Saturday’s (May 31) program at Centenary was exciting, and worthwhile on a number of levels. At the core of the evening’s success was each panelist’s willingness to share in very personal ways.

Moderating the panel was Eileen Ma of Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

Bishop Roy Sano, now retired, has served in the United Methodist Church for over 50 years. When he served in Denver, he appointed an openly gay minister to a church — an unprecedented act by a bishop in the early 1980s. He didn’t say it, but I am sure being incarcerated as a youth in the Gila internment camp had a lot to do with not discriminating against a man only because of who he was.

I remembered when he served as bishop in the California Pacific Conference, which took place in Redlands, he took a lot of flack for making similar appointments. He was pleased to report the recent marriage of two women at Wesley UMC in San Jose by Rev. Mike Yoshii, pastor at Buena Vista UMC in Alameda. Bishop Sano said he is presently working on an all-consuming project, but is willing to conduct any same-sex ceremonies when his project is completed.

Touching on how some Christians claim LGBT persons are condemned in the Bible, Bishop Sano called for more enlightened interpretations. He pointed out a couple of matters I have always known about the faith, but accepted without realizing how they represent major biblical contradictions: Christianity’s roots are in Judaism, as recorded in the Old Testament. If we were to strictly adhere to the words of the Old Testament, all believers would have to be circumcised. But the followers of Jesus worked around this requirement in establishing their faith.

One of the Ten Commandments, as stated in the Old Testament, clearly states the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath, the day of worship and rest. Early Christians circumvented this requirement by worshiping on the first day of the week, Sunday, when Christ was resurrected.

Eric Arimoto said he has known from early childhood that he was gay. He has struggled with his family over the issue and has finally come to reconciliation with them. He says he could not be gay in the JA community and joined the Army to escape. It has only been in recent years he been able to meld his Yonsei self with his gayness.

He said it made him feel good to be so well-accepted at this gathering. I really appreciated how open and revealing Eric was in telling his story. He works as a counselor at a center in the San Gabriel Valley.

Riku Matsuda described growing up and dealing with his Caucasian appearance and being raised by a Japanese mother, identifying Japanese. Mixed into this identity process was his identification as a male in a female’s body. He very eloquently told of the tribulations of coming to terms with his male identity. He presently works for the L.A. County Human Relations Commission.

Mia Yamamoto is a trial defense attorney. She was an adult when she revealed to her parents her need to be identified as a female. In the process she came out to them as well as her friends, and even those detained in prison whom she represented. She was gratified that when given the option of finding another lawyer to represent them, they all wholeheartedly agreed to have her continue to represent them.

A memorable part of Mia’s story dealt with her brother’s total rejection and condemnation. I was moved by her statement that she would continue to love her brother in spite of his rejection of her. Mia seemed genuinely pleased that she was so warmly received by the audience. She told of how the transgender community also has a Day of Remembrance. While we remember our WWII internment, the transgender community remembers those who have been murdered as a consequence of being identified as transgender.

A statement I took away from this gathering by Mia: She told us that coping with being transgender takes honesty and courage. How admirably Mia has demonstrated both of these qualities in her life.

In making his concluding comments, Rev. Mark Nakagawa noted that Riku and Mia claimed to be atheists, but, particularly in terms of Mia’s forgiveness of her brother, demonstrated the highest form of Christian behavior.

Traci Ishigo, representing the JACL Pacific Southwest District Office, thanked the audience for attending and announced a follow-up gathering, titled “Okeari,” to be held at JANM on Nov. 15.

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

From left: Bishop Roy Sano, Eric Arimoto, Riku Matsuda, Mia Yamamoto and moderator Eileen Ma speak at Centenary United Methodist Church on May 31.
From left: Bishop Roy Sano, Eric Arimoto, Riku Matsuda, Mia Yamamoto and moderator Eileen Ma speak at Centenary United Methodist Church on May 31.

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