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‘A Profound Silence’ Highlights LGBTQ+ Members, Allies

To those within the LGBTQ+ community, silence often embodies harmful discomfort, hurtful assumptions being made about one another, and exclusion.


This silence brings up insecurities for queer people as they fear negative judgment, even within a space that embraces them within Amida Buddha’s compassion.


Marie Miyashiro (she/her), from Gardena Buddhist Church, co-president of Ichi-Mi, and one of the creators of this project, explains the silence Jodo Shinshu LGBTQ+ members face is often referred to as “a non-issue,” and that silence on recognizing the existence of this community within the Sangha could feel “unwelcoming and lonely.”



Silence Broken


This silence was broken on April 2, 2023, when participants of the Jodo Shinshu community came together for the screening of “A Profound Silence” — a film that highlighted the voices of LGBTQ+ members and allies within the Jodo Shinshu community.


Approximately 100 people from throughout the BCA’s Southern District attended.


Defining true acceptance and compassion, this film shattered the quietude that often follows when one brings up an issue that some may fear as too controversial for a Jodo Shinshu space.


Wayne Itoga (he/him), an Ichi-Mi member, was the master of ceremonies for the event, which began with welcome messages from Gardena Buddhist Church President Alan Miwa and GBC Resident Minister Rev. John Iwohara, who is Ichi-Mi ministerial advisor.


Marie said she wanted everyone to “hear the stories I have heard and understand what this community has gone through in silence within our Sanghas.”


Presenting experiences about the intersections between being queer and a member of the Jodo Shinshu community, this film was a collection of voices that reminded us of Amida Buddha’s teachings — that all human life is valued and cherished, without exception. This screening embraced the diversity and complexity of our Sangha.


As a continuous advocate for more inclusive spaces at temples, Rev. Iwohara stated that the film “reaffirms how important this work is.


“Hopefully, this project will continue the momentum and do things that will help people discover their lives,” he continued. “And when people are able to appreciate who they are and share that with others, that only helps everyone.”


For others, the open dialogue after the screening was resonating. Cam (they/them), who attended Dharma School at a Jodo Shinshu temple, explained how the space that evening alone was a symbol of the intersections in their identity.


“To see how many people came, especially from very different parts of my life, I feel more at home,” Cam said. “As LGBTQ+ people, we have to deal with a lot of code switching and adapting to the environment to be safe and comfortable and my life is very segmented. There’s a lot of compartmentalizing going on or pretending to be someone or not someone. To see these two important parts of my life together is a sense of safety and familiarity that I didn’t think would happen.


“Being a Japanese American Buddhist, and being a gender non-conforming queer person, those are two things I thought would never go together especially because growing up, even when I was in my late teens, there wasn’t language for who I was; I thought it was always going to be unspoken,” Cam continued. “So that being said, I never even thought about telling anyone in the Sangha (about my identity). I couldn’t put the two (parts of my identity) together because growing up as a queer person, you can't talk about it.”


Elaine Nishimura (she/her) from the Gardena Buddhist Church said this event was also a safe space for parents who have LGBTQ+ children.


“What I took away from the screening was that there are other people who are in the same situation as me, being a parent of a LGBTQ person and understanding more about what (my daughter) has gone through or what she is going through,” Nishimura said. “So I feel like I’m part of a larger group than what I thought I belonged to. Being a parent of an LGBTQ person, I saw that there are other people who also feel the need to protect their children and that I felt that it wasn’t just me.”


Supporting Groups


Supporting organizations such as Okaeri, a community of LGBTQ+ Nikkei and allies, and Changing Tides, a program focusing on ending the stigma associated with mental health in the Asian American community, were also present at the screening.


Representing Changing Tides, Ty Tanioka (he/him) and Katie Mitani (she/her), who grew up at the Orange County Buddhist Church and Gardena Buddhist Church, respectively, described how events like these bring our diverse communities together. Both shared how safe spaces like these are vital in supporting individuals in their mental health.


“Sexual orientation is tied to the mental health journey as well. It is a cause for a lot of stress and anxiety,” Tanioka said. Growing up at OCBC, Tanioka’s experience with being open about his queer identity was mostly positive, but he saw through the documentary that this was not the case for everyone growing up at other temples.


Because feeling excluded and alone is damaging to one’s mental health, Mitani hopes there will be more open dialogue.


“I’m happy to know that there are spaces like these now that are like second families and provide opportunities for all to feel safe and at home,” Mitani said.


Screening a Step


The screening was seen as a step toward creating settings with more welcoming conversations about our diverse Jodo Shinshu community, and how the teachings embrace the uniqueness of every individual.


Sam (she/they) grew up Catholic and Christian at the same time and never had a space growing up where “religion and spirituality, along with my personal identities in terms of gender and sexuality” were discussed.


“And now we can be our whole selves in all the places we exist,” Sam said.


“It’s nice that we all have a place with one flavor,” said Lauren Wolpert (they/them), who is affiliated with Ichi-Mi. Wolpert candidly described the Jodo Shinshu community: “Even if we’re all the same, we all have our outsiderness … (because of) our different causes and conditions, we are all unique, which makes us all the same, which makes our uniqueness no big deal as long as we can accept that we’re not the same.”


Everyone’s presence was a demonstration of the Sangha’s continuous work toward acknowledging the harmful impacts of our deep-rooted ignorance, in this case, our behaviors, often silent and unintentional, that marginalize people, within our temples.


Additionally, the act of breaking this silence and having an open dialogue, would not have been possible without every individual’s willingness to wholeheartedly entrust Buddha’s Compassion. The next question that was on the minds of many was, “What additional steps can we take?”


For Marie, her vision is to “start conversations, listen, share stories, and create Sanghas where LGBTQ people and their families will feel that they can come as they are and listen to the Dharma as they are.”


And while these next steps may vary from person to person, one idea was evident that night: Continuing to practice Jodo Shinshu Buddhism must include welcoming our LGBTQ+ identifying individuals, so we can all embrace Amida Buddha’s Vow that is rooted in compassion and acceptance for all.


Bento dinners were provided by Azay Restaurant from Little Tokyo Los Angeles, owned by Nishi Betsuin member chef Akira Hirose. Gardena Buddhist Church ABA kindly provided a wonderful spread of refreshments and desserts.


Ichi-Mi would like to profoundly thank everyone who donated and contributed to this project. It would not have been possible without the help and support of everyone. Gassho.


To those who are interested in showing “A Profound Silence” to their Sanghas, please email GBC Ichi-Mi at: ichimi.gbc@gmail.com


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