I was shocked and saddened when I got a call from Karl Fish, long-time partner of Tak Yamamoto, who told me of Tak’s sudden passing. Harold Kameya, an old friend of Tak’s, asked me to write some remembrances of him.
The most vivid would be Tak’s pioneering leadership in promoting the causes of the LGBT community. For me, it goes back to the early 1990s when Tak was our San Fernando Valley Chapter JACL chapter president and we held a memorable lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender panel.
One Valley gay young man was asked to be on the panel but declined because he was not yet “out” to his family. An articulate lesbian panel member was June Lagmay, who presently serves as city clerk for the City of Los Angeles.
Tak spent many years working with the Manzanar Committee. Looking back now, I can understand how his need to have the community understand and accept LGBT persons was connected to having our community and the American public at large remember the travails of JAs during WWII. I was impressed by how many LGBT persons he was able to get involved with the Manzanar Committee.
Tak was known for his ready smile and his laughter. Without getting too analytical, I sometimes wondered how much of that happy exterior covered his feeling of sadness, being separated from his community by their not understanding and accepting him for who he was.
I believe Tak Yamamoto should be held up as a model for all of us as someone who courageously chose to be out of the closet at a time when very few, particularly JA gays, were willing to do so. He took an independent stand of conscience, much like Fred Korematsu or Gordon Hirabayashi. He could have chosen to stay in the closet and not make any waves.
If Tak suffered discrimination being Japanese during and after the war, at least he could take refuge in turning to his friends and family. But to be openly homosexual at that time, you were out there all alone. You not only would not get support from friends or family, you would be seen as bringing disgrace to your family.
Tak, you lived a life being true to yourself, something we can all admire. We will miss you. My sincere condolences to Karl and the rest of your family.
This article originally appeared in the November 26, 2012 issue of the Rafu Shimpo, where Phil Shigekuni is a regularly contributes the "Senior Moments" column. Phil has served as the president of the San Fernando Valley JACL and is the long-time civil rights chair.