Happy New Year to our Portland JACL Family
Board Member’s Message
by Jean Yamamoto
Happy New Year to our Portland JACL Family
Happy New Year! I hope that everyone enjoyed a very happy holiday season which I consider started in October with Halloween (cute costumes and candy!) then on to Thanksgiving (turkey and pie!) and culminating in Christmas (gifts and celebration!). For me, the theme that ties all these events and activities is family.
Growing up my mom always emphasized the importance of family and it was important to her that we nurture a close relationship with each other. I remember the many family reunions in Hilo with all the aunties and uncles, dozens of cousins, the talent show, games, and food. There were many get-togethers throughout the year for birthday parties, holidays, and picnics, all with the extended family. Without naming it, the aunties created this cultural value of family.
How blessed I am to have this acceptance and support from my ohana.
A few months ago a friend and colleague from the Asian Pacific Network of Oregon (APANO) asked if I could meet him to talk about a project he’s working on with Basic Rights Oregon called "Our Families". Earlier in the year during the annual Day of Remembrance program Portland JACL featured the human rights struggles of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community. I thought about the mission of Portland JACL "to secure and uphold the human and civil rights of Americans of Japanese ancestry and others and to promote and preserve the cultural heritage and values of Japanese Americans". This project sounded very much in line with our mission to promote human rights of people who identify as LGBT with a cultural value of family.
Basic Rights Oregon, Our Families is an education project to raise the visibility, experiences, and public support of LGBT families of color within predominately straight communities of color. They invited straight leaders of color to an exclusive showing of three videos which interviewed families from Latino, African American, and Asian and Pacific Islander communities. The videos highlighted the individuals’ personal trials and triumphs, fears and relief in coming out to their families. We broke into small groups to discuss our reactions to seeing the videos, about how the videos resonate with our experience as community leaders, how our communities address or connect the trials or challenges that LGBT people face to our own issues, and ways to support LGBT people of color in our community.
Among the stories was that of a mother and daughter in which the mother asked why the daughter would choose something that would make life harder. As they talked the daughter realized that her mom’s reaction was her general worry as a parent and not a homophobic response. Another story was of two brothers who lived for years with their own version of don’t ask don’t tell. The straight brother said that it’s not good enough to have an absence of hostility or negativity to LGBT people. He urged straight folks to take responsibility to show their support so that LGBT family members feel that they can come out and be supported. Other stories were heartbreaking to see the fears of losing their family connections if they came out. So what can we do as straight people to support LGBT people of color? Basic Rights Oregon gave us 10 Ways for Allies to Take Action for LGBT People of Color:
- Come out as an ally to your family and friends. Tell them why you support LGBT families of color and why you think it’s important to stand together with those families when they’re being attacked or unfairly judged.
- If you hear a homophobic joke or remark, speak up and speak out.
- Educate yourself about the issues that LGBT families of color face in our community.
- Recognize that there have been LGBT people of color throughout our histories and work to ensure that those histories are brought to light and shared
- When you’re talking with LGBT families of color, be sure to refer to them with the pronouns and relationship titles that they use for themselves. If you’re not sure, ask. For example never assume how someone identifies in term of gender or what pronoun they use. Also, when referencing relationship titles, use gender-neutral terms like "partner" instead of girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/ husband, etc
- Ask your employer or your union representative if your work offers domestic partnership benefits and/or transgender inclusive healthcare to LGBT employees. If yes, be appreciative. If not, ask if they would consider changing their policies to be more inclusive.
- When you go to community organizations, ask if it is an open and affirming place for LGBT families of color
- If you’re a parent, talk to your kids about how LGBT families of color are a part of our community
- Encourage your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers to begin this dialogue in their communities
- Breathe! It can feel overwhelming to try and be an ally to LGBT families of color, especially if you think you have to be perfect. It’s an ongoing learning process for all of us, so mistakes are part of how we learn. Just keep moving forward! To all our friends and supporters in the Portland JACL community, best wishes for peace, justice, and prosperity in the new year and a renewed commitment to fighting for inclusion and equity for all.