The word okaeri in Japanese means “welcome home,” and the first-ever Okaeri gathering, happening at JANM this weekend, seeks to welcome and provide a safe, productive space for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) members of the Nikkei community, along with their non-LGBTQ friends, family, and allies.
Co-chaired by Marsha Aizumi, an author and activist whose son is transgender, and riKu Matsuda of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, Okaeri was developed by a diverse coalition of individuals with strong ties to the local Japanese American community.
The initial impetus for the event came from Aizumi, whose son Aiden was born biologically female and came out as a lesbian before transitioning to his male identity. Initially believing that she had been a bad parent, Aizumi dug deeper and realized that the issue was one of choice. While her son did not have a choice about his identity, she did have a choice in terms of her own response; she could reject her son, or she could embrace and support him.
Choosing the latter led to a richly rewarding journey of discovery that produced the well-received book, Two Spirits, One Heart: A Mother, Her Transgender Son, and Their Journey to Love and Acceptance, co-written with Aiden and discussed in an event at JANM last year.
It is this spirit of love and acceptance that drives Okaeri, which seeks to bring visibility to Nikkei LBGTQ people and issues and break the cloak of silence that often surrounds them—a goal that gibes well with JANM’s mission to promote understanding and appreciation of ethnic and cultural diversity. Aizumi, Matsuda, and the other organizers envisioned this as a small event that would serve as a kickoff for more coalition-building in the future. But excitement has been spreading, and Okaeri is drawing more attendees than expected.
“We thought we’d be happy if 75 or 100 people came,” Aizumi said. “But now it’s looking more like 150 or 200 people, and they’re coming not just from L.A., but from San Diego, San Jose, Seattle, Vancouver, and Washington, D.C.”
Okaeri will kick off on Friday night with a reception and special screening of To Be Takei, the biographical documentary on actor and gay rights activist George Takei. On Saturday, attendees can join workshops, themed discussions, and performances as well as relax and network in a designated social lounge. For more information and to register, visit okaeri-la.org.