LGBT groups in Japan launch petition seeking equality law

From left, Yumiko Murakami, head of OECD Tokyo, Gon Matsunaka, head of Pride House Tokyo Legacy, Kanae Doi, Japan director of Human Rights Watch, Yuri Igarashi, co-representative director of the Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation, Yuichi Kamiya, secretary-general of the Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation, "Tokyo Rainbow Pride" representative co-director Fumino Sugiyama, and a soccer player Shiho Shimoyamada, pose for photographers during a press conference to launch international signature campaign for the enactment of the "LGBT Equality Law" as a legacy of the Tokyo Olympics Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in Tokyo. Sexual minority groups and human rights activists have launched a petition calling for an LGBT equality law in Japan in hopes of achieving its enactment during the Olympic year when the country gets international attention over its effort and respect for more diversity. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Sexual minority groups and human rights activists launched a petition on Thursday calling for an LGBT equality law in Japan in hopes that it can be enacted next year, when the country is to host the Olympics and will be the focus of international attention.

“In this country, equal rights for LGBT people are not guaranteed by law or in their social lives,” said Yuri Igarashi, co-representative of the Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation, one of several organizers of the petition. “We call for the passage of an LGBT equality law in time for the Tokyo games, and as an Olympic legacy.”

Japan has slowly shown an increased awareness of sexual diversity but it is often superficial. Pressure to conform still forces many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to hide their sexual identities, even from their families.

Same-sex marriage is not legally allowed, and transgender people are required to remove their reproductive organs to have sex changes reflected in official documents — a requirement that international medical experts and human rights groups criticize as inhumane.

Recently, a local assemblyman in Tokyo belonging to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s conservative governing party sparked outrage after linking LGBT people to the country’s declining birthrate, saying constituents in his ward would go extinct if sexual minorities are protected.

Fumino Sugiyama, a transgender activist and former Olympian in women’s fencing, joined a news conference announcing the start of the petition. He said he was unable to disclose his sexual identity when he was competing about 15 years ago because of fear of discrimination.

Last year, Shiho Shimoyamada, a former midfielder with SV Mappen in Germany and currently playing for the Japanese women’s football club Sfida Setagaya, disclosed that she has a same-sex partner, becoming the first prominent Japanese athlete to do so.

“In sports, you often have to hide who you really are, and in this environment you can’t really feel safe and enjoy sports,” Shimoyamada said Thursday, referring to bullying and harassment targeted at sexual minorities. “I have high expectations that an equality law can create an environment where people can speak up when they face discrimination.”

Japan ranks among the lowest among OECD countries in LGBT equality, and does not even have a population estimate for sexual minorities, according to Yumiko Murakami, head of the OECD Tokyo Center.

Representatives of the groups sponsoring the petition said they plan to submit it to national lawmakers for parliamentary discussion and enactment next year.

Gon Matsunaka, a sexual minorities advocate who represents Pride House Tokyo, an international initiative to provide a place for LGBT people and others to connect during the games next year, said he hopes activities and programs there will also help raise people’s awareness.