LGBT Japanese gather for Bay Area conference

  • by Heather Cassell
  • Wednesday April 13, 2016
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Bonnie Sugiyama was one of the main organizers of<br>Tadaima, the Bay Area's first-ever LGBT Japanese-American conference. Photo:<br>Jo-Lynn Otto
Bonnie Sugiyama was one of the main organizers of
Tadaima, the Bay Area's first-ever LGBT Japanese-American conference. Photo:
Jo-Lynn Otto

An estimated 160 people recently turned out for Tadaima, the Bay Area's first-ever LGBT Japanese-American conference, which was held at San Jose State University.

Tadaima, which translates to "I'm home," is a common call and response Japanese greeting, explained Bonnie Sugiyama, 39, a gender queer individual who was the main organizer of the conference.

"It's been really great to be able to bring this opportunity to talk about these issues of multiple identities that people have because they really do have an impact on how we grow up and how we come out or how we are treated by society," said Sugiyama.

The April 2 conference addressed topics such as coming out, being transgender, Japanese-American and Hawaiian LGBT identities, family, Japanese-American queer art, Buddhist and Christian faiths, and the Japanese-American LGBT movement.

Congressman Mike Honda (D-San Jose), who has a transgender granddaughter, kicked off the daylong event telling the audience that the LGBT experience is a "journey toward normalcy."

It is that experience and journey that helps families and the wider world expand its understanding of "who we are and how we think" and it "allows people a place to be so they can say, 'I'm home, I never left,'" Honda said prior to the first panel discussion, which included his daughter, Michelle Honda-Phillips.

Honda's granddaughter, Malisa Honda-Phillips, was also in the audience.

Michelle Honda-Philips was joined by mother and son activists Marsha and Aiden Aizumi, and another transgender person, who asked not to be identified, on the "The Journey to Living Out Loud" panel.

The panelists discussed their experience of acceptance from the parent and the transgender child perspectives. Some of the advice they offered was that parents and others would make mistakes and sometimes be "unintentionally offensive" during the transition.

The mothers on the panel talked about fear, family honor, as well as taking responsibility for their own journey, keeping an open heart and gratitude.

In the face of the lack of information and resources, Honda-Phillips said that parents of transgender children must recognize the "insistence, persistence, and consistence" of a child's gender identity to "shift our culture and allow them to explore the gender spectrum and help them find their voice."

"Through this journey I realized that I can best honor my family by standing next to my son," said Marsha Aizumi. "I would hope that they would look at something like this ... [and] would make them proud as well."

Honda-Phillips agreed, speaking proudly of her daughter.

"Living out loud is our only choice. She is worthy of standing tall and proud of who she is," she said.

Aiden Aizumi told the audience that from his perspective as the child transitioning that he didn't consider his parents' experience. He didn't really allow them to have their own process while he was discovering his transgender identity. So, he wasn't always compassionate.

He advised other transgender individuals to pause, consider their parents and family's process and allow them the space and compassion to go through their own experience.

In spite of the challenges through his transition he said he felt grateful for having his parents' unconditional love and access to the medical services he needed. He said that he was aware that many other transgender people don't always have what he had.

The panel was a hit among attendees, said Sugiyama, who is also the director of the Pride Center and the Gender Equity Center at San Jose State University.

"I think what we've seen has been amazing," said Sugiyama, who modeled the event after the Okaeri conference, a similar LGBT Japanese-American gathering in Los Angeles in 2014. "People have been really engaged with the different topics that have been talked about."


Identifying issues

One of the issues that Sugiyama heard throughout the conference was the fact that the Japanese-American LGBT community is very small. Not because there aren't queer Japanese-Americans, but simply because the Japanese-American community overall isn't migrating to the United States as much or creating large families, said Sugiyama.

"For me, only having met a few people, I can only imagine how ... a general community member must feel maybe a little isolated," Sugiyama continued. "So, creating this community, an opportunity for folks to meet each other, was one of the things that was really important to us."

A.T. Furuya, who was one of the presenters for the "Community Building for Trans/Gender Nonconforming/Non-Binary/Gender Queer Nikkei/JA People" workshop, agreed.

"This is important for me because our communities are so small," said Furuya, who self-identifies as a queer trans person. "Being able to connect with other folks who share a kind of common �" at least one common �" aspect of our really diverse identities is really important.

"Being in this space, for me, is powerful to see other queer API people and the resistance and resilience," said Furuya, who was excited about seeing the different generations coming together and listening to the different conversations happening at the conference.

"Being able to deconstruct and unpack the oppression that we face as a community, whether that is oppressing your Japanese-American identity, or your sexuality, or your gender identity, there's so many different things to unpack," said Furuya. "So, coming together like this and being able to see even the diversity of our own community [and] how we identify" was thrilling.

Issues for future exploration include LGBT Japanese and other Asian Pacific Islanders' immigration issues, the limited community, and whatever else the community raises, said Sugiyama, who hopes to have a conference every other year.

Honda praised the conference as being a positive event for the community.

"It's something that is healthy," he told the Bay Area Reporter.

"It's probably a communal process of getting healthier. Everyone will grow from it. When they leave to be able to share and grow from there and sort of affect the greater nikkei community," Honda added, referring to the native Japanese community.


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