Just recently, my transgender son Aiden and I attended an event near Los Angeles, California called Courageous Conversation, a one-day symposium for superintendents and school leaders that focuses on how to make schools safer for their students. This was their second annual event, and Aiden had the opportunity to share his own experiences being bullied and harassed in school. Also represented this year was Congressman Mike Honda (CA-17), founder and chair of the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus, who was invited to attend and deliver the opening welcome. Unable to do so in person, he graciously sent over a video. And this is where my story really begins.
I have always been a great admirer and supporter of Congressman Honda. I have met him in person, and his compassion, sense of humor and passion for his work and the people he serves have always struck me as being genuine and deep. But this week -- as one of the Congressman's compatriots, as a Japanese American, an LGBTQ activist and most of all, as a parent -- I could not have been prouder to hear these words in Congressman Honda's opening video speech:
As both an individual, and as an educator, I have experienced and witnessed bullying in its many forms. And as the proud jichan, or grandpa, of a transgender grandchild, I hope that my granddaughter can feel safe going to school without fear of being bullied. I refuse to be a bystander while millions of people are dealing with the effects of bullying on a daily basis.
When I first saw this video, so many thoughts swirled through my mind. The first was how important this "coming out" would be to my family, my transgender son and the Asian Pacific Islander (API) community as a whole. We are not influential public figures like Congressman Honda, but what we share is our hope for our children and grandchildren. We want them to grow up in a world that will not judge them, discriminate against them or harm them. We want them to have all of the same opportunities and benefits as their peers: to get a good education, to find a job where they can contribute to society and for them to love and be loved.
Then I thought about what this revelation would mean to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. A legislator, an educator, a Japanese American, a father and grandfather was visibly expressing his love for his family. How many different families would be touched by this affirmation for his granddaughter? Congressman Honda has long-supported the LGBT community, from being a founding member and Vice Chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus and longtime champion around addressing HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis. Congressman Honda has also consistently stood strong for the principles and actions of an organization that supports, educates and advocates for LGBTQ individuals and their families, PFLAG. My connection with PFLAG is very personal. They have lifted me and my family out of many dark moments, lighting the way for us to grow stronger and more courageous in our commitment to our son.
Through this bold and touching disclosure about his love for his transgender granddaughter and promising to continue his brave work to halt bullying of all youth, Congressman Honda, I feel, has yet again, through his words, inextricably I also thought about what this affirmation could mean to the API community, of which Congressman Honda is a part and has long supported, including being Chairman Emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. We in the API community often go into the closet, hiding in shame when our LGBT children express whom they truly are and/or whom they are attracted to. Perhaps more API parents and grandparents will openly accept their children and grandchildren and express their love unconditionally with Congressman Honda sharing his support of his own trans grandchild; that is my hope and, I believe, the Congressman's as well.
Finally, I have not met the Congressman's daughter in person, but as mothers our hearts are so connected. She once told me that their family is not going to hide whom their daughter is, because that would send a message of shame. And they are not ashamed of who their daughter is; in fact they are proud of her fierce spirit and her willingness to live in truth. I cannot express in words how much the Honda family means to me and mine; they are a gift to all of us who struggle to find hope in a world that is not always kind, replete with some legislators who vote against our children and some families that disown their children, discarding them out into the street.
My son will never know whether his grandparents would have accepted him or not, because he transitioned years after their death. I choose to believe they would have embraced him wholeheartedly, and I hope he believes it, too. But Congressman Honda's granddaughter will never have to wonder how her grandfather feels about her. She will see it in the work that he does, the hugs he gives and the eyes that gaze upon her with love. What a gift he has given to her... and to all of us, by extension.
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