family about issues they’re going through,” Tashima said. “It’s a great way to start vocalizing and engaging in the community.”

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