Okaeri

Okaeri

Founded in 2013 by Marsha Aizumi, the mother of a transgender son, Okaeri began from a single question: “Why is there no visibility in the Japanese American community for LGBTQ+ people and families?” The seed planted by that question ten years ago has since grown into Okaeri as we know

Okaeri

Founded in 2013 by Marsha Aizumi, the mother of a transgender son, Okaeri began from a single question: “Why is there no visibility in the Japanese American community for LGBTQ+ people and families?” The seed planted by that question ten years ago has since grown into Okaeri as we know it today - a Southern California-based organization whose mission is to create visibility, compassionate spaces, and transformation for LGBTQ+ Japanese Americans (“Nikkei”) and their families by sharing our stories and providing culturally-rooted support, education, community-building, and advocacy. Through our work, we envision a safe, loving, and accepting world for LGBTQ+ Nikkei and their families where all identities are celebrated, respected, and embraced. We pursue this vision by centering three core values - love, hope, and courage. Our programming originally started with a multi-day biennial conference on current issues affecting the Nikkei LGBTQ+ community. Now planning our fifth conference, through which we expect to reach national and international audiences, our programming has also expanded both locally and across the U.S. through programs such as monthly support groups, virtual seminars and symposiums, and collaborations with organizations in the larger AAPI and LGBTQ+ communities. While we continue to center Japanese American LGBTQ+ individuals in all aspects of our work, the impacts we have had and hope to continue having have reached individuals from all walks of life, both within and outside of our community.

About the Organization:

Founded in 2013 by Marsha Aizumi, the mother of a transgender son, Okaeri began from a single question: “Why is there no visibility in the Japanese American community for LGBTQ+ people and families?” The seed planted by that question ten years ago has since grown into Okaeri as we know it today - a Southern California-based organization whose mission is to create visibility, compassionate spaces, and transformation for LGBTQ+ Japanese Americans (“Nikkei”) and their families by sharing our stories and providing culturally-rooted support, education, community-building, and advocacy. Through our work, we envision a safe, loving, and accepting world for LGBTQ+ Nikkei and their families where all identities are celebrated, respected, and embraced. We pursue this vision by centering three core values - love, hope, and courage. Our programming originally started with a multi-day biennial conference on current issues affecting the Nikkei LGBTQ+ community. Now planning our fifth conference, through which we expect to reach national and international audiences, our programming has also expanded both locally and across the U.S. through programs such as monthly support groups, virtual seminars and symposiums, and collaborations with organizations in the larger AAPI and LGBTQ+ communities. While we continue to center Japanese American LGBTQ+ individuals in all aspects of our work, the impacts we have had and hope to continue having have reached individuals from all walks of life, both within and outside of our community.

organizational budget

$50,000 - $100,000

existence for

6-10 YEARS

Organization benefits AAPIs residing in the following state(s):

District of Columbia • Illinois • North Carolina

organizational budget

$50,000 - $100,000

existence for

6-10 YEARS

Organization benefits AAPIs residing in the following state(s):

District of Columbia • Illinois • North Carolina

The Issue:

LGBTQ+ AAPI individuals have long faced discrimination both within their ethnic communities and from the larger queer and transgender communities. LGBTQ+ Japanese Americans also contend with intergenerational trauma originating from the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, which resulted in many Nikkei attempting to hyper-assimilate into post-war U.S. society, including adopting existing prejudices against LGBTQ+ people and ostracizing those who did not fit strict cultural expectations of normalcy and properness.  This history has resulted in generations of queer and transgender Japanese Americans enduring ridicule, condemnation, and rejection, leading many to become estranged from their families and the larger Japanese American community. In fact, a 2018 survey of LGBTQ+ Japanese Americans, their family members, and allies revealed that fewer than 30% of respondents felt that the Japanese American community welcomes LGBTQ+ people. Similarly, parents, siblings, and relatives of LGBTQ+ Nikkei have felt isolated and fearful of openly discussing LGBTQ+ topics within the Japanese American community, and are often unsure of how to support their LGBTQ+ family members. LGBTQ+ Japanese Americans (and AAPIs as a whole) also experience racism in queer and transgender contexts, especially rejection and/or fetishization because of their race. A 2022 study by the Trevor Project found that more than half of AAPI LGBTQ+ youth (54%) experienced discrimination based on their race in the past year.  This intersection of rejection, racism, and trauma from the Japanese American and larger LGBTQ+ communities has left many queer and transgender Nikkei struggling to navigate their identities in a space that fully and unconditionally accepts them. While many queer and transgender Japanese Americans have participated in pan-AAPI LGBTQ+ groups throughout history, until the formation of Okaeri in 2014, there wasn’t a specific space for LGBTQ+ Nikkei to find community and acceptance, share resources and support, and explore their identities. Especially with the rise in anti-LGBTQ+ policies (over 400 anti-LGBTQ bills filed in 2023 alone), as more queer and transgender Nikkei come of age and look to explore their identities, the need for a space like Okaeri has never been more important.

The Solution:

Okaeri (“welcome home” in Japanese), strives to create a sense of home and community for LGBTQ+ Japanese Americans, Japanese nationals, and their family and allies. In doing so, we’re not only combatting the isolation and alienation that many in our community have felt, but also raising the visibility of queer and transgender Japanese Americans nationally. Our key programs include: Biennial Conferences : Since 2014, Okaeri has organized biennial conferences to address current issues affecting LGBTQ+ Japanese Americans. More than 200 intergenerational participants from across the U.S. and Canada attended our first conference, held at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. Over 300 people from 17 states and several countries including Japan, South Korea, and Peru participated in our 2021 conference, held online due to Covid. We’ve made special efforts to include LGBTQ+ Nikkei elders, parents of LGBTQ+ Nikkei, and native Japanese speakers. Our conferences have inspired Nikkei in cities such as Seattle, Sacramento, and San Francisco to organize similar gatherings.  Okaeri Connects! : We host three separate monthly online gatherings, conducted in English and Japanese, for queer and trans Nikkei, families, and allies throughout the U.S. and Japan to build community, share resources, and discuss LGBTQ+ topics. Okaeri Voices : This ongoing collection of oral history interviews documents the pioneering efforts of LGBTQ+ Nikkei over 60 to live openly and proudly. Now in our second season of production, we have shared these stories with local and national organizations such as PFLAG National, Japanese American Citizens League, and Densho.  Okaeri Book : We are currently developing an anthology of writing and art in English and Japanese by LGBTQ+ Nikkei across the country to document what it means to “come home” in the context of queerness and being Japanese. This book aims to reflect the thoughts of the LGBTQ+ Nikkei community and be a resource of hope for those with less access to community support. Queer O-bon : Our newest initiative uses the Buddhist tradition of O-bon to reframe what it means to build community and honor culture while centering queer joy and acceptance for LGBTQ+ Nikkei and allies.

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