With June being Pride Month, I wanted to talk about two experiences I had this month that made me reflect on being proud, not only as a mother, but also as a member of the Japanese American community.
On June 4, Aiden and I were part of an event in San Francisco, where the Progressive Pride Flag was raised in Japantown’s Peace Plaza. Led by Elena Nielsen of the Japantown Rainbow Coalition and supported by both San Francisco and Berkeley JACL chapters, along with Jodo Shinshu Buddhist churches in the area and various other organizations, I felt so much appreciation for those who made this possible.
I saw organizations and allies outside the LGBTQ+ community and part of the JA community, and I could only believe as a mother that more and more people were celebrating and embracing all of whom my son is and all of whom those in the Nikkei LGBTQ+ are.
Walking onstage with Aiden to say a few words representing Okaeri and the LGBTQ+ community, I felt a deep warmth and love to all who made this day possible, especially those who I worked with or oversaw all the details … Elena, Darcy Nishi and Tara Umemoto.
There are times when a part of me wonders if all the advocacy that is being done in the LGBTQ+ community is really making a difference. I see all the anti-transgender bills discriminating against transgender athletes, barring transgender individuals from the health care that will keep them living in hope, targeting parents who love their transgender children and are only trying to help them live as their true selves and the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that passed in Florida.
And then I walked onto Japantown’s Peace Plaza and saw those in our community coming together. I saw the Progressive Pride Flag waving proudly in the wind and I thought, “Yes we are making a difference in this moment and in this place.”
There were many LGBTQ+ individuals who drove a great distance, including Aiden, Mary and me, just to be in community with our JA LGBTQ+ friends, their families and allies. And though I could not always see the smiles on people’s faces since so many of us were masked, I felt the pride, warmth and gratitude for this day.
It has inspired me to come back to Little Tokyo and see if we can do something similar next year. If you want to help make this happen, please email me at email@example.com.
The second experience I had revolved around Aiden telling me about a sweet Netflix series called “Love on the Spectrum: US.” As I watched the program, it gave me insight into the lives of individuals in the United States that live on the autism spectrum and their search for love. Just a spoiler alert … I will try not to give away any specific information about the program, but there may be some details that will alert you to some of the storylines.
Seeing autistic individuals share their stories vulnerably and watching the reactions of those that love them reminded me that no matter what kind of challenges our children face and no matter how difficult the situation, as parents, we want our children to feel love and be able to share their love.
Some of my most emotional moments have come when I see Aiden loved for who he is: the day he got married, the day he walked onstage to get his master’s degree and the many days where he was recognized for his activism, courage and visibility. These are moments that in the beginning of our journey, I never imagined would be possible.
I think the most touching parts of these autism stories were to see the hope not only in the eyes of the autistic individual, but also in the hearts of their parents. As a parent, I understood the joy, hope and love that often rolled down their cheeks. I also felt the joy of the autistic young person when they proudly shared that they were asked for a second date. And when some relationships moved into a boyfriend and girlfriend relationship, my heart just burst with delight as they awkwardly sealed the moment with a kiss, and you knew this was the first time they felt so loved by another outside of their own family.
Like autistic children, our LGBTQ+ children don’t choose to be queer or transgender. They are wired that way. So, we as parents must choose … how are we going to love them, and how are we going to support them?
And in the same way, those of us in the JA community must choose how are we going to love and accept those who might be different. More and more I am seeing parents and the JA community choosing to stand on the side of love and acceptance, and that makes me feel so proud and full of gratitude … .
Marsha Aizumi is an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and author of the book “Two Spirits, One Heart: A Mother, Her Transgender Son and Their Journey to Love and Acceptance.”