Kiyoshi Kuromiya

Born in 1943 in a Wyoming concentration camp, Kiyoshi Kuromiya became a powerful activist for civil and LGBTQIA+ rights. Learn more about his inspiring fight against injustice.

By Heart Mountain

with images from the John J. Wilcox, Jr. Archives, William Way LGBT Community Center

Heart Mountain by Yoshio OkumotoHeart Mountain

Born Behind Barbed Wire

Kiyoshi Kuromiya was born on May 9, 1943, inside the Heart Mountain concentration camp in northwest Wyoming. His parents were among the over 110,000 Japanese Americans forced from their homes and unjustly incarcerated by the US government during World War II. 

The Heart Mountain 63 (1944-06)Heart Mountain

A Family Tradition of Activism

“He felt he was exiled even before he was born,” Kuromiya’s Uncle Yosh said of him. “No wonder he was dedicated to civil rights.” Yosh had his own history of activism. He was one of 85 young men from Heart Mountain that refused to be drafted into the Army unless their families were returned home. For his act of resistance, Yosh served three years in federal prison.

Monrovia High School Senior Class (1958)Heart Mountain

A Bold Beginning

Kuromiya’s activistism began in 1962, while attending the University of Pennsylvania. He spread rumors that, in protest of the Vietnam War, a live dog would be incinerated. Thousands of counter-protestors showed up. They found only a message from Kuromiya: “Congratulations on your anti-napalm protest. You saved the life of a dog. Now, how about saving the lives of tens of thousands of people in Vietnam?”

Sit-In at Independence Hall (1965-03-12) by Bill IngrahamHeart Mountain

Beaten in Selma

In 1965, Kuromiya joined Martin Luther King’s Selma March, fighting for Black rights in the South. Kuromiya was clubbed and trampled by officers on horseback. In solidarity with the Selma marchers, Kuromiya and friends also staged a sit-in at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, which they renamed "The Freedom Hotel."

Gay Liberation Front Newsletter (1970) by Gay Liberation Front - PhiladelphiaHeart Mountain

The Gay Liberation Front

Kuromiya helped to found the Gay Liberation Front-Philadelphia in 1969. The group fought not only for gay and lesbian rights, but for the rights of other marginalized groups. “We’d go up to a line of cops with tear gas grenades and horses and clubs,” Kuromiya recalled about the GLF’s protests. “And link arms and do a can-can. Really threw them off guard.”

Kiyoshi Kuromiya at a Protest by Harvey FinkelHeart Mountain

Fighting a Pandemic

In the early 1980s, the AIDS pandemic took a heavy toll on Kuromiya’s community. Congress refused to help educate about the disease, citing concerns about government funds supporting “homosexual activities.”

Power in Knowledge

Kuromiya took up the charge; mailing newsletters, opening telephone  hotlines, and even going to court to defend his right to spread information about AIDS on the internet. His educational efforts helped to save countless lives.

Heart Mountain Hospital - Present Day (2021) by Heart Mountain Wyoming FoundationHeart Mountain

Return to Heart Mountain

Kuromiya returned to Wyoming in 1983 with his mother, to see the remains of the camp where he was born. The visit strengthened his resolve to fight injustice wherever he saw it. He kept up his activism until his death in 2000, just after his 57th birthday.

Kiyoshi Kuromiya by Harvey FinkelHeart Mountain

An Inspiration for the Future

His Uncle Yosh said of his legacy: “I too always felt out-of-place, but I could never do what Kiyoshi did… I learned about myself from Kiyoshi’s actions. He was so ahead of me; he became my teacher…” Kiyoshi Kuromiya remains a teacher, and a role model, for many today.

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