Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Prior to writing my next Rainbow Connections column for The Hawai‘i Herald, my dad was curious what the theme was for this issue, and I told him we will be honoring the sacrifice of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and commemorating the 80th anniversary since their formation. After conveying he was glad that they should be honored for their sacrifice, he told me about a picture he remembered finding among his family memorabilia. A picture of his uncle when he served in the military. I always called him Uncle Nobu. My dad said that after Uncle Nobu passed away, and when we went to his apartment to clean up, he found a little box in his nightstand that had a picture of Uncle Nobu and another man in each other’s arms; both in military uniforms back during World War II. My dad said he was a little surprised but also thought that this picture might quietly say a lot. Uncle Nobu was very reserved and private, never dated or was seen with women and lived alone from the time he left the military until his passing. My dad said, “Maybe Uncle Nobu thought it was important to sacrifice his happiness and quietly deal with his homosexual feelings alone.”
This statement from my dad made me reflect on how things are for our young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) people in Hawai‘i. According to the “Hawai‘i Sexual and Gender Minority Health Report” in 2017 by the Hawai‘i Department of Health, over one in 10 public high school students, approximately 4,700 students, in the state identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or questioning. Between 2011 and 2015, 88.7% of Hawai‘i high school students identified as heterosexual, 2.2% gay or lesbian, 5.2% bisexual and 3.8% as questioning. For me, this is a significant amount of our Hawai‘i population, and one that we should not allow to make them feel alone or that they should suffer in silence. Questioning youth are more likely to be in lower grades compared to lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual students. A higher proportion of youth identifying as lesbian, gay and bisexual are girls. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and questioning high school students in Hawai‘i are racially diverse. Fewer than one in five lesbian, gay and bisexual students are Caucasian, compared to over one in five who are Filipino and one in four who are Native Hawaiian.
In addition, the “Hawai‘i Sexual and Gender Minority Health Report: A Focus on Transgender Youth” in 2018 reports that just over 3% of public high school students or approximately 1,260 students in Hawai‘i identify as transgender. Youth across all counties and high school grade levels identify as transgender and a higher proportion self-report their sex as male (although it is not clear whether this represents their birth-assigned sex or their inner gender identity). The majority of transgender youth identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual (57%), while the remaining identify as heterosexual; conversely, 16% of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth identify as transgender compared to only 1.5% of heterosexual youth. Transgender youth in Hawai‘i are also racially diverse. Native Hawaiian, Filipino and Caucasian ethnicities each make up about one quarter of the transgender youth population. Youth of Japanese ancestry make up 3% of Hawai‘i’s transgender population.
Thinking back to the story my father shared about my Uncle Nobu, I remember how he might have sacrificed his happiness by quietly dealing with his feelings alone. I wonder, what are the ramifications we might take on, what additional stressors might we inadvertently swallow when we believe that we must shoulder a burden alone? I bear this in mind as I continue to look at the Department of Health data on the well-being and potential risk factors faced by LGBTQ+ youth in Hawai‘i. According back to the 2018 report on Hawai‘i’s transgender youth, nearly half of transgender youth live in unstable housing: 41% sleep in a motel, emergency housing or in the home of a friend, family member or other person because they had to leave the home of their parent or guardian, and about 8% are unsheltered and report mostly sleeping in a car, park, campground or have no usual place to sleep.
In addition, LGBTQ+ youth are at increased risk for bullying, including cyberbullying, teasing, harassment, and physical and sexual assault. They report higher rates of dating violence, including physical abuse by dating partners and sexual coercion. Transgender youth, in particular, experience high rates of violence and adverse childhood experiences such as bullying, neglect, physical and emotional abuse, isolation, physical and sexual assault, and teen dating violence. Twelve percent of transgender youth report being sexually assaulted in K-12 settings by peers or educational staff, and 50% report being raped or assaulted by a romantic partner. Without intervention, over 75% of transgender youth who experience physical or sexual violence at school attempt suicide.
In general, nearly half of transgender youth felt sad or hopeless in the past year and half of transgender youth have attempted suicide in the past year. All of this is exacerbated by the fact that too many LGBTQ+ young people do not have a trusted adult that they can talk to about things that are important to them or someone to turn to to openly discuss feelings they might be grappling with because of their identity as an LGBTQ+ young person.
What can we learn and what actions can we choose to take when we look at this data? For myself, I will consider what I have learned from my family. When I think about my Uncle Nobu I feel it’s just too bad he also came to deal with a lot of depression and mental health issues too — perhaps as a result of not being able to talk to anyone within our family about LGBTQ+ matters, or perhaps, anyone in general. I don’t know how Uncle Nobu identified himself or who the man was in the picture with him, but I do know that they looked happy in each other’s arms. My curiosity, however, is growing. Who were they to each other and what were they so happy about. How wonderful it would have been to hear some lighthearted stories of what brought joy to Uncle Nobu in his life.
I wonder and ask you: What can we do to invite others to speak to what brings them joy after the struggles and sacrifices they might have made? How can we both support each other through difficult times and listen to our loved ones about what brings them happiness? How can I create more opportunities to learn about the happiness of others and work to bring that into more peoples’ lives? Today I want to make a commitment to myself and others. I will speak honestly if I am facing a challenge — perhaps when I am feeling sad, frustrated or just tired I will be courageous and strengthen my connections with others and talk it out. I will listen deeply to others to hear what they are going through and offer my unconditional love, compassion, respect and support. Given the world we live in today, I believe we all can benefit from offering each other more of that good stuff in life. Talking story. Laughing. Living together with compassion and respect. Today I choose to grow from sacrifice and isolation to a shared place of affirmation.
Camaron Miyamoto is the director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Queer+ Center and tenured faculty in the Division of Student Success at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa. As a Yonsei, Mexican and Filipino American, Mr. Miyamoto has served on the boards of the Hawai‘i LGBT Legacy Foundation and the Japanese American Citizens League, Honolulu Chapter, where he advocated for marriage equality in Hawai‘i. Mr. Miyamoto continues to learn from his students at UH Mänoa and is fueled by the belief that by being grounded in our culture and community we will create a better future through compassion, education and a steadfast commitment to social justice. The Hawai‘i Herald is a cornerstone of that future.