“[Arresting people for] medical marijuana is the most hideous example of government interference in the private lives of individuals. It's an outrage within an outrage within an outrage.”

– Peter McWilliams

There was an American named Kiyoshi Kuromiya and he was a rabble-rouser.

In fact, he defined the term rabble-rouser, he embodied radicalness that even progressives at times blush at.

He was an umcompromising voice for the disenfranchised.

He always took a principled stand against the violence of exclusion, which often hides behind the mask of “morality”.

He was a living, walking, talking Queer Manifesto for Medical Marijuana. He was a piece of the grand thread linking all social justice movements.

He died May of 2000 due to complications of AIDS.  

Here is his story.

The life of Kiyoshi Kuromiya, a long-time gay rights activist, illustrates the interconnections between the GLBT movement and other liberation struggles of the late 20th century.

Kuromiya was born May 9, 1943, in Heart Mountain, Wyo., a World War II internment camp for people of Japanese descent. After the war, his family settled near Los Angeles. Aware of his same-sex attractions from an early age, he briefly spent time in a juvenile detention facility at age 11, after police caught him having gay sex in a public park.

Japanese-Americans were imprisoned to serve as scape goats for the attack on Pearl Harbor. It's a time old American tradition. Name a crisis, any national crisis, and you're bound to see right-wing forces blame the coloreds, or the queers or the women.

After 9/11, Jerry Falwell made this point very clear by blaming 9/11 on… us?

“I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say “you helped this happen.”

When the right wing is not busy blaming progressive coalitions for national crises, they're occupied by manufacturing their own fake crises to blame us. This was true during the times of Kuromiya and is still true today. Even before Kuromiya was born, right-wing groups found a natural niche in blaming the false crisis of “moral decay” on… well you know by now:

1936 – 1938: William Randolph Hearst's newspaper empire fuels a tabloid journalism propaganda campaign against marijuana. Articles with headlines such as Marihuana Makes Fiends of Boys in 30 Days; Hasheesh Goads Users to Blood-Lust create terror of the killer weed from Mexico.

Through his relentless misinformation campaign, Hearst is credited with bringing the word marijuana into the English language. In addition to fueling racist attitudes toward Hispanics, Hearst papers run articles about marijuana-crazed negroes raping white women and playing voodoo-satanic jazz music.

Driven insane by marijuana, these blacks — according to accounts in Hearst-owned newspapers — dared to step on white men's shadows, look white people directly in the eye for more than three seconds, and even laugh out loud at white people. For shame!

Kuromiya fought against racial bigotry his entire life. He discovered this form of activism in his college heydays:

In the early 1960s, Kuromiya moved to Philadelphia to study architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. While a student, he wrote a popular restaurant guidebook, which earned him considerable income. He joined Students for a Democratic Society and worked with the Congress of Racial Equality, leading sit-ins at a segregated Maryland restaurant. In the mid-1960s, he traveled to the South to do civil rights organizing, where he was beaten unconscious by deputy sheriffs at a voting rights march in Montgomery, Ala.

During the 60s, as Kuromiya devoted his energies to anti-racist activism, national policies, such as the Boggs Act of 1952 & the Narcotics Control Act of  1956, spent their decade of wrath on society by setting mandatory sentences for drug-related offenses, including marijuana.
A first-offense marijuana possession carried a minimum sentence of 2-10 years with a fine of up to $20,000. By the 1970s, these laws would be challenged during the same time as Kuromiya's emergence into queer activism.

Kuromiya took part in one of the first-ever gay rights demonstrations, marching in a coat and tie at Independence Hall on July 4, 1965, to protest federal discrimination against homosexuals… In 1970, he co-founded the Philadelphia chapter of the Gay Liberation Front and was an openly gay delegate at the Black Panthers' Revolutionary People's Constitutional Convention. “We wanted to stand with the poor, with women, with people of color, with the antiwar people, to bring the whole corrupt thing down,” he later recalled.

Kuromiya may not have fulfilled all of his radical goals, but perhaps he found condolence in the defeat of the draconian anti-weed laws that pervaded the 50s and 60s:

[In 1970] Congress repealed most of the mandatory penalties for drug-related offenses. It was widely acknowledged that the mandatory minimum sentences of the 1950s had done nothing to eliminate the drug culture that embraced marijuana use throughout the 60s, and that the minimum sentences imposed were often unduly harsh.

Kuromiya's marijuana related activist work took off in the 80s. Where he matured as an activist and found new avenues to affect change.

In the late 1980s, Kuromiya devoted himself to AIDS activism, and was himself diagnosed with HIV in 1989. He co-founded We the People Living with AIDS, ACT UP/Philadelphia, and the Critical Path AIDS Project. Kuromiya sought to learn everything he could about the disease and to share that knowledge with others. Viewing health care as “the new civil rights battleground,” he ran a community medicine chest, started a medical marijuana buyers' club, participated in Food and Drug Administration meetings, and sat on a National Institutes of Health panel on alternative therapies. But, according to Julie Davids, one of the many younger activists he mentored, “No matter how many panels he served on, Kiyoshi still believed in the power of people in the streets.”

Kuromiya recognized the interconnectedness of so many progressive movements. His memory lives on even if he is no longer with us. Here is to one man's decades of commitment to the movement.