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  WINDY CITY TIMES

CREATING CHANGE 2016: LGBT Asian/Pacific Islanders plan Chicago meeting
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond
2016-01-20

This article shared 4521 times since Wed Jan 20, 2016
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As thousands of LGBTQ activists, advocates and supporters from around the world arrive in Chicago for the National LGBTQ Task Force Creating Change conference, beginning Jan. 20, celebrated author, speaker, educator, advocate for the LGBTQ community and PFLAG National board member Marsha Aizumi hopes that the weekend will provide an energetic start to a fledgling new support group for Asian Pacific Islander ( API ) LGBTQ people and their families.

The first meet-up for the group will be Sunday, Jan. 24, at Christ Church of Chicago, 6047 N. Rockwell St., at 3-5 p.m.

Aizumi has had an unequivocal passion for LGBTQ causes, the growth of which is lovingly documented in her book Two Spirits One Heart.

The story follows Aizumi as she takes a journey with her transgender son Aiden through initial fear and the horrific bullying he suffered, into the elation of discovery, personal reconciliation, understanding and acceptance.

It is a testament to the unwavering love between parent and child that can supplant uncertainty and the extraordinarily difficult challenges faced by both mother and son into a more serene path walked by those who—according to Native American culture—transcend the masculine and feminine into a harmonic balance that cause many two-spirit individuals to be highly regarded as shamans and medicine givers.

"I hope this story gives you hope, information, and a vision of what your love and support can mean to your child," Aizumi wrote. "I want Asian-American Pacific Islander families to know that I, too, wrestled with the honor of my family name and the dignity of my ancestors. But I have chosen to honor my family by telling the truth to all who will listen."

It was such a hope that, in 2012, spurred Aizumi to co-found the very first PFLAG API group in her home town near Los Angeles.

The first meeting began with 15 people. Since then, it has burgeoned.

"We're doing really well," Aizumi told Windy City Times. "And we've been growing. In fact at our last meeting we had 40-plus people. But we're just one city. I started working with Seattle, San Jose, San Diego and New York. By the end of 2016, my hope is that there will be ten major cities which will have some sort of support. So I wanted to get other people in other cities to step up and lead these groups."

In August of last year, Aizumi was at a national queer API conference in Chicago when she met two such people.

"We started talking and they told me about Christ Church in Chicago—a predominantly API church that was started for Japanese Americans," Aizumi said. "We've had support from PFLAG and the Japanese American Citizens League to work on bringing more visibility to the API LGBTQ community."

API people include those of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Nepalese, Cambodian, Vietnamese and Malaysian descent, among many others—and the challenges that LGBTQ communities within those cultures face are just as diverse.

"There is a misconception that being LGBTQ is a choice," Aizumi said. "It makes it really difficult for parents. They think they've done something wrong. So we are trying to dispel that kind of thinking. Another challenge is that people don't want to be public. They don't reach out for support so they suffer alone and don't want to talk about it to anybody. As a result, we don't have visibility and voices in the community so we think we are the only ones."

It was certainly how Aizumi felt when Aiden began to come out.

"We try to avoid it, sweep it under the rug or change our children so they don't have this kind of life," she said. "Some of the communities are very close and church becomes another family to them. For example, the Korean community is both close and religious so it is a difficult obstacle. Asian people don't like to be controversial. In the Japanese culture we're not confrontational. We don't want to rock the boat and be activists."

Another significant problem is provided by language barriers.

"The API community is extremely diverse and a lot of immigrants don't speak English," Aizumi noted. "It's hard for families from places who are less open because they have to deal with relatives in their home countries. If you have a transgender child here and you come out, are open and feel comfortable about it but you can't share that with your family back in Korea, China or Japan then you are still kind of closeted. You can't feel whole. So we're trying to work on resources and support."

There has been notable progress in the past three years. The group has organized a public service announcement ( PSA ) in nine different languages and a one-page leaflet encompassing more than 20 of them.

"These groups are so important because there's a place where you can talk about some of your feelings and fears like shame or dishonor, work through them and get a different perspective that doesn't compromise you personally," Aizumi said. "What we are finding is parents come without their children or children come without their parents. I worried about that in the beginning because I wanted families to be connected."

However, the ability to keep things from getting too personal actually helped given the cultures with whom Aizumi was working.

"Asian people don't like to go talk in public," she said. "They are scared to walk into the room in case someone they know is there. But slowly parents and LGBTQ people hear about the group and how welcome they are made to feel. As they grow their trust in working and talking with others, they start to come."

In order to nurture that level of trust and comfort, Aizumi has tried a number of different ideas in the Los Angeles group.

"We've done afternoon teas by culture," she said. "In 2014, I did a Japanese afternoon tea called okaeri [welcome home] and it grew to a one-day symposium with 200 people. It shows that there is a great need for families to feel welcome and safe."

Another okaeri is planned in 2016.

Meanwhile, those attending the first Chicago API meet-up will have the opportunity to meet with Aizumi in person. She is also hosting two workshops at Creating Change.

"We really are hoping the Chicago group will grow just like it has in Los Angeles," she said. "Family connection is so important to our community. We're not so focused on individuals. It is essential for LGBTQ API people to have support from their birth family. It makes them feel whole. I know that parents have a lot of negative feelings and fear about the future of their child but this journey can take your family to another level of connection, closeness and love."

Contact i2i at Chicagoi2i@yahoo.com or the church at pastor@ChristChurchChicago.net .


This article shared 4521 times since Wed Jan 20, 2016
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