Kiyoshi Kuromiya was a Japanese-American author and activist involved in a variety of different social movements throughout his life, as well as a close confidant of architect and technofuturist Buckminster Fuller. Kuromiya was born in 1943 at Heart Mountain Internment Camp in Wyoming, before moving to Monrovia, CA (where his family was originally from) in 1946. Kuromiya attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he became involved in Civil Rights activism as well as anti-war demonstrations. In 1969, he was a founding member of Philadelphia's Gay Liberation Front, and remained active in gay organizing in and around Philadelphia.
In 1989, Kuromiya founded the Critical Path AIDS Project, which provided both print and digital access to AIDS information and medical research, amongst other services. The Project was named after Fuller's 1981 book Critical Path, which Kuromiya collaborated on. As head of Critical Path, Kuromiya was a plaintiff in Reno V. ACLU, the case overturning the Communications Decency Act. In the final years of his life, Kuromiya's AIDS-related work expanded to advocating for legalizing medical marijuana for People With AIDS (PWAs). Kuromiya died a day after his 57th birthday, May 10, 2000, from cancer complications.
1943: Kuromiya is born on May 9 at the Heart Mountain Internment Camp in Wyoming.
The Kuromiyas had been forcibly relocated to Heart Mountain from their home of Monrovia, CA. They remained there for the first three years of his life, until they returned to Monrovia in 1946. Though Kuromiya had no memory of his time there, in an interview with Marc Stein, he said he was "sure it affected my own activism and my own attitudes toward our government, war, racial issues." Going by the name Steve (which he dropped for Kiyoshi sometime in the late 1960s), Kuromiya graduated from Monrovia High School in 1961 and subsequently enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania.
1961: Kuromiya enrolls at the University of Pennsylvania and becomes involved in the Civil Rights and anti-war movements.
As part of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), he organized sit-ins and other protest actions, as well as meeting Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1965, he was beaten by the Montgomery, AL sheriff's volunteer posse while leading a group of black high school students to the state capital building.
In 1965, Kuromiya also planned the largest antiwar demonstration in the history of the University of Pennsylvania. Using his basement printing press, he produced a leaflet for a fake anti-napalm protest, where he (writing as the "Americong") threatened to burn a dog alive with homemade napalm to protest its use in the Vietnam War. When the day of the demonstration arrived, he and a small group of friends handed out leaflets to attendees "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?"
In 1968, Kuomiya, under the name "Dirty Linen Corporation," published the "Fuck the Draft" poster (see attached advertisement). Though Kuromiya tried to sell copies via mail, he was arrested for "using U.S. mails for a crime of inciting with lewd and indecent materials." However, he later distributed 2000 copies of the poster at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
1969: Philadelphia's Gay Liberation Front founded.
Though Kuromiya had been aware of his sexuality earlier in life, he did not formally come out until 1965, after which he became involved in homophile organizing on the East Coast. However, he found the movement's whiteness and emphasis on respectability stifling. At a Homophile Action League meeting in 1969, he and another attendee, Basil O'Brien, simultaneously submitted separate announcements about forming a local GLF. The GLF met at a variety of locations around Philadelphia, published one issue of an underground newspaper, the Gay Dealer, and sent a delegation to the Revolutionary People's Constitutional Convention in 1970. By mid-April 1971, however, changing attitudes in gay organizing led to diminishing funds and shifting interests amongst members, and the GLF subsequently disbanded. However, Kuromiya remained involved in local gay social groups around Philadelphia.
1981: Critical Path published.
While recuperating from treatment for lung cancer in the mid-1970s, Kuromiya began reading the work of R. Buckmister Fuller, beginning with Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking. As someone who'd begun his time at the University of Pennsylvania as an architecture major, Kuromiya began cultivating a relationship with the Philadelphia-based Fuller. Kuromiya would go on tour with Fuller, as well as assisting him with both Critical Path (1981), where he's credited as "Adjuvant" (a term for a catalyst) and Grunch of Giants (1983).
1989: The first issue of the Critical Path Newsletter is published.
Kuromiya was officially diagnosed with AIDS in 1989, though he suspected he'd been positive for several years prior to his diagnosis. Using the slogan "information is power," he would eventually expand the newsletter into the non-profit Critical Path AIDS Project, whose services included a 24-hour hotline, bulletin board system (BBS), email mailing list, web site, and acting as a free Internet Service Provider. Beyond Critical Path, Kuromiya was a founder of the Philadelphia chapter of ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power).
1997: The Supreme Court rules in favor of the ACLU in ACLU V. Reno, finding the Communication Decency Act's indecency provisions unconstitutional.
Critical Path, represented by Kuromiya, was one of several plaintiffs in the case, which directly impacted Critical Path's work trying to reach PWAs and other vulnerable populations. As a plaintiff, on June 12, 1996 he testified in front of a panel of federal judges in Philadelphia on the law's possible impacts. Following the initial decision, Stephan Presser, the ACLU's Pennsylvania legal director, said Kuromiya "may have been the single most persuasive voice to the court."
For more information the Communciation Decency Act's history and legacy, see the Indecency, Obscenity, and Queer Voices Online.
1999: The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania rules against the plaintiffs in Kuromiya vs. The United States of America.
Though Kuromiya had recreationally smoked marijuana since the 1960s, he became a medical marijuana user and activist in the latter decades of his life. He also ran a cannabis buyer's club that provided free medical marijuana for people with AIDS and other chronic conditions in the Philadelphia area. In 1999 he served as the lead plaintiff in the unsuccessful class-action suit, Kuromiya vs. The United States of America, which argued for the legalization of medical marijuana for people with AIDS.
- "Critical Path Affidavit in ACLU, et al v. Reno." - 1996 affidavit provided by Kuromiya to the ACLU opposing the CDA.
- Kiyoshi Kuromiya papers on HIV/AIDS research and organizations - Finding Aid for archival holding of Kuromiya's papers
Interviews, Secondary Material, and Other Works
- "Confrontation and Disruption." Life Magazine. (October 18, 1965): Article on the history and tactics of organization Students for a Democratic Society, including an interview with Kuromiya (going by Steve Kuromiya) about his activism and experiences marching in Selma, AL.
- "Interview with Kiyoshi Kuromiya" - Part 1 and Part 2 (1983): Audio interview with Tommi Avicolli
- "OutRage '69: The Question of Equality" (1995): Episode 1 of 4-part PBS documentary series that includes Kuromiya.
- Forster, Evan. "Where There’s Smoke There Must Be Fire." POZ Magazine. (February 1, 1996) - Profile of Kuromiya and his AIDS activism.
- Mendels, Pamela. "AIDS Activist's Dilemma Proved Decisive in Decency Act Case." Cybertimes: New York Times. (June 18, 1996): Article on Kuromiya's role in initial case overturning the CDA.
- "Kiyoshi Kuromiya, June 17, 1997.": Oral History with Kuromiya, conducted by Marc Stein in 1997.
- Urner, Kirby. "My Dinner with Kiyoshi." (September 1999): Interview with Kuromiya focusing on his work with Fuller.
- "Kiyoshi Kuromiya." them.us. (2017) Short film produced and directed by Che Gossett and Luce Capco Lincoln narrated by Kuromiya.
- Singel, Ryan. "They Saved the Internet's Soul." Wired. (February 8, 2006): 2006 retrospective on the impact of the fight to overturn the CDA.
- Porter II, Juan Michael. "You Should Know This Gay Asian-American Civil Rights, Anti-War, and HIV/AIDS Activist." TheBody. (May 19, 2020): Retrospective on Kuromiya's life and impact upon the twentieth anniversary of this death in 2000.
- Waters, Michael. "Warnings From the Queer History of Modern Internet Regulation." Wired. (February 28, 2021): Discusses the impact of Kuromiya's testimony against the CDA within the context of modern calls to overturn Section 230
- Kiyoshi Kuromiya Google Doodle (June 4, 2022)