When Aiden came out, I wish I had other Japanese parents to talk to and ask questions. I don’t think I would have been so scared, sad and alone. So, when the opportunity to start a community gathering for support and connection for Nikkei LGBTQ+, their parents and allies came up, I was thrilled to be involved.
The idea for this group actually started to develop when I spoke at a LGBTQ+ workshop at the JACL National Convention in Salt Lake City in 2019. During the Q & A session, one participant asked, “Where can a person who lives in a place that has very little Japanese American LGBTQ+ support find a community?”
We could only direct this person to resources online and Okaeri events that happened every other year. But what was the individual and their family to do in between? Having contact with others that were Nikkei LGBTQ+, parents and allies could be so comforting.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic entered our lives. At Okaeri, we began to pivot to monthly virtual programming to keep our community connected. Because of requests from our Nikkei LGBTQ+ community and that participant at the JACL conference, Okaeri Connects! was born. On Sept. 6, we held our first meeting.
The 90-minute gathering drew more than 40 Nikkei LGBTQ+ individuals, parents and allies from all over the U.S. and two individuals from Japan. We were surprised to hear people found out about the meeting and came from Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Texas, Washington, D.C., and Washington State, as well as a large number from Northern and Southern California. About 75 percent were LGBTQ+, and the rest were parents and allies.
One person said to me that he found other older Nikkei gay men who were his age. And that same person connected with a younger gay man and thought perhaps he will become a mentor.
Young LGBTQ+ individuals met people who were Nikkei LGBTQ+ that were living as their true selves heading university programs, happily married, successful professionals and educators. They also met parents and allies that were embracing their children and the Nikkei LGBTQ+ community with love and acceptance.
Our next meeting is Nov. 1 from 4-5:30 p.m. PDT. Please register if you are interested in attending at okaericonnectsnov1.eventbrite.com.
Okaeri Connects! is here for you and our Nikkei LGBTQ+ community. Also, check out our other Okaeri programs at www.okaeri-losangeles.org/upcoming-events. Questions? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.S. We are starting a similar program for Japanese-speaking LGBTQ+ on Nov. 15 from 1-2 p.m. PDT. More details will be posted on our website soon, or you may contact me at email@example.com.
Marsha Aizumi is an advocate in the LGBT community and author of the book “Two Spirits, One Heart: A Mother, Her Transgender Son and Their Journey to Love and Acceptance.”