In October 2018, the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly announced a law banning hate crime and speech towards the LGBTQ+ community. It will take action in April 2019, in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. This is a big step forward for a country that has never had any legal protection towards the LGBTQ+ community.
Rin Okabe at the work with Pride symposium, courtesy of Japan Times.
In some ways, Japanese society is already accepting of sexual minorities. Rin Okabe, a 54 year-old transgender woman, feels that her experience with coming out has been one of acceptance. Up until a few years ago, she went to work in a suit and tie, presenting as male. One day, she realized that she “didn’t want to die as a man,” and came out in 2012 in a mass e-mail to her co-workers. Okabe started her transition and came to work in women’s work attire, and while the reaction of her coworkers was initially mixed, they have accepted her identity. In a recent LGBTQ+ symposium, she recalled, “my company allowed me (to come out) amid growing acceptance of LGBT people worldwide; managers said they would watch over me with a warm heart.”
Okabe’s story shows us that there are signs of increased acceptance of sexual minorities. Unfortunately, such a positive experience is not universal, and she believes that she was lucky.
In 2015, a gay graduate student confessed to his friend that he found his heterosexual friend sexually attractive. The friend decided to out the gay student with his peers via texting app Line. This resulted in the gay student committing suicide.
Japan gives off an image of being accepting of sexual minorities. There are a number of cross dressers, trans women, and gay men who receive representation on television, namely Matsuko Deluxe (cross dresser) and Ikko (Trans Woman). However, they lack the nuances of the different sexual and gender orientations therefore end up ignorantly likening cross dressers with trans women. This is especially damaging to the trans community who may have their gender identity mistaken and end up feeling dysphoric. Secondly, lesbians, trans men, and gender non-conforming members of the community to not receive the same representation. Thus, they are erased and ignored, and the perception of the LGBTQ+ community becomes increasingly skewed. We are lacking in educated discourse, even from the television personalities, on sexual minorities. We need more influential figures calling for LGBTQ+ inclusivity in all levels of Japanese society.
Matsuko Deluxe (source)
Marriage equality is another issue that should be reconsidered before the Olympics. There is mounting pressure for Japan to join the rest of the developed world in legalizing same-sex marriage. The most progressive thing we have so far is legalized same-sex domestic partnerships— and only in Shibuya ward of Tokyo.
Work with Pride, an LGBTQ+ activist group, believes that educating businesses and institutions will help to normalize attitudes towards sexual minorities. The group assesses the level of inclusivity through the support system put in place for LGBTQ+ workers, or explicit policies that asserts the equal treatment of all employees despite their sexual or gender orientation. Work with Pride believes that by doing so, it will encourage other businesses to jump on the bandwagon of inclusivity.
However, some things concerning this issue don’t sit right with me. The chambers of commerce of America, Britain, Australia and others have called for the marriage equality because they believe it is good for the economy. This, to me, is a shallow reason to push for its approval. Of course, Pink Capitalism has its benefits namely in normalizing and showing solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community, but merely saying “We support gay marriage!” is not going to change the big picture. It creates the illusion that we as a society have transcended homophobia. It is a manipulative tactic used to stop the LGBTQ+ community from questioning the status quo and what they truly deserve from society, and get them to spend money for feeling acknowledged by money hungry conglomerates. The Japanese government should first understand what the LGBTQ+ community wants, and work from there, elect more queer people into the National Diet, and over all allow them to have a voice. I am not denying that corporations and the government rolling out LGBTQ+ acceptance campaigns is a good thing as it allows for the community to feel acknowledged and give the cisgendered, heterosexual majority something to think about. However, same-sex marriage should be legalized because everybody deserves the same set of rights, not just for capitalistic gains for the government and conglomerates.“We want to get married!” (source)
While it seems as though Japanese society is becoming more accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, there is still a lot more work to be done in the aspects concerning their constitutional protection. Will the pressure from the West push Japan to rethink its treatment of the LGBTQ+ community? We’ll see…