I first met Kim Coco Iwamoto (“KC”) when we were 12 years old, attending St. Louis School. We graduated from high school with the class of 1986 and have remained friends for decades.

St. Louis is well known as an all-boys Catholic School. When we met in seventh grade, KC was different from the rest of us.

Sure, she had short hair, as the dress code required, but clearly she was not “one of the boys.” Most of us assumed she was gay; transgender wasn’t on our radar in those days.

After six years together, KC was just KC. But to new students or students in other classes, they assumed her difference meant she was weak. 

Once during an ROTC drill, KC was at the front of the formation when an older student to her left grabbed her ass to make those of us in the back laugh. As soon as our instructor dismissed us from formation, KC swung around and punched the guy in the face, and he just dropped — everybody was shocked. She didn’t let people bully or push her around; she stood up for herself. 

Ross Lee, a classmate and longtime friend of Kim Coco Iwamoto, is kneeling near center holding his glasses. The candidate is standing fourth from left, at a reunion of the class of 1986 at the St. Louis clubhouse in Moiliili, July 3.

Courtesy Ross Lee

Our class respected KC enough to elect her class president — twice. When our class adviser cancelled our catamaran cruise without a valid explanation, KC wasn’t having it. She found a way around the adviser and the school — and got us that catamaran social we were promised. She just could not stand for that kind of unfairness.

Nobody expected she would become a leader at an all-boys school known for football, but she did. Nobody expected her to win a seat on the Board of Education, but she did. Can she become lieutenant governor? I hope so, I’m supporting her, and I know many of our classmates are supporting her. 

The world is changing, but not everyone has had the opportunity to grow up with someone like KC. I’m sure there are still a lot of people who will make assumptions about her, and some will try to limit her opportunities based on their own lack of familiarity.

I believe that most voters in Hawaii will recognize what we learned early on: She is smart, tough and bold. She was born that way. 

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