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Marsha Aizumi and family posing for a photo op after Aizumi received her 2014 Biennium award at the 2014 National JACL Convention. Photo courtesy of Marsha Aizumi

By Marsha Aizumi

Coming back from the JACL convention in San Jose this month, I am filled with so many feelings: gratitude, increased passion to raise awareness about what Asian Pacific Islander (API) and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) families experience, but most of all, I walked away as a mother with more hope in my heart for my children and our community.

First of all, I am so grateful to JACL National and all the people involved for choosing me as one of their 2014 Biennium honorees. When I look at those who have come before me and those who were also honored, I am overwhelmed and humbled to be listed with them. But without my family and so many others who have supported me, like Priscilla Ouchida, Bill Yoshino, Stephanie Nitahara, Harold and Ellen Kameya, San Fernando and Seattle JACLs, I would still be sitting at home wondering how I could even begin this journey.

As I was meeting with one of the chapters, I realized how JACL has come full circle to connect with my advocacy. Years ago, when my parents received their redress money, they gave each of their children a portion of the compensation. I spent my portion on the adoption of my daughter, who today is my son. So in some ways, Aiden is a JACL baby. As people like, Grayce Uyehara, have made it possible for me to have Aiden in my life, JACL continues to make sure that the life he has will not be threatened by those who fear his Japanese heritage and/or the fact that he is transgender. Thank you to ALL the JACL individuals who have been doing this work to further equality for both my straight son and my transgender son.

I also feel that this conference has elevated my passion and strengthened my determination to create a more accepting world.   I am renewed by the number of young people who are taking up the torch of advocacy. I am strengthened by the number of people who have been part of this work for so many years and have dedicated their life to civil rights. But mainly I am inspired by the people who shared stories or tears with me. One gray-haired lady approached me after our presentation on Nikkei LGBTQ Justice and as she spoke words of appreciation, tears trickled down her face. I have no idea where these tears came from . . . was she part of the LGBT community and afraid of being ostracized all these years? Did she have children or family members who hid in shame, but could possibly feel free to be themselves now? Or was she just moved by the work we are doing to take our experiences and affect social justice at another level. I may never know . . . but her tears are a part of me now . . .

I am also inspired by a young lady that walked up to me and shared how thrilled she was to see that LGBT issues are being brought more to the forefront of JACL’s work. I thought to myself as she shared her story that perhaps, now, she and her sibling will not face a wall of silence from their family, but will be openly embraced for who they are, because a respected organization continues to voice their LGBT support.

But the strongest emotion I walked away with from the 2014 JACL convention was hope. I felt hope when people made references to the LGBT community, like the executive director talking about her LGBT child, and the former Secretary of Transportation, Norman Mineta, making positive statements about marriage equality.   I was hopeful when Congressman Mike Honda shared with me his connection to PFLAG, a national organization that supports, educates and advocates for LGBT individuals and their families. And when I talked with chapters around the country who want to do more to send a message of support and acceptance to their LGBT families, my heart filled with hope. One chapter leader said, “We have to do more.”

I am home now, thinking about all I have learned, all the wonderful people I have met and all I want to do in the future. JACL will be part of my future. I am certain of that.   Two conversations that have stayed with me since the convention are these . . . .our work is about the humanity we share and our work is about families and love. Humanity, family and love . . . could there be any greater purpose to what we are doing?

Originally published on July 25, 2014