S.F.’s Japantown proclaims queer pride

RAISING QUEER NIKKEI PRIDE ­— The Japantown Rainbow Coalition raised a Pride flag in San Francisco’s Japantown from June 3 to 7. photo by William Lee

Amy Sueyoshi never imagined that the rainbow Pride flag would be raised in San Francisco’s Japantown. The dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University told the audience at the “Raise the Pride Flag at Peace Plaza” event June 4 she never thought “community leaders (would) see queer stuff as a priority.”

Sueyoshi added that the late Takenori “Tak” Yamamoto, a former San Fernando Valley Japanese American Citizens League chapter president, played an “instrumental” role in the national JACL endorsing marriage equality at its national convention in 1994.

“As we raise the rainbow flag in Japantown, let us be emboldened by the work of Tak and others, who’ve advanced Queer and Trans-Japanese America as we create a community that fully embraces all of our differences…,” Sueyoshi said.

In an interview with the Nichi Bei Weekly, San Francisco JACL chapter board member Elena Nielsen said she thought about raising the Pride flag in San Francisco’s Japantown while commuting from her hometown of the East Bay’s Clayton, where she saw a raised Pride flag. Her vision for the project started in March 2021.

“I knew what I wanted here was to see the Pride flag up in the place that I love more than anywhere in the world,” Nielsen told the Nichi Bei Weekly.

San Francisco District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston called the flag raising significant because state legislations across the country aim to “codify discrimination against the LGBTQ community.” He said the city stands in unity against the nationwide legislative efforts.

San Francisco JACL President Judy Hamaguchi shared how her son revealed to her that he is gay. She had made no assumptions about her son’s sexuality because “it made no difference in the way I loved him. He’s one of my best friends, my baby boy.”

According to a statement from the Bay Area QTAPI Coalition, the counties of San Francisco, Alameda and Santa Clara, and the cities of San Diego, Oakland, and San Jose declared “the first ever statewide (Queer and Trans Asian Pacific Islander) QTAPI Week” May 29 through June 4.

San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman said in the statement that more work must be done to “make Pride more inclusive, elevate non-white and non-binary voices, and celebrate the immense diversity within our own LGBTQ+ community.”

City Assessor Recorder Joaquín Torres, the son of two gay dads in the Latino community, spoke at the event about how the city is celebrating Pride throughout various neighborhoods to reflect diversity and inclusion for the LGBTQ community.

Marsha Aizumi, founder of Okaeri, a Los Angeles-based Nikkei and LGBTQ+ community, and mother of a transgender son, said the Pride flag being raised in Japantown makes a “physical statement” of love and support for her son and other LGBTQ individuals across the country.

Aizumi’s son, Aiden, said many times when attending events that he felt the need to leave either his Nikkei or transgender identity at the door. He said being in a space that covers both identities makes him “feel like I belong.”

The flag “represents the pain, struggle, fight of those who paved the way before us and is a beacon of hope and love for those who will come after it,” he added.

The Japantown Rainbow Coalition, which hosted the event, raised the flag from June 3 to 7 under the direction of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, Nielsen said.

Greg Viloria contributed to this article.

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