A little more that 40, mainly older adults, came to the long-anticipated LGBTQ meeting at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center, last Sunday, which was sponsored by the San Fernando Valley JACL Chapter.

Preceding the panel discussion was a revealing exercise allowing those present to indicate their extent of exposure to topics related to LGBTQ issues. Their response was graphically indicated on paper posted along a wall.

Panelists Eric Arimoto, riKu Matsuda and Ellen and Harold Kameya spoke movingly of their experiences. Eric is a middle-aged Yonsei who is a family counselor working in Pasadena; riKu is a younger, transgender male, (trans/male) who works for the County Human Relations Commission; and Ellen Kameya is the mother (proud mother, she says) of a lesbian daughter. She and her husband Harold were pictured, and described, in a column I did recently, concerning their participation in a New Year’s parade in Chinatown that was led by a contingent of LGBTQ individuals and organizations.

Eric enlisted in the Army, partly to escape dealing with his family and their attitude toward his gayness. In the process he came to realize how his identity as Japanese affected his identity as a gay man. In recent times, he has been able to work out his relationships with his family, and has come to feel closer to his Japanese roots. Eric also says he feels a sense of comfort and support being accepted as a gay man in our community. In fact, he said how good it felt to be there participating on the panel.

Because of his life experiences he is able to express his feelings in identifying himself as gay and Japanese American, which I found appealing. He has done a lot of work on gaining a better understanding of himself — I can see him as an effective family counselor.

In like manner, riKu seems to have taken a close look at himself — something I am sure is a great help in his work with the County Human Relations Commission. He grew up in the Lancaster area, has a white father, and identifies himself as a Japanese American.  While the sharing of very personal information about himself, here at the panel, or as I have seen on Facebook, is not very Japanese, it was illuminating in helping us open a window into what it means to be transgendered. He was very clear in stating that being transgendered, for him, is not a matter of shame.

Ellen and Harold told of dealing with their daughter Valerie’s lesbianism. After working through the anguish they experienced 25 years ago when Valerie came out, though their activism in the Asian Pacific Islander community they have been models for bringing about better understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ individuals.

Panelists (from left) Ellen Kameya, Jason Arimoto, riKu Matsuda and Harold Kameya listen to a question from the audience. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)
Panelists (from left) Ellen Kameya, Eric Arimoto, riKu Matsuda and Harold Kameya listen to a question from the audience. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

A lively Q&A session followed the panel presentation, and the enthusiastic audience was told of a similar gathering to be held at the Japanese American National Museum on Nov. 15, which will bring together others to explore, in greater depth, this vital topic.

Marian Sunabe and Phil Shigekuni.
Marian Sunabe and Phil Shigekuni. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

After the program, I chatted briefly over the refreshment table with J.K. Yamamoto of the Rafu Shimpo staff, whom I see at many of these functions. He has been at The Rafu now for over three years, after leaving his post as editor of the now-defunct Hokubei Mainichi in Northern Cal. The move has worked out well for his family in that he has aging parents in this area, as well as a couple of siblings. I commented to him that covering these events must take a lot from his leisure time. He assured me that the coverage of these activities is shared by the entire staff.

Marian Sunabe of Asian American Pacific Islander Christians for Social Justice, J.K.’s classmate from the mid-1970s at Gardena High, was there as well. He took my picture with Marian, and I did likewise with J.K. and Marian.

This was a very worthwhile event. Do make plans to attend November’s gathering.

Phil Shigekuni writes from San Fernando Valley and can be contacted at The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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