Tiffany Nakamitsu (she/her/hers) is a queer Shin-Nisei Japanese American working in tech as a marketer. Outside of her 9-5 job, she is the Governance Chair of the Board of Directors of Seattle Pride. We connected with Tiffany earlier this year and learned more about her experience growing up queer in Japan, and how she’s since become involved in the LGBTQIA+ community in Seattle. 

Yo!: Hi Tiffany! You’re on the board of directors of Seattle Pride. How did you find out about Seattle Pride and you get to where you are today?

Tiffany Nakamitsu: I have always been passionate about DEIB [Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging], especially since I spent my formative years of elementary school, middle school and high school in Japan in Nagoya. I went to a local school [in Japan] and then I moved back to the States when I was 17 years old. Because I was born in the U.S., and then spent all my school years in Japan before moving back, I know what it's like to be an outsider—and on top of that, I discovered I was not straight. I think I always felt like I was an outsider; being made fun of for being different, whether that was in Japan or after moving back to the States being an Asian woman, learning the language again and learning all the ropes to get into college...

This background drew me to DEIB from a very early age, so I joined the DEIB [Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging] committee at my employer, SeekOut, and I organized the Seattle Pride Parade participation with my company. It was an amazing experience to see the Pride Parade in full bloom first-handedly. After the Pride Parade, I then subscribed to their newsletter and made sure to stay in tune with Seattle Pride, and I saw that they were recruiting a new Board Member. I thought this was my calling and I scheduled an interview; now, I’ve joined the board!

Yo!: Could you elaborate a little bit more about coming out in Japan?

TN: Going to school in Japan in Nagoya I never heard about someone who was queer, I didn't know about gay people. All I knew was オネエ (onee), this umbrella term for like all gay people. That was my only understanding of gay and queerness when I lived in Japan. 

When I first discovered that I wasn't straight, I didn't know what it was and I thought something was wrong with me. My mom's side of the family are Buddhists and my mom was actually born in a temple in Gifu so they're very Buddhist—my grandma would wake up every morning to pray. I remember to this day vividly that I used to apologize when I was saying my prayers because I thought that something was wrong with me because I was telling my classmates at school in Nagoya that I had a crush on this one boy, when away from school I was like “Wait, I like girls.” That was an internal conflict at such a young age that I didn't know what it was and so I thought something was inherently wrong with me. I used to apologize in my prayers, and I used to put my hands together and say, 「神様、ご先祖様、ごめんなさい。」(God, ancestors, I am sorry). 

That was the beginning of how it started out. Then I ended up going to the University of Washington in Seattle for my undergrad. That was when I first realized, “Oh, okay? Like there's a word for what I am. I'm bisexual.” So it was almost a decade of not knowing “what was up” with me, and I always felt guilty for feeling like I was different. When I was 20, I did my first round of coming out and my parents said “That's weird.” My mom told me “If you bring home a woman like we're going to have to cut ties with you as a family.”

Now, several years have passed since then. My dad drove me to the Pride Parade last year. I don't know how they feel about it now but they stopped saying anything negative to me about it and they know that I'm on the Board of Directors of Seattle Pride and they're co-existing with that fact. That’s progress compared to what it was several years ago.

Photo Credit: Tiffany Nakamitsu

Yo!: Was it kind of like the culture of shame that kind of kept you from coming out and how it’s perpetuated in current Japanese society and how that affects LGBTQIA+ issues? Could you elaborate a bit on that and your experience?

TN: Japan is the only G7 country that has banned same-sex marriage saying that it's unconstitutional. Considering that Japan has had amazing success economically I think that is a concern. Nearly half of LGBTQIA+ teens in Japan have considered suicide according to the Japan Times and by Mainichi Shinbun.

That stigma is so heavy, and on top of that, the whole Japanese narrative of shame [is too]. I still remember when I was going to school in Japan, and one of the AKB48 idol members dated someone and she wasn't supposed to date and she shaved her head and was crying in front of a video camera. And this kind of reminds me even like the samurai era, you know, like the seppuku where theycut their stomachs. I think stigma and shame has a detrimental effect on the mental health of LGBTQIA+ Japanese people. These policies that are happening in Japan, the majority of us the diaspora community are not directly affected by these laws and policies since we're living in the U.S. and same-sex marriage is legal here. But I think it's worth mentioning that there are a lot of immigrants from Japan these past few decades that have moved to the West Coast in the U.S. and started a family, so a lot of our parents and people who we surround ourselves with still have that stigma and shame that they've brought into their families here in the U.S. 

I'm not a PhD, I don't have data about this and I haven't found any studies done about this with me like looking into it so far. But I think it's making it difficult for our generation especially where a lot of us may have parents or other family members who it'll be hard to come out and feel like their authentic selves. I think this really resonates with me because I've shared with you my experience, and then my parents’ responses with them being Issei was very on-par with that shame and stigma combined into this big monster.

Yo!: What does it mean to the broader community that same-sex marriage is illegal in Japan? 

TN: I think people who are living here who are in the LGBTQIA+ community don't always realize how backwards other countries can be. I think there's a lot of room for us who live here to help drive awareness in Japan. I have a friend who's a junior in college at Tsuda University and she is working on welcoming trans students in her school and we have an ongoing dialogue, and she’s also [involved with] Pride Tokyo. We're a little bit ahead—we still have so much to solve here in the U.S.—but we are ahead in terms of LGBTQIA+ rights and awareness here than we are in Japan, soI think having that dialogue has been something that I’ve been trying to maintain as well. 

Yo!: That's really cool to hear that your friend is doing that. Sadly I've never really heard of that at any other Japanese University to be honest. What kind of work do you do at Seattle Pride? What does pride Month mean to you in general?

TN: Yes, I love that question! I've always been a people person and I can feel energy in a room and I feed off of other people's energy and I'm very community-oriented. So what it really means to me is what it [means] to our community: our Seattle, LGBTQIA+ community. To remember that Pride Month started with a riot, the concept of Pride Month, began with the Stonewall Riots, a series of riots of gay liberation that took place from June 28th, 1969 where the police raided Stonewall Inn, a central gay bar that is located in Manhattan. I think kind of remembering the roots of that. I think about how year-round the LGBTQIA+ community is fighting constantly for their own rights and especially our transgender community right now is in so much pain, and the whole queer community is heartbroken. As of February 15th, there has been a Human Rights Campaign record that there are 340 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills, 150 of those specifically restrict the rights of transgender people. It’s the highest number of bills targeting transgender people in a single year to date. 

I know that was a lot of facts there but I wanted to lay them down because it’s really important to know that Pride Month is not just about a rainbow flag. I'm sure you've heard of “rainbow-washing” where companies update their logo in rainbow, but they're not actually addressing discrimination or maybe they're even lobbying for an anti LGBTQIA+ or an anti-trans bill. It’s not just about like the festivities and the rainbows but to remember that it was a riot. 

For a lot of people Pride Month can be a very viscerally emotional month because unfortunately the coming-out story [can be] traumatic or it's an unpleasant experience to rethink about. With that being said, there's a lot of people who have had supportive parents and there are a lot of people who have grown up with the resources they need to feel confident and succeed, but there are still a lot of times where that is not the case. It’s a month for queer individuals and communities to stand taller, speak louder and make big waves towards liberation and progress following in the footsteps of the Stonewall Riot.

Photo Credit: Tiffany Nakamitsu

Yo!: What are you looking forward to for this Seattle pride? What are you guys currently working on? 

TN: From the staff side, the amazing employees who are working on the programs are definitely heads down making sure that the Pride Parade is a success. Pride in the Park is another event that they have where they have queer vendors all in the heart of Capitol Hill. There's other smaller events but the Pride Parade is the biggest one. Last year, they recorded almost half a million people who showed up. Seattle Pride Parade is actually the fourth biggest pride parade in the country, which is incredible considering that from a population standpoint. I think that comes to show how hard our staff is working and I'm very grateful for all the hard work that they do.

Yo!: That's amazing, half a million. Wow, that's incredible! Was this your first Seattle Pride last year?

TN: The two before that were virtual because 2020 was the pandemic year and 2021 was still pandemic and they didn't have the big scale events, so last year was my first Seattle Pride parade. The ones before that I had attended virtually but it was definitely different to be there in-person.

Yo!: What was it like, as one of your first events as fully in-person?

TN: Attendees were calling it “family reunion.” When I heard that, I was like “This is where I belong.” People are so welcoming in that community, I jumped on that Seattle Pride Board application so fast because I knew that it was going to be welcoming, they're going to support each other, and that is exactly how I feel about being on the Board of Directors here. It’s just such an amazing community of people and they called it family reunion and that just kind of sums up. All the feelings, all the feels.

Photo Credit: Tiffany Nakamitsu

Yo!: How can Japanese community and family members of those LGBTQIA+ Nikkeis help and show allyship and show up for our community, especially now?

TN: I think this is a no-brainer to us, I'm sure, but I have to say this because I know there are people out there that need to hear it: accepting them for who they are as their authentic selves. If someone comes out to you, that means that that person trusts you and loves you and believes that you will accept them as their authentic selves, and it's such a vulnerable moment. If someone around you comes out to you then welcome them with open arms and give them your full support. That comes from a personal place because I didn't get that from my family the first time I came out so that's kind of coming off from my personal first-hand experience.

It’s very vulnerable to come out and I think a lot of people don't realize that, especially if you have that narrative of stigma. A lot of people think it's just a phase and they're saying things that are not validating when people come out. I think understanding that it's such an emotional and vulnerable moment for these people will probably help the people receiving that to welcome them with an embrace.

Yo!: Are there any resources you would recommend?

TN: I might suggest attending local Pride Month events for your friends and family, and [having] conversations. Just having that exposure validates queer people. If you have someone in your family who is queer and they came out to you, a great way to make them feel heard and validated is to go to an event together. There's especially a lot happening in June! There's a lot of resources out there for how to interact with your child if you're a parent and your child came out to you. The Human Resources campaign has a resource that I found that says what to do when your child comes out as transgender.

If you're struggling with having a parent or a family member that is not validating your authentic self, I think also taking them to a Pride event focused on education. [Think about] what you can do to make them feel heard and validated.

Photo Credit: Tiffany Nakamitsu

Yo!: Is there anything additional that you would like our readers to know? Maybe people who are not out yet? Maybe people who are struggling with their identity or maybe they're even harboring some of these more harmful ideologies for themselves?

TN: We have a community of people who are very similar to you and can relate to what you're going through. I feel like growing up in Japan was a whole different story, but we live in a place where there are people that you can reach out and talk to about what you're going through. There's a lot of other subgroup organizations that are focused [on different identities, sexualities, backgrounds, and issues]. In Seattle there's The Lavender Project that specifically focuses on the trans community and there are also subgroup organizations that you can reach out to and just say, “Hey, I’d love to talk.”

Being on the Board of Directors of Seattle Pride, if someone emailed me or sent me a DM and was like, “Hey like I'm in your community, can we talk?” I would be like, “Of course! Talk to me!” because all these organizations at the end of the day are there to support you. I would want your readers to know that if you feel like you're having a rough time at home because your family is not accepting your sexuality then there are tons of organizations that will help you guide that conversation with your family or even direct you to where you can get help. 

Definitely know that you're not alone, there's nothing wrong with you, you’re beautiful just the way you are no matter what is going on in your head—you're beautiful just the way you are. If you're a little bit curious that you could be queer or are interested in getting to know the LGBTQIA+ community better, I might go to an event or do some research. I think if I had known about queerness and bisexuality even in the periphery and was aware of it, I probably would have felt more comfortable. I want everyone to know that the LGBTQIA+ community organizations and programs are all so welcoming.

_____________________________________

Thank you to Tiffany for being so vulnerable and sharing your story with us. You can find Tiffany below:

Email: tiffany.nakamitsu@gmail.com

Instagram: @tiffanellie

LinkedIn

Seattle Pride is Sunday, June 25th this year! Find the full calendar of events here!

Find a pride event near you!

Seattle Pride: https://www.seattlepride.org/

LA Pride Website: https://lapride.org/

San Francisco Pride https://sfpride.org/

San Diego Pride: https://sdpride.org/

Portland Pride: https://portlandpride.org/

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