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Japan’s LGBT Community Gains Recognition

By Jasper Tolsma

SNA (Tokyo) — Tokyo’s LGBT community marched in the annual Tokyo Rainbow Pride on April 26 to raise awareness for social acceptance. The estimated three thousand participants in the parade departed from Yoyogi Park and traversed various parts of Shibuya Ward. This year they not only celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Tokyo pride events, but also the passing of a same-sex partnership registration ordinance in Shibuya Ward in March, something that is considered to be a big step towards official recognition of LGBT rights.

The ordinance is limited to Shibuya Ward and isn’t legally binding, but Fumino Sugiyama, one of the directors of the Tokyo Rainbow Pride, still considers it to be a big step: “For the first time the government recognizes our existence, but moreover, respects our existence.”

Former actress Koyuki Higashi also expressed her happiness about the recognition: “When the ordinance was passed, me and my partner were actually in the Shibuya Assembly. We were so happy that we both cried.”

Higashi also explained the importance of the ordinance, as well as why there is a need for further legal recognition of same-sex marriage in the following terms: “Despite the fact that me and my partner are living together and are functioning as a family, under the current Japanese system we are not treated or legally regarded as a family. This means that there are many problems that we encounter. For example, when we want to move house, it is very hard to find places that will rent to us.”

The acceptance of homosexuals and transgenders isn’t only a matter of politics. There is also much progress that remains to be made on a social level. Stories of harassment of homosexuals are not uncommon, an the suicide rate is higher than average within the LGBT community.

Sugiyama’s appreciation for these difficulties was enhanced through emails and letters he received after he published a book on his own struggle with gender identity disorder: “People wrote me saying that they felt the same way, that they didn’t know what to do with their lives, and that they wanted to commit suicide. That showed me that there is a great need to support these people.”

Shibuya Ward aims to start an educational campaign to raise awareness. It will also put the names of companies that don’t comply with the ordinance on the ward’s website.

Although the Shibuya ordinance is considered by many as a sign that the acceptance of the LGBT community is heading in the right direction, there is still political resistance to the plan as some conservative voices argue that gay marriage is undermining the foundation of society.

For Japan’s LGBT community, the first distinct signs of progress have become manifest, but there is clearly a long road yet ahead.

Jasper Tolsma is a contributing writer to the Shingetsu News Agency.

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