Suzuho Shimasaki, DrPH
(they, them)
Public Health Leader, Health Equity Strategist

In 2015, I partnered with Marsha Aizumi, a national LGBTQ+ advocate and co-founder of the first PFLAG chapter for Asian American & Pacific Islanders (AAPI), to lead the Mile High Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) in hosting its first LGBTQ+ advocacy event. At the event, an attendee expressed immense gratitude and commented that they thought they “would never be able to attend an event like this in their lifetime.” During that same year, I also represented the Mile High JACL Board of Directors in testifying in support for what was at the time called the Birth Certificate Modernization Act, the first transgender specific legislation introduced in Colorado, which was ultimately passed four years later and went into effect January 1, 2020 as Jude’s Law. In addition to the strength and leadership of current LGBTQ+ equity advocates, I firmly believe such milestones would not have been possible without the work of our predecessors who have provided us with inspiration, courage, and a path to follow.

"The predominant narrative by historians and the media who privilege heterosexuality and whiteness has portrayed AAPIs as largely 'closeted' or invisible in the LGBTQ+ movement but there is a rich history of queer AAPI community organizing and advocacy." 

As we celebrate AAPI Heritage Month, it is critical that we illuminate the significance of queer AAPI advocacy that continues to be largely diminished, if not completely erased, by structural racism and heteronormativity. The predominant narrative by historians and the media who privilege heterosexuality and whiteness has portrayed AAPIs as largely “closeted” or invisible in the LGBTQ+ movement but there is a rich history of queer AAPI community organizing and advocacy.

Chinese American Crystal Jang helped change the dress code at the City College of San Francisco in the 1960s and then in the 1970s spoke out against the Briggs Initiative, which would have legalized the firing of LGBTQ+ teachers. In the 1990s during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and associated fear of and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, Samoan and white US Olympic medalist Greg Louganis advocated to defend the civil liberties of the LGBTQ+ community and individuals diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, and the San Fernando chapter of the JACL elected Takenori Yamamoto as the first openly gay president of any JACL chapter. In the 21st century, Korean American Dan Choi handcuffed himself to the White House fence as an act of protest against “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”, Chinese American Stuart Gaffney litigated against California’s ban on same-sex marriage as one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, and Japanese American Kris Hayashi served as the first transgender person of color serving as the Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center during the passage of the Respect After Death Act.

The contributions of such leaders and the countless other queer AAPI advocates who, due to their race, gender, and sexuality, have been disparaged and marginalized, if not made completely invisible, must not be forgotten. Advocating for racial and LGBTQ+ equity and working towards collective liberation must focus not only on the current and future manifestations of oppression but also the past. We must right the wrongs and ensure an accurate representation of our history, make us visible, validate our contributions, and allow future generations to see themselves amongst the leaders of the movements that are changing their lives and giving them hope for a better tomorrow. 

"Advocating for racial and LGBTQ+ equity and working towards collective liberation must focus not only on the current and future manifestations of oppression but also the past."

Suzuho Shimasaki is recognized across Colorado as a public health leader with vast experiences in health equity strategies and programming, transformational organizational and community change, workforce development, and collaborative community engagement. Personally and professionally, Suzuho is invested in building a healthy and just society, creating opportunities for individuals and communities to achieve their desired potential, and living a life of purpose. Suzuho currently serves as the Deputy Director for Pitkin County Public Health and Vice Chair of the Center for Health Progress Board of Directors. Devoted to giving back to the community, Suzuho has also served as the President of the Colorado Public Health Association, a Commissioner for CDPHE’s Health Equity Commission, a member of the Inclusiveness Project and Basic Human Needs Committees for The Denver Foundation, and on the Board of Directors for the Asian Pacific Development Center and the Mile High Japanese American Citizens League (JACL). Invested in being a life-long learner, Suzuho has earned a BA in Sociology from UC Davis, an MPH from UCLA, and a DrPH from the Colorado School of Public Health, and has also graduated from the Advanced Leadership Training Program of the Regional Institute for Health and Environmental Leadership.