The International

The International

The International

Thank you, Nana

Nana Pearson on the beach at La Jolla, CA, 2017.    (Jon Pearson )

As a sixth grader in my first year at ISSH, I was surprised to see the amount of LGBTQ+ representation at a Catholic school. At my first Family Festival in 2017, I remember observing two tall, bright high school students (who, I found out later, were members of the GSA club) handing out pamphlets and selling rainbow-themed stickers, and seeing children running between food stands with rainbow-flag-shaped temporary tattoos on their faces. This sight made me realize that my new “home” would be inclusive of everyone; but at the same time, it also made me wonder why Sacred Heart was different from other religious schools. 

Six years later, I came across the GSA club again when I started research for an article about the oldest social service clubs at ISSH. Speaking with teachers and students about the GSA’s impacts and goals, I realized that the GSA club originated from Nana Pearson’s AP English Language in-class project. As the idea for the club gained momentum, Haruna Komatsu (’16) joined Nana as a co-founding member. Seeing the lack of progression in LGBTQ+ representation in Japan and their community, the founders bravely pitched their ideas to teachers and principals, gaining their support and creating likely the first LGBTQ+ rights clubs in a Catholic school in Asia. 

Over the years, not only has the GSA become a safe space for members of the LGBTQ+ community as well as other allies in Sacred Heart, it has become a symbol of inclusivity and equality. 

One of the GSA’s past sponsors, Ms. Aja Niedorf, recalls that a meaningful contribution that the GSA made was their proposal to include navy blue trousers in ISSH’s official dress code, allowing many students to dress in more comfortable ways. 

Sadly and regrettably, Nana Pearson, ISSH class of 2016, was struck by a car while out for a run and passed away on January 14, 2023. 

I was given the opportunity to attend Nana’s Celebration of Life ceremony held at ISSH on June 1, 2023. Many members of the community — parents, teachers, alumni, and students — were brought to tears as we listened to Nana’s loved ones share precious memories of their interactions with this outstanding, talented, kind soul. 

More than that, besides being the co-founder of the GSA club, Nana was also a dedicated athlete on multiple sports teams, a bright, motivated learner in classrooms, and a supportive friend to many. Even after departing from ISSH to pursue higher education, Nana continued to contribute to her community as a Research Assistant at PEARL (Positive Emotion and Anxiety Research Laboratory) and as an avid volunteer for a non-profit organization that supports foster children in the United States.

Be proactive. I cannot stress enough that the worst thing that one can do is sit idly and be oblivious. Just remember, we can all contribute to change. The change can start in our very own community.”

— Nana Pearson

Nana and the GSA club’s story truly embodies the Sacred Heart spirit of social service and community. For members of the Sacred Heart, students and faculty, and even the international community in the Kanto Plain, the establishment of the GSA is more than just a high school club. It “highlighted the issues that [LGBTQ+] people face and brought clarity to the different groups of people involved,” as Sydney Garrett (’16), one of the first members of the club, stated. Many graduates of ISSH welcomed the pioneering impact of the GSA, and alumni of other international schools were motivated to write to ISSH’s principals to express their appreciation and support.  

Through holding fundraisers, attending Pride events, and other forms of advocacy, the GSA club’s passion for social change has persisted since 2015. In the 2023-2024 school year, the GSA club is led by Khwaish J. (’24) and Asuka E. (’24). One project the leaders planned included selling stickers (with creative designs made by the club members themselves) at the annual Family Festival and to the student body. All funds were donated to Pride House Tokyo, a non-profit organization that advocates for LGBTQ+ rights in Japan. 

The GSA is the only club at ISSH that is automatically established each year without requiring a pitch or approval. Ms. Charmaine Young, the high school principal, said, “This school year, ’23-’24, is the second year that GSA did not pitch for approval; it has become an integral part of our high school program and will continue as such.”

In other words, this safe space will always exist within ISSH for those who need it.

On behalf of all members of the Sacred Heart community, thank you, Nana. 

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