On our recent trip to Japan to speak on LGBTQ rights for Marriage Equality USA, we had the honor of addressing the crowd at Pink Dot Okinawa, a wonderful event with over 1,000 attendees who were treated to music, dance, speeches, and a beautiful marriage ceremony for Kazuki and Harold -- when the happy couple exchanged vows there was not a dry eye in the crowd.
Kazuki is from Okinawa, while Harold is American -- because they met during the days of DOMA they had to go into exile in order to be together. Luckily they were able to find work, live and marry in Canada. During that time, Kazuki's family back in Japan was not accepting of their relationship, but over the years their love has prevailed. An emotional highlight of Pink Dot Okinawa was the reading of a touching letter written by Kazuki's mother to celebrate the love of her son and son-in-law and to express her wishes for their happiness as a married couple.
Amazing events don't happen by themselves, and Pink Dot Okinawa is no exception -- it is the brainchild of Hideki Sunagawa, an activist and HIV/AIDS community worker for over a quarter century and one of the founders of Tokyo Pride. Hideki is also an academic with a PhD in cultural anthropology, and he brings that wisdom to his activism. In Hideki's own words:
"Though at this point in time Japan provides no legal recognition or protection for same-sex couples, we have reached a point where more and more same-sex couples are holding ceremonies like their heterosexual counterparts. Many gays and lesbians have been encouraged by these open and public celebrations of love and devotion, and as a result feel far more hopeful about building a future with their partners. ...the truth is that in Japan, most LGBTQ people with life partners do not or feel as if they cannot introduce them to their families. As such, I’ve come to think that by holding a public ceremony here in Kazuki’ s birthplace of Okinawa, we may be able to provide some hope for both those in the audience and Okinawa’ s local LGBTQ community in general. ... it is our belief that this event will not only allow the people of Okinawa to put faces to the idea of a same-sex couple, but also help to lay a groundwork for other such ceremonies throughout Japan."
This dream became a reality at Pink Dot Okinawa 2014 because of Hideki and an amazing team of hard-working and fun-loving volunteers who created a loving space in the central square of Naha, Okinawa. There are too many wonderful people we met there to name everyone individually, but we were inspired by the tireless efforts of Norito Irei who was with us from beginning to end, even introduced us to Okinawan cuisine, and then joined us for a presentation the following day at Okinawa University where he spoke movingly about his own experience growing up gay in Okinawa and what it’s like coming out there and in the United States.
Pink Dot started in Singapore and now includes events for LGBTQ acceptance around the world in places as diverse as Hong Kong, Kaohsiung, Montreal, and Salt Lake City. Our trip to Japan and the experience of Pink Dot Okinawa has filled us with hope in the power of love to create change around the world.
By MEUSA National Media Director Stuart Gaffney and MEUSA Director of Legal & Policy John Lewis
Watching the President sign off on an Executive Order banning federal contractors from discriminating against the LGBTQ community last week, I was struck by how far our community has come. Just a few weeks prior, I was honored to represent MEUSA, our volunteers and members at the White House Pride Reception hosted by the President and the First Lady.Captivated by the historical immensity of the White House, I heard the President speak from the heart and joke with guests. I watched as he welcomed hundreds of LGBT activists. While meeting both the President and the First Lady was an honor, the power in that moment was in reminding me how far our own grassroots, volunteer-driven organization has come in changing the conversation around marriage equality in almost 20 years of work.
When Marriage Equality USA (then Marriage Equality New York) first began in 1996 after the enactment of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), few in our community (LGBTQ or political) would even dare to dream about, much less utter the phrase, "marriage equality." It took years of hard work, grassroots organizing, education and pushing against the establishment to make friends, lawmakers and the public understand that marriage mattered. MEUSA's unique history has allowed us to participate in both grassroots organizing as well as bringing the voices of so many grassroots organizers to more traditional halls of power. Now, as state after state embraces the goal for which so many of us have toiled for so long, we remember that our success stands in honor of those who have been with us from day one — especially those who toiled without ever having felt the joy of full marriage equality in their lifetimes.
For all those whose hard work and dedication to MEUSA made that collective White House moment possible, I humbly say, thank you.