Last month, I was so fortunate to be in Washington, D.C., attending the PFLAG National Convention. PFLAG is the first and largest national organization in support, education and advocacy of parents, allies and LGBTQ+ individuals. Like JACL, it has chapters all over the U.S. and over 200,000 members and supporters. PFLAG’s motto is “leading with love.” And so for four days, Aiden and I learned how to lead with love, both fierce love and compassionate love.
I shook the hand of Dr. Jill Biden and heard her say how President Biden has our back. I thanked Ali Velshi from MSNBC, who has a podcast on banned books. I listened to stories from Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld, American Medical Assn. president, who is an out gay man, and Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary who is also part of the LGBTQ+ community —all while attending workshops and talking with other parents and activists from around the country and the world. The adversity our parents in states like Florida, Texas and Oklahoma face made me so grateful to be living in California and having a governor like Gavin Newsom.
I also heard from activists around the world. I listened to parent activists in Panama, Uganda and Ukraine. I had dinner with activists from Taiwan and China. I listened to the difficulties in China and the dedicated advocates and parents who continue to be resilient and persevere. I heard about the work in Taiwan and how they want to have more parents be advocates. And I sat with activists from Korea who are also fighting hard for our LGBTQ+ community. In the end, I felt so inspired by all the adversity these countries face, and yet, they continue on with passion, unwavering determination and intention.
While I was in D.C., I also had lunch with JACL staffers David Inoue, Cheyenne Cheng, Bridget Keaveney and Jack Shimabukuro. What a lovely time I had hearing from all of them and feeling so much gratitude for their support of Okaeri.
Two JACL staff, Cheyenne and Phillip Ozaki, presented workshops at the recent Okaeri conference in Los Angeles. Phillip was part of a panel for queer parenting, and Cheyenne presented with an Okaeri intern on creating queer-friendly spaces. At lunch with JACL, Bridget said she would love to hear more about PFLAG and my experience at the conference. This article was made possible by you, Bridget!
While all of these moments were special in their own way, I think the most special moment, however, is a tradition that Aiden and I have when we attend conferences together. We reserve one night to have dinner … just the two of us. Aiden gets to pick the restaurant, and I get to pick up the bill. For this conference, Aiden chose Jula’s on the Potomac because he thought I would enjoy not only the food but also being on the river.
Over dinner, we talked about our time at the conference and what we were learning and experiencing. As we sat watching the riverboats move past us on the Potomac, I thought what an extraordinary moment this was for a mother and her transgender son — how we are so close, how we can talk with so much ease and openness and how much we cherish this tradition we have. I thought about the work PFLAG, Okaeri and JACL are doing to help other families create their own special connection and moments. I was overwhelmed with a sense of deep gratitude.
With the world in turmoil and times of deep divide, I continue to find moments of gratitude and hope. I find people who are not giving up on equality and justice for all, but fighting harder to bring awareness and advocacy to their communities.
I see parents who may struggle when their children come out, but keep loving their children the best they can while they are all finding their way. However you are standing up or taking action, please know it does not go unnoticed. It is the fuel that keeps the spark burning brightly in the hearts of so many of us that are doing this work.
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.”