Kiyoshi Kuromiya’s birth in 1943 in a Japanese-American internment camp, ironically called Heart Mountain, set the tone for a life of advocating for civil rights and against war.
He dedicated his life to educating and empowering people. As a personal assistant to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Kuromiya, along with Dr. King, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, and James Forman, suffered attacks by the sheriff’s deputies and their volunteer crew on March 13, 1965, while leading a group of Black high-school students on a voter registration march to the state capitol in Montgomery, Alabama. His head wounds required 20 stitches.
Soon thereafter, Kuromiya marched with Dr. King and was beaten during the Selma march of 1965, and later helped care for the King children in the week of Dr. King’s funeral. That same year, he marched in the 1965 gay rights protest in Philadelphia.
In 1967, Kuromiya joined the Yippies, Alan Ginsberg, and Abbie Hoffman in a Vietnam war protest and headline-grabbing performance at the Pentagon where they used an ancient Aramaic chant in an attempt to levitate and exorcise demons from the Pentagon. He was a founder of Gay Liberation Front-Philadelphia and brought a campy spin to protests and demonstrations.
“We’d go up to a line of cops with tear gas grenades and horses and clubs. And link arms and do a can-can. Really threw them off guard.”
Kuromiya was an openly-gay delegate to the 1970 Black Panther Constitutional Convention where he conducted a workshop on gay rights and where gay liberation was endorsed. He edited ACT UP’s “Standard of Care” publication, the first of its kind to educate people living with HIV on how to care for themselves. He founded the Critical Care Project which provided free internet access and a24-hour hotline for people with HIV in the Philadelphia region and whose newsletter brought treatment information to thousands across the world.
Kuromiya advocated for treatment designed with community input, for the entire HIV/AIDS community, including people of color, IV drug users and women. He sent newsletters to hundreds of incarcerated people to make sure they had up-to-date information on treatment of HIV and AIDS. He participated in the successful lawsuit against the Communications Decency Act, ensuring that freedom of speech on the internet, including medical information related to AIDS, was preserved. He was the lead plaintiff in Kuromiya v. The United States, a class action lawsuit seeking to legalize medical marijuana, including for use by AIDS patients.
A life begun in barbed wire incarceration and defined by the quest for freedom. Kiyoshi Kuromiya died of complications from AIDS in the year 2000.