LGBT rights activist, Tak Yamamoto, dies


LOS ANGELES — Long-time Manzanar Committee leader Takenori “Tak” Yamamoto, of Los Angeles, died on Nov. 9, 2012, the Los Angeles-based Manzanar Committee announced in a statement issued Nov. 16.

Yamamoto, 74, died of natural causes, according to long-time partner Karl Fish.

Yamamoto’s family was among the some 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry who were forcibly removed from the West Coast as a result of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942.

The family was sent to Poston, Ariz., one of 10 American concentration camps where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II.

After the war, Yamamoto left Poston, and returned to Los Angeles. He joined the United States Army after completing high school, and served in Germany. He went on to work as a supervisor in the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office.

Yamamoto served as president of the Asian and Pacific Islanders for LGBT Equality, as well as president of the San Fernando Valley chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League.

“During his tenure with the SFV JACL, Yamamoto was open about his sexual orientation, refusing to allow it be an obstacle to his work, and in 1994, he was instrumental in pushing the National JACL to support same-sex marriage,” the Committee said in a statement.

Yamamoto was one of the founders and a long-time president of the Asian/Pacific Lesbians and Gays (now Asian/Pacific Gays and Friends) in Los Angeles, an organization formed to fight discrimination against Asian and Pacific Islanders.

Yamamoto served as a leader of the Manzanar Committee and the Manzanar At Dusk program since 1997. Yamamoto served as treasurer, and also worked with long-time committee chair, and co-founder of the Manzanar Pilgrimage, Sue Kunitomi Embrey.

Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey praised Yamamoto in remarks made in 2009.

“Tak’s great,” he said. “I can remember when the Manzanar Committee was pretty damned small, and there were a handful of people. Tak would take on hours of work in the blazing sun (at the Pilgrimage) with a couple of other people to put on this program year after year because he had that inner strength, tenacity and the understanding.

“We had a dinner for Tak when he retired,” he added. “Rev. Paul Nakamura — Tak asked him to say a few words. He got up and said Tak Yamamoto is one of those individuals, in times of crisis and hardship, who stands up and takes on the work and tasks that others haven’t, can’t or won’t. (Rev. Paul added) that in the Bible, those were men of valor, and Tak is a man of valor.”

“I think that was really a beautiful summation. Tak and others like him took up the call to take on recognizing what happened, breaking the silence and doing what they needed to do to make sure (the Pilgrimage) happened every year so that people could come — those who were able, those who were willing to learn and to heal, and to build these alliances and bonds.”

Embrey added that his mother, Sue Kunitomi Embrey, and Yamamoto played a key role in the redress and reparations struggle by keeping the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage alive.

“Tak was a fighter, firm in his convictions and eminently patient,” Embrey added, after learning of Yamamoto’s death. “He was one of the first who took on the struggle for redress and civil rights for the LGBT community, and that’s why, to those who knew him, Tak is a hero.”

A private memorial service has been scheduled.

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