For the past five years, my son, Aiden, his wife, Mary, and I have been attending a conference called “Creating Change.” It is hosted by the National LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) Task Force, and its purpose is to help individuals and organizations develop the skills to be grassroots organizers in their community. Six years ago, I had never heard of the organization, was just starting to understand what the “t” in LGBTQ meant and grassroots organizing seemed like something you would be talking to your gardener about.
Today, I am an activist who is in this LGBTQ movement with my whole heart, and I AM a grassroots organizer. But that is not where I started.
I always feared being an activist. When people called me an activist early on, I would say, “Oh, no, I am just a mother who loves her son and wants to make the world safer for him.” I thought that being an activist meant I was someone who had to be loud, brash, pushy and disrespectful. Those were all things I didn’t want to be. Now, I know that being an activist means I can be myself . . . gently persistent, vulnerable yet strong and a loving human being. The main thing I have to do to create change is I need to show up.
Showing up doesn’t mean that I am not afraid. Brene Brown says you can be scared and brave at the same time. A friend of mine once told me, “When you are scared and do it anyway . . . that IS being brave.”
How many times have you done something that was a risk for you, but you did it anyway? You showed up!
In my work in the LGBTQ community, I am showing up, because the world still discriminates against my son. But things are changing. Asian Pacific Islanders are rising to the top of LGBTQ organizations, showing our API community that there are visible leaders who are API and LGBTQ.
At Creating Change, I met with Kris Hayashi, who is the new executive director of the very respected nonprofit Transgender Law Center. He is a compassionate, soft-spoken man who also possesses the passion and determination to bring greater protections and support to those in the transgender community. Like my son, Kris is using who he is to change the world.
Also creating change are all the JACL chapters that are taking up the mantle of advocacy, along with JACL PSW who has created an LGBTQ Initiative to educate and support those in our community. JACL Seattle will be doing a two-day event for API LGBTQ individuals and their families with four to five other API organizations and churches in June. San Diego JACL is working on three to four events in 2015 that will bring greater awareness and support to San Diego LGBTQ individuals and their families. And while at Creating Change, I had the chance to talk with Suzuho Shimasaki and Harry Budisidharta from the Mile High JACL, who have created three subcommittees on advocacy that include one on LGBT. They are just getting started, but they are creating change in their Denver community.
And most recently in a video released for a safe schools event in Southern California, Congressman Mike Honda shared the following:
“As both an individual, and as an educator, I have experienced and witnessed bullying in its many forms. And as the proud jichan, or grandpa, of a transgender grandchild, I hope that my granddaughter can feel safe going to school without fear of being bullied. I refuse to be a bystander while millions of people are dealing with the effects of bullying on a daily basis.”
Here is an educator, legislator, Japanese American, father and grandfather who is creating change in so many communities by unconditionally loving his granddaughter. I couldn’t feel prouder to know this man and his amazing family.
We all have the ability to create change in our communities. We can stand up to bullying of any kind. We can share that we are an ally of the LGBT community and attend LGBT events. We can talk about how our parents were forced as American citizens into internment camps and ensure that history will not repeat itself. And we can listen to our hearts when an injustice is done to a fellow human being and stand up for fairness, respect and what is right.
As a parent, I hope that I have instilled in my children the ability to create change — not just by what they do, but by who they are. I hope they do not only use laws to tell them what is right, but also listen to the humanity that is within each of them.
In the past, I never really understood the power of one, but today I know it is true. Each of us has the ability to make the world better. Perhaps you may challenge yourself to do one thing today to be a force for change. If you do, you will be showing up, speaking out and creating change. And that’s how the world gets better . . .
Marsha Aizumi is an advocate in the LGBT community and the author of the book “Two Spirits, One Heart: A Mother, Her Transgender Son and Their Journey to Love and Acceptance.”