As we concluded our speeches and left the podium, Rino Kodama and I turned to see the room standing to applaud the work of Okaeri at the 2022 JACL National Convention. Okaeri had just received the Vision Award from the JACL’s National Youth/Student Council, an honor that was raising up the visibility of LGBTQ+ acceptance and acknowledging the work of so many who, since 2013, have helped to lift up the voices on this subject.
Okaeri’s vision is to create a world where all Nikkei LGBTQ+ individuals and their families are respected, embraced and celebrated. In that moment, all we envisioned felt present in the room … and we were so grateful.
Rino, a bisexual, nonbinary individual who uses they/them pronouns, shared in their acceptance speech, “I grew up with frustration and resentment surrounding my family’s silence about my queerness. And then my parents attended a Family Acceptance workshop facilitated in Japanese at the 2021 Okaeri virtual conference. During dinner that evening, my mom began to ask questions about how I identified as nonbinary and how she can change her usual vocabulary to support me.”
This conversation with Rino and their mom was such a wonderful example of how Okaeri is creating a space for families to have open and honest conversations. And these conversations can lead to stronger family connections and opportunities for healing and greater understanding.
Other opportunities for connection and raising awareness on the LGBTQ+ topic were made available at the convention through a workshop that Okaeri and the Transgender Law Center presented called “Fighting for Our Humanity: Transgender Lives, Laws and Allyship.”
Led by Mariah Moore from TLC and Mia Barnett, an Okaeri co-chair, about 25 people were given a brief history about the transgender movement and ways that they could be even greater allies. The conversations and questions that followed were engaging and thought-provoking.
Tabling at the JACL National Convention was another way for Okaeri to lift up awareness and resources. We were thrilled that at least 12 chapters signed up to get more information about our work, and many expressed interest in working with Okaeri to bring programs to their area.
Okaeri is now in conversation with three of these chapters, and we hope to bring greater support and information into the homes of all Nikkei families who seek to find community and create moments of connection, just like Rino had with their family.
Finding ways to speak to our shared humanity has always been important to me. In the end, I walked away from the convention seeing the shared humanity in all of us. This definition really resonates with me: Shared humanity means acknowledging that every human needs to be seen, heard, recognized for who they are, taken into account, valued and given the chance to live a life of hope, freedom and fairness.
So, whether we are Japanese, Japanese American, mixed race, LGBTQ+, an ally to these communities or have intersecting identities, don’t we all want the same thing?
As Okaeri continues to lift up conversations about the Nikkei LGBTQ+ community, I invite all leaders to reach out to us with questions, concerns or requests to discuss how to bring LGBTQ+ support to their cities.
Okaeri can be reached at email@example.com. And I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. It only takes one voice to start a movement.
I know that to be true because my son was only one voice, and because he had the courage to ask the questions, express his concerns and enter into discussion, he inspired me to start Okaeri.
What can you do in your area with just one voice? I believe more than you can imagine. Let’s work together.
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.”