The History and The Struggle: My Interview With Japanese Canadian Lesbian Activist, Lily Shinde

Lily Yuriko Shinde is a 69-year old Japanese Canadian lesbian, storyteller, anti-racist educator, and political activist living in Vancouver, Canada. She grew up in a small town called Greenwood, where her family and over 1,200 Japanese Canadians were interned during the Second World War.

Through her years of activism and community work, Lily was one of the founding members of the first Women of Colour group and Asian Lesbian group in Vancouver; volunteered with the inaugural Powell Street Festival; taught feminist English in Japan; played softball for the first lesbian of colour team in the Mabel League; and was a member of the Greater Vancouver Japanese Canadian Citizens Association’s Human Rights Committee. Now as a community elder, she actively supports younger Asian-identified and LGBTQ+ young people to learn their histories and continue to create change.

Lily shared reflections with me on Asian Canadian LGBTQ+ activism and community building:

"The first Asian Lesbian event that I remember in North America was in Santa Cruz California,1989. The first Asian Lesbian conference. I was so happy I never knew there was so many [Asian] lesbians! Oh my god! And I made many friends there! There was at least 200 of us. Well we came back from Santa Cruz and we started ALOV, which is Asian Lesbians of Vancouver.

These were exciting times because there were all these firsts that we went through. We started the first group of Asian lesbians in Vancouver and we were pretty political. After the Asian Lesbians petered out, next came the Bamboo Triangle. And then, they started another group. After the Asian Lesbian conference in California, we had an international lesbian conference in Tokyo in 1993.

I think it's important for people to know those kinds of histories. We had real serious struggles and we made a lot of mistakes because we didn't know what to do, but we still got together and created things. Even though some of the things we did had a few problems, at least we got together and were able to support each other.

Today, I like the idea younger people have about intergenerational gatherings because I'm going to be 70 next month, you know. It really feeds my soul and my heart to engage with like-minded people and to know that you keep me up-to-date on what’s going on. When I look at you, or all the other younger Asians that I know, I think, “Wow, I'm so proud of them!”

I like to hang around young people because you've come so far and you're so proud of yourself and so confident. I like to see that. I'm there because I want to empower young people. There’s lots of young people who struggle with their sexuality, parents, or whatever. I’m always open to Asian queers, trans people, people of any stripes - especially if they're going through a hard time. I don't want them to feel like there's nobody there for them.

I also want young people to know, especially in the Japanese Canadian community, that they have to know their history, they have to know their struggles. In the old days, you just thought you gotta fend for yourself whether it's with your fist or your baseball bat, you just gotta do it. And now you guys can do it with your words. I’m very happy and it pleases me when I see people like you still doing the work."

This excerpt has been condensed and edited for clarity.


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You've been part of the work so far, and you can be part of so much more in the coming year. So, let's build.