Kiyoshi Kuromiya: Recognizing a Legacy of Liberation

Many of us are familiar with the famous figures of activist movements like Martin Luther King, Jr and Nelson Mandela. While these are both notable people for their works towards progressing the rights of humans, we want to take a moment to focus on a figure that you may not have heard of - Kiyoshi Kuromiya. Born into a Japanese internment camp in Wyoming, Kuromiya went on to be at the forefront of many civil-rights movements throughout American history, working as an aide to MLK and founding the Gay Liberation Front.

Due to their Japanese identity, during World War II, Kuromiya’s family was placed in an internment camp until the end of the war. When World War II ended, Kuromiya’s family was released and he began his life as a successful student attending high school and then the University of Pennsylvania. From a young age Kuromiya was involved in activism, planning major protest campaigns against the Vietnam War in college. In 1966 at just 23, Kuromiya was marching at some of the first gay-rights protests that were taking place in America. This occurred at a similar time period when Kuromiya was developing his relationship with Martin Luther King, Jr., becoming so close with him and his cause that when he was assassinated Kuromiya was the one who took care of MLK’s children for the week of the funeral.  

By 1970 Kuromiya had helped to found the Gay Liberation Front, working with many members of the well-known group, the Black Panthers. Simultaneously throughout his career Kuromiya was supporting movements for black, gay, and female people, as he was one of the first to speak out about the interconnected nature of the liberation of minority identities. It was Kuromiya who helped coin the phrase “freedom for all or freedom for none”. One of his most notable accomplishments was founding the Critical Path Project which provided information and resources about HIV and AIDS, provided free internet to those with HIV, and created a platform for future generations of AIDS activists. He even went to the Supreme Court as the first person to fight for the legalization of medical marijuana at a national level in 1999.

Today, Kiyoshi Kuromiya is officially recognized in the inaugural list of 50 American pioneers on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor. He played a huge role in many civil rights movements and was always working on something new. The passion demonstrated by Kuromiya is a continual inspiration for today’s activists continuing in the fight for equal rights of LGBTQ individuals and beyond. Kiyoshi Kuromiya passed away in 2000 at the age of 57 leaving a legacy of not just intersectional liberation but hard work and a willingness to be the first person to take on an issue, no matter how big. 

 

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