2019—Japan, Still Lagging Behind in LGBTQ+ Issues

Tokyo Pride Parade in 2010, Photo by Maari Sugawara

Japan, the only member of the G7 that does not recognize same-sex unions, is slowly expanding rights protection for LGBTQ+ citizens in recent years. In 2015, Shibuya district started issuing partnership certificates to same-sex couples. More corporations are showing signs of moving towards recognizing same-sex unions, and a survey in January reported nearly 80% of Japanese citizens aged 20 to 59 support legalizing same-sex marriage.

Although there is a gradual progress for LGBTQ+ rights, discussion regarding sexuality is still considered a taboo. There is no anti-discrimination legislation to provide equal protection against discrimination on sexual orientation and gender identity in Japan, and LGBTQ+ persons face struggle to Japan’s strict gender and family roles daily.

Transgender People have to Undergo Sterilization to be Legally Recognized

At the beginning of this year, Supreme Court stated transgender citizen must be sterilized before they can be accorded legal recognition. Calls grew to change its law as “making such an intervention a condition of legal recognition was a human rights violation and said governments must ban such laws unconditionally”, according to the former UN special rapporteur on torture, Juan Ernesto Mendez, DW reported.

The director of Human Rights Watch in Japan, Kanae Doi interprets this ruling as a mandate for political action. “Japan should uphold the rights of transgender people and stop forcing them to undergo surgery to be legally recognized,” she said to DW. “The government needs to revise its laws to meet its international human rights obligations and international medical norms”, and Doi explained that the law in Japan regards gender incongruence as a mental disorder, which needs to be urgently revised.

More than Half of LGBT Graduates Report Uncomfortable Experiences in Job Interviews

A recent research conducted by a nonprofit organization showed nearly half of LGBT graduates in Japan report having uncomfortable experiences in job interviews. Some of them said interviewers’ questions were based on assumptions that applicants are heterosexual, and others said interviewers were negative toward LGBT people, and many applicants were required to state their gender, according to The Japan Times.

Discrimination can be found everywhere; at home, at work, in education, and at health services; it is also perpetuated by lawmakers, especially those in the conservative party who have been repeatedly criticized for bigoted remarks regarding LGBTQ+ in recent years.

Mio Sugita, Lower House Member of LDP calls LGBTQ+ people “Unproductive”

Last year, Mio Sugita, a lower house member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), sparked furore after calling LGBTQ+ people “unproductive” in a magazine article. Sugita, a member in Shinzo Abe’s ruling LDP who also claimed that the use of sex slaves by Japanese soldiers during World War II was a Korean fabrication, and victim-blamed the leader of #MeToo movement in Japan, stated LGBTQ+ citizens “do not contribute to the prosperity of nation” and therefore, “it is not appropriate to spend taxpayer money on them” which caused a huge controversy in Japan, leading to large protests for LGBTQ+ rights.

A second MP, Tomu Tanigawa also suggested that homosexuality was “a matter of taste” on an online TV programme last year. He stated, “A man and a woman get married and have children. That is how a traditional family is formed”, “Humans have been doing so from antiquity to prevent nations from falling into decline and ruin”, stating homosexuality would ruin Japanese nation.

Japan is still lagging behind in LGBTQ+ issues; however, LGBTQ+ people in Japan have waited long enough to be treated as equals, and the voices of individuals are gaining more recognition.

13 Same-Sex Couples in Japan Sue for Marriage Equality on Valentine’s Day

On February 14th this year, at least 13 same-sex couples filed coordinated lawsuits in district courts across Japan. The couples seek damages over claims that the national government and most local authorities had violated their constitutional right to equality; being denied the same legal rights as heterosexual spouses.

Akiyoshi Miwa, who is representing some of the plaintiffs told The Guardian that “all people are equal under the law”, and there is nothing in the constitution that prohibit marriage between citizens of same sexes;the language of the 1947 postwar constitution is only meant to ensure equality between prospective spouses and prevent forced marriages.

Deportation of Gay Taiwanese Man Cancelled in Japan: Progress towards Legal Protection for LGBTQ+ couples in the Country

A Taiwanese man in his 40s, who has lived in Japan for around 25 years with his Japanese partner, was given the first ever special permission to stay in the country as a foreign gay partner of a Japanese citizen.

He came to Japan on a student visa in 1992, and reentered in 1993 shortly after he started a relationship with his partner to prepare for a language test. In June 2016, his illegal residency was discovered and deportation was ordered. In 2017 he appealed the government’s order, claiming that a special residency permit would have been issued to heterosexual couples in similar situations. In March, Tokyo cancelled his deportation and issued the special residency permit to the Taiwanese man, according to NHK. Lawyers representing the man told local media that this is a progress towards legal protection for same-sex couples in Japan.