Takenori (Tak) Yamamoto, pioneer Japanese-American gay activist, passed away on Friday, Nov. 9, 2012 at his home at the age of 74. Tak was openly gay most of his life, including during his service in the US Air Force. He retired from the Los Angeles County Voter Registration department.
Paul Chen and June Lagmay were founders and co-chairs of the Asian Pacific Lesbian & Gays , the first such API LGBT organization in the nation. Because of their fast growth, they soon reorganized, and Tak was voted to be their first president.
Tak served as the first openly-gay president of a JACL chapter and was instrumental in having the JACL endorse gay marriages at their national convention in 1994.
Prior to the national JACL convention, Tak arranged for his San Fernando Valley JACL chapter to present a panel on homosexuality, the first ever such panel in the southern California Japanese American community.
In 1990, Tak Yamamoto was one of two gay Japanese American persons featured in a Tozai Times article called “A Minority within a Minority.” The now defunct publication described Japanese-American gays and lesbians living previously invisible lives within the Japanese-American community.
I read that article in complete amazement, being a father with a gay daughter who had come out just two years earlier. During the 1980s-1990s, public support of gays was practically non-existent. Because of the suffocating atmosphere of Japanese-American culture that I felt at that time, I couldn’t imagine seeing a newspaper feature with the NAME of a gay person, as well as his PHOTO! I did not know who Tak Yamamoto was at that time, but I was very grateful for his courage, for it let us know that we were not alone in the Japanese-American community! I don’t know how many other families he affected by that article, but we are forever grateful for his action.
A few years later, my wife and I were able to meet Tak, as he worked with May Yamamoto (not related) in forming the Lambda Chapter of the JACL, the first LGBT chapter for the civil rights organization.
In recent years, Tak was honored by the Southern California Japanese-American Historical Society, and by the API Equality Los Angeles organization in their Pioneers Project.
Tak has also been a member of the Manzanar Pilgrimage project since its inception in 1970. Bruce Embry, Manzanar Committee co-chair, described Tak as a devoted community organizer who was a fighter, whether it was a struggle for full redress and reparations or a staunch advocate of LGBTQ rights. Other adjectives furnished by Bruce were: thoroughly organized, tireless, fearless, committed, determined, loyal, but patient as well. Jovial was another common adjective used for Tak by his friends.
On November 6, 2012, Tak’s partner of 46 years, Karl Vonl Fish, took Tak to his home precinct so that he could turn in his ballot personally. Tak was a strong Democrat.
Harold Kameya is currently a program co-chair for the San Fernando Valley JACL and recently served as the civil rights chair. Harold and his wife Ellen have been staunch allies in the struggle for LGBT rights.