Kiyoshi Kuromiya (1943 - 2000)
During WWII, Heart Mountain was a US concentration camp unjustly housing Japanese Americans. There, by widespread acts of resistance, people of Japanese descent denounced their forced internment. Within its barbed-wire confines, Steven Kiyoshi Kuromiya was born. It seems that on that site in Wyoming, battling injustice was bred into his bones.
During an interview in 1997 with historian Marc Stein he disclosed that he knew “very early on” he was gay. At age “nine or ten,” he recalled, he “was arrested in a public park with a sixteen year old.” A subsequent run-in with the law, racist law, almost got him killed.
It happened in Montgomery, Alabama, in March 1965. When participating in a nonviolent protest for African American voting rights, the twenty-one-year-old civil rights activist was “clubbed down” by the sheriff's volunteer posse. A newspaper account of the attack reported that, during a non-violent “street sit-down,” “[m]ounted possemen clubbed and flailed white and Negro demonstrators Tuesday [March 16th] in a bloody racial outburst that sent eight persons to hospitals.”
An account of the police onslaught also appeared in The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper of Harvard University. It reported: "Within seconds, the quiet streets were filled with screams. The horses rode straight into the crowds on both sides of the street. . . . One boy, Steven K. Kuromiya, an architectural student at the University of Pennsylvania, held his ground. Four horsemen converged on him, clubbed him to the ground, and rode over him. Curled in a fetal position, Kuromiy[a] tried to cover his head with his arms as unmounted deputees clubbed him, and kicked him in stomach and groin. Finally they left him, as blood streamed in glistening lines across his face and formed a scarlet pool on the sidewalk."
Martin Luther King, Jr. suspected that Kiyoshi “might be dead.” Uncertainty arose because authorities were, as reported by Kuromiya, not “letting out any information” about his condition. But he revealed that while hospitalized a gay “male nurse . . . held my hand.” And “when the doctors weren't looking, he gave me a list of media that were trying to call me. . . . and I made all these media calls.”
Of all his actions in protest of the Vietnam War, perhaps Kuromiya is best known for the anti-war demonstration that he masterminded at the University of Pennsylvania. It took place in 1968 on April 26th, a Friday. He recollected that “a leaflet showed up, signed by the Americong,” which “you know, was a fiction.” The group called itself “the independent front of a national liberation of Philadelphia.” Its handout announced that an "innocent dog” would be napalmed in “protest of the horrors of using napalm on humans” by US armed forces. On the appointed day, among those who showed up on behalf of the dog were several dozen plainclothesmen from the Pennsylvania S. P. C. A., agents from the police commissioner's office and civil disobedience squad, reporters from television, radio, and press offices, four veterinary ambulances, and faculty and students—in all, about 2,000 people. That day's editorial in the University's student newspaper correctly surmised, “We expect, and certainly hope, that the threatened dog-burning is only symbolic, and will not be carried out.” The opinion piece noted that “[m]ore ire has been raised over the fate of one dog in one day than over the lives of the thousands of Vietnamese peasants who have been subjected to napalm bombs for the past three years.” (Indeed, the graduate chair of the Romance Languages department was quoted, saying, “I think its [sic] a dreadful idea to napalm a dog—its [sic] even worse than napalming children.”) “Ameri-Cong Cancels Dog Napalming” headlined the following Monday's coverage of the anti-war event. During the protest, attendees had been handed another leaflet. It read, “Congratulations, you've saved the life of an innocent dog. How about the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese that have been burned alive? What are you going to do about it?”
“No matter how many panels he served on,” commented one of several activists who learned from him, “Kiyoshi still believed in the power of people in the streets.” Accordingly, on July 4, 1965, in front of Independence Hall, Kuromiya joined the properly dressed and brave small band of homophile picketers demanding equal rights for homosexuals. And, in the post-Stonewall era, he co-founded Philadelphia chapters of two groups committed to direct action: Gay Liberation Front and ACT-UP. About his involvement with ACT-UP, he explained, “AIDS is all-encompassing; it's not business-as-usual. That's why I'm out there on the front lines. This is the new civil rights battleground."
Bringing to life his credo that “information is power,” he also created the Critical Path AIDS Project, now the Critical Path Project. With the intent of “leveraging technology” to providing free, uncensored, and “life-saving information to the wider community,” it was one of the first web-based resources dealing with HIV/AIDS.
Later, he fought to preserve the power of the Internet and the right of free speech by becoming a plaintiff in an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit. In 1996 the court action successfully challenged the Communications Decency Act. When enforced, the law would have harshly criminalized posting sex-related information deemed “patently offensive” to sites viewable by people 18-years-old or younger. "If I were to print on the Internet material I print in my newsletter [Critical Path], which I have published since 1989, I could end up in jail," Kuromiya said. He asserted, "I don't know what 'patently offensive' means in terms of providing life-saving information to people with AIDS, including teen-agers." The law would have banned so-called sexually explicit material—even on how to wear a condom—from the Internet.
He called himself a “comprehensivist,” not a full-time activist. His mentor, the futurist Buckminster Fuller, used the word to describe young people “because they're interested in everything and they haven't been de-geniused.” Kuromiya's social consciousness and direct-action activism were comprehensive in nature, or certainly close enough to that mark. So, somehow the term describes him to a “t.”
1. Mieko Matsumoto, “Heart Mountain: Resistance,” in Densho Encyclopedia, http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Heart_Mountain/.
2. Marc Stein, “Kiyoshi Kuromiya, June 17, 1997,” Philadelphia LGBT History Project, OutHistory.org, http://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/philadelphia-lgbt-interviews/interviews/kiyoshi-kuromiya.
3. Stein, n.p.
4. Stein, n.p.
5. “Horsemen Club Down Students; President's Plea Splits Dixie Bloc: 8 Injured in Melee at Montgomery,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Wednesday morning, March 17, 1965, front page.
6. Peter Cummings, "Montgomery Police Halt Tuesday March; Beatings Nearly Provoke Riot by Negroes," The Harvard Crimson, March 24, 1965, http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1965/3/24/montgomery-police-halt-tuesday-march-beatings/#.
7. Stein, n.p.
8. Stein, n.p.
9. Stein, n.p.
10. Stein, n.p.
11. “SPCA Prepared to Prevent Dog Napalming,” Daily Pennsylvanian, Friday, April 26, 1968, front page.
12. Stein, n.p.
13. Stein, n.p.
14. “SPCA,” front page.
15. Stein, n.p.
16. “The Dog-burning,” Daily Pennsylvanian, Friday, April 26, 1968, 4.
17. “The Dog-burning,” 4.
18. “Ameri-Cong Cancels Dog Napalming,” Daily Pennsylvanian, Monday, April 29, 1968, front page.
19. “Ameri-Cong,” front page.
20. Stein, n.p.
21. Liz Highleyman, “Past Out: Who Was Kiyoshi Kuromiya,” Seattle Gay News, May 11, 2007, http://www.sgn.org/sgnnews35_19/page30.cfm.
22. Highleyman, n.p.
23. Highleyman, n.p.
24. Mark Bowden, “Outraged over Indifference to AIDS, ACT UP Is Rewriting the Rules of Protest,” Philly.com, originally published on June 14, 1992, http://www.philly.com/philly/health/Outraged_over_indifference_to_AIDS_Act_Up_is_rewriting_the_rules_of_protest.html.
25. Scott Tucker, “Remembering Kiyoshi Kuromiya: Japanese American Gay, Healthcare and Civil Rights Activist: May 9, 1943 – May 10, 2000,” “A eulogy from the memorial at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, May 23, 2000,” Gay Today: A Global Site for Daily Gay News, http://gaytoday.badpuppy.com/garchive/people/052900pe.htm.
26. “History,” Critical Path Project, https://www.critpath.org/about-us/history/.
27. “Mission,” Critical Path Project, https://www.critpath.org/about-us/mission/.
28. “History,” n.p.
29. Pamela Mendels, “AIDS Activist's Dilemma Proved Decisive in Decency Act Case,” The New York Times on the Web, June 18, 1996, http://partners.nytimes.com/library/cyber/week/0618decency.htm.
30. Mendels, n.p.
31. Mendels, n.p.
32. Mendels, n.p.
33. Evan Forster, "Where There's Smoke There Must Be Fire," POZ: Health, Life & HIV, February/March 1996, http://www.poz.com/articles/249_1777.shtml.
34. Forster, n.p.
35. Monrovian (Monrovia: Monrovia High School, ), 191.
36. Forster, n.p.
37. Monrovian, 36, 38, , , 70, 71, 175, 180, 181.
38. Supreme Court Hears Arguments Today on the Future of Free Speech in Cyberspace, ACLU American Civil Liberties Union, March 19, 1997, https://www.aclu.org/technology-and-liberty/supreme-court-hears-arguments-today-future-free-speech-cyberspace.
39. "In the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania . . .," linked to "Full text of the decision," Victory in Philadelphia, Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition, http://www.ciec.org/decision_PA/decision_text.html.
40. Victory, n.p.
41. Supreme Court Decision in Reno v ACLU, et al, ACLU American Civil Liberties Union, June 26, 1997, https://www.aclu.org/technology-and-liberty/supreme-court-decision-reno-v-aclu-et-al.
42. ACLU v. Reno, a Chronology, ACLU American Civil Liberties Union, June 26, 1997, https://www.aclu.org/technology-and-liberty/aclu-v-reno-chronology.
43. Supreme Court Hears Arguments, n.p.
44. Supreme Court Hears Arguments, n.p.
45. United States Supreme Court, In the Supreme Court of the United States, October Term 1996, Janet Reno, et al., Appellants, American Civil Liberties Union, et al., Appellees, on Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Brief of Appellees, No. 96-511 (New York: Record, 1997), 6.
46. United States Supreme Court, 7.