Paying Attention: Do a Little Pride, Make a Little Love
By John Manzon-Santos (2001)
June 6 was the fifth anniversary of the passing of a community
activist named Haruko Kuroiwa Brown. A nisei born and raised
in Seattle, Haruko was one of 10,000 Japanese Americans sent
by the U.S. government to the “relocation camp”
at Minidoka, Idaho during World War II. In 1945 she moved
to New York, where she raised a family, and obtained her master’s
degree in social work. Haruko volunteered her energies with
the Japanese American Help for the Aging, as a board member
with the Japanese American Citizens League, as president of
Asian & Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS, and as
a powerful guest speaker on racism in U.S. history in a local
alternative high school.
Haruko understood discrimination and connected the dots between
various struggles that mattered deeply to her: redress for
interned Japanese Americans, culturally competent services
for people living with HIV disease, economic justice for immigrant
A heterosexual mother of two, Haruko counted many gay and
lesbian people among her professional colleagues, close friends,
family members and clients. She was proactive in her support
of many of us who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender
(or LGBT for short) and, in innumerable ways, walked her walk.
I mean, literally. On June 26, 1994, at age 73, Haruko joined
more than a million marchers from around the world in New
York City for Stonewall 25 — the first International
March on the United Nations to Affirm the Human Rights of
Lesbian and Gay People. This historic action also commemorated
the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising of 1969, the
event that sparked the modern LGBT Rights movement in the
U.S. For Haruko, the history of Stonewall resonated with her
own life experiences.
During the last weekend of June in 1969, New York City police
and Alcoholic Beverage Control Board agents entered a gay
bar, the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in Greenwich
Village. Under the pretense of looking for violations of the
alcohol control laws, they made their customary anti-gay comments
and then, after checking identifications, expelled the patrons,
one by one. Instead of quietly slipping away into the night,
as they had done for years, they resisted. Someone uprooted
a parking meter and used it to barricade the door. Trapped
inside, the agents and police called for reinforcements, but
not before completely demolishing the place. Their vehicles
raced to the scene with sirens and flashing lights. The crowd
grew and someone set a fire. Three days of protest ensued.
And for the first time, after years of oppression, the chant,
“Gay Power,” rang out. Later that summer and fall,
the first five Gay Liberation Fronts formed in San Francisco,
Berkeley, San Jose, Los Angeles and New York; by the end of
1970, 300 such organizations had been created.
The first commemoration of the Stonewall Uprising was held
in New York in August 1969. A year later, marches took place
in New York and Los Angeles on the anniversary of the Uprising,
the last weekend in June. Since then, annual marches during
“Pride Month” have been organized in cities across
the United States and around the world, including larger cities
in Asia and the Pacific. Pride marches raise visibility, flex
political muscle, and build community, while giving people
permission to embrace who they are and sending a strong message
that “you are not alone.” For our allies —
our heterosexual family members and friends — pride
marches provide opportunities for community members, like
Haruko, to stand against discrimination and shame, and to
express their love and support.
My first pride march was transformative. In Boston, June
1988, I addressed a crowd 75,000 strong as a representative
of a local organization, the Alliance of Massachusetts Asian
Lesbians and Gay Men (AMALGM), asserting the diversity of
the LGBT community. From the beginning, my pride as a gay
man was linked to my pride as a person of Asian descent; groups
such as AMALGM created safe spaces so I did not have to choose
one identity at the expense of another.
On June 24, two Sundays from now, San Francisco carries on
the Stonewall tradition with this city’s 31st Annual
Pride Parade. The day before, on Saturday, June 23, the Dyke
March (“dyke” is a self-defining term that has
been proudly reclaimed by many lesbian and bisexual women)
will take place. This demonstration helps ensure that, within
often male-dominated pride events, women-focused visibility
and safe spaces are created. Asians and Pacific Islanders
— heterosexual and LGBT — will be at both events
in full force.
Do you know someone who is LGBT — a co-worker, a classmate,
a neighbor? Do you have a relative whom everybody knows is
gay but nobody talks about openly? An aunt who never married?
A cousin who always comes alone to family gatherings? If we
are willing to admit it, we all have these people in our lives,
some very close and very special, others at the periphery,
but nevertheless, present. The issue here is how critical
it is to be aware of who is already around us. Perhaps we
all feel some discomfort around people different than ourselves.
But it is discomfort unexplored that breeds fear, and fear
that, in the extreme, leads to intolerance.
Ever hear of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old student brutally
murdered in 1998 in Laramie, Wyoming, because he was gay?
Ever hear of Vincent Chin, another young man in his 20s brutally
murdered in 1982 in Detroit, Mich., because he was Asian?
My mother, an immigrant Filipina who was 64 years old in
1994, marched down Fifth Avenue in Stonewall 25 right alongside
Haruko. She looked forward to having “a new experience”
and, to my surprise, accepted my invitation to march. I extend
the same invitation to you. Come out and be a part of the
celebration and the commemoration, the outrage and the outrageous.
Make a statement against discrimination in all its forms,
and against violence and murder motivated by hate. And if
you can’t make it for Pride Weekend, remember that you
can be there in struggle and in spirit all year round.
John Manzon-Santos is executive director
of Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center (A&PIWC).
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