Kristen Nemoto Jay
I first learned about gay marriage some time after grade school; a clear snapshot of my childhood that I’ll forever remember. There were posters that hung in our local church that read in large bold words “Vote YES on the Marriage Question” and that it was just “common sense” to do so. I didn’t understand what that meant at the time so I asked my father later that week what the posters were about. Like other moments of my past that stick out due to its impact on my life, this exchange with my father was one of them. It was nighttime and he had just changed into his Coke-bottle glasses, which meant he took out his contacts and was ready to hit the hay. He was in his study, shuffling and stapling paperwork under a hot banker’s lamp, tending to bills that were due soon. When I asked him about the posters, he looked up from his desk and firmly yet casually explained that it basically meant “if you are this, you cannot do this.” Naive and confused, I asked why that was the rule because it didn’t seem fair. He nodded, agreed and said: “You’re right, it’s not, and it shouldn’t be. Rules and laws don’t always mean they’re right. It’s up to us to change them.”
Nearly 30 years later, we know that poster was about Hawai‘i’s Constitutional Amendment 2. The question asked voters: Shall the Constitution of the state of Hawai‘i be amended to specify that the Legislature shall have the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples? An apex question that stemmed from historical same-sex couple discrimination lawsuits created several years prior. Unfortunately, on Nov. 4, 1998, Hawai‘i voters approved the amendment by a vote of 69.2% (“yes”) to 28.6% (“no”). Though the result was more symbolic of successful fear-mongering tactics than factual public opinion, the votes sent continued punches to Hawai‘i’s already bruised and battered lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community. My father — a Japanese-Okinawan American Sansei cisgender man from Waimänalo — was one of the those who voted “no.” He taught me a valuable lesson that night about what it means to be an advocate for civil rights. That it’s important to stand up for those who are unseen or unheard. I’ll always remember and be grateful for that memory.
Thankfully, a lot has changed since the years leading up to the fall of 1998. In 2013, Hawai‘i became one of the first few states in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage. The Hawai‘i LGBT Legacy Foundation, a 100% volunteer-based nonprofit organization, has grown immensely, and generated the biggest parade in the state during Honolulu Pride month in October 2019. And this issue, specifically for The Hawai‘i Herald, is our inaugural dedicated to featuring LGBTQ+ stories that coincides with sharing Japanese American culture and people. I’m so very proud and honored to have witnessed the progression of our state and its people. Thanks to folks such as my father, leaders within the community and everyone who contributed to this issue — including former editor Jodie Chiemi Ching (who first came up with the idea for a special Pride issue) — we are able to consistently move forward in fighting for equal rights. Thank you, reader, for also being a contributor to the movement. These stories would have otherwise not have been known. Thank you for reading and continuing each of their legacies.