Oshiro’s Tough Yet Liberating Step

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - February 23, 2011
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State Rep. Blake Oshiro

It was a very good day in Hawaii when the civil unions bill passed. It put us on the path toward equality and on the right side of history. I do feel equal rights for all our citizens is inevitable, and now I am hopeful it will happen in my lifetime.

Yay, Hawaii lawmakers, you did good.

And for gay and lesbian people - and their parents, siblings, friends and children - this means one more step toward a life that most of us take for granted. We’re moving in the right direction. Not there yet, but at least we’re moving.

For state Rep. Blake Oshiro, the journey has been personal - also enlightening, revealing, frustrating and ultimately rewarding. Hawaii’s struggle to pass the civil unions bill paralleled Oshiro’s own journey toward openness and light.

Oshiro, you see, was “out” to his family and close friends, but he did not talk about it in his professional life - at all. He thought it would limit him. So throughout his political career (he was first elected to the House in 2000) he kept quiet about his sexual orientation.

“I didn’t want to necessarily be categorized as being a ‘gay’ legislator. So that every time I tried to do something that was a fight for civil rights, even beyond LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) issues, I’d be categorized with that label.”

Instead he chose to go the route of taking itty-bitty baby steps, until he realized last year that baby steps weren’t working. What was needed was a big, bold, decisive step forward if he really wanted to level the playing field. The civil unions bill was, for all intents and purposes, dead. Until Oshiro resurrected it in the House. In order to do so he realized he had to be completely honest with his colleagues.

“I just came to realize that I really had to just be honest and forthcoming about who I really was. I told my caucus. I just felt there was nothing else to hold me back.

“The struggle that I had on the final day, when I needed to be the focus and the mean person to make the motion to try to resurrect the bill, the only way I could justify it to myself and to my colleagues was to be honest and forthright with them. And after I took that step, it just became the next natural step in the progression just to come out to everyone.”

It was, he says, liberating. But he also was apprehensive. Would there be ramifications, retribution or pushback from his constituents? He was headed into a heated campaign. In his mind that made it even more necessary to tell everyone exactly who he was.

“I just thought at that point I needed to take control rather than let somebody else take that and run with it or smear me. I just should come out on my own terms.”

Oshiro and his partner, Wayne, have been in a committed relationship for 14 years. Wayne fully supported his decision, Oshiro says, “especially as we started seeing a lot of the unfortunate tragedies that are going on around the nation with many of the youths feeling bullied or they didn’t have any role models to look up to. We kind of talked about it, and I thought, well, if it ends up at least giving somebody some hope or some idea that they’re not alone, then at that point it’s all worth it.”

That ability to make a difference - and to be a role model just by being himself - has been an eye-opener and a humbling experience for him.

“Sometimes I feel it’s somewhat of a burden. But other times I feel it is truly a proud honor that I have that I’m in such a position. I find more strength being able to have my true integrity and being able to stand up for who I want to be and who I am, rather than trying to fit into a mold that others perceive me to be.”

His hope -and mine - and the hope of countless others is that someday, sooner rather than later, people will forget about the labels. Gay, straight, black, white and everything else in between will be lumped together in the box labeled “HUMAN.”

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