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Canadian trans rights activist hopes to raise gender awareness in Japan

Canadian trans rights activist hopes to raise gender awareness in Japan

Gemma Hickey

In October 2018, Gemma Hickey became one of the first gender non-binary Canadians to change the gender on their passport to X.

Around 14 months on, and Hickey has put their passport to good use.

The transgender rights activist has traveled to Japan to raise awareness on gender issues.

Hickey said their time in Tokyo would be spent getting to know local LGBTI rights activists.

‘I know that the LBGTQ community over there are looking forward to me coming, and I’m also looking forward to networking with them,’ Hickey said.

Hickey made history in December 2017, as one of the first Canadians to change the gender on their birth certificate to X.

Hickey hopes their story will help spread awareness of gender issues in Japan.

While trans people are can legally register in Japan, they must undergo gender affirmation surgery before doing so.

This effectively means trans people must be sterilized before their gender is officially recognized.

In 2017, a Japanese trans man challenged this law by claiming that it is unconstitutional, though last month the Supreme Court of Japan dismissed his arguments and ruled that the law should be upheld.

‘I hope that I can help my fellow activists’

During their time in Japan, the Canadian embassy in Tokyo will be screening, Just Be Gemma, a documentary which details the journey of their gender transformation.

Hickey will also read from their book Almost Feral, which tells the story of Hickey’s walk across Newfoundland to raise funds and awareness for survivors of religious institutional abuse.

While mingling with fellow activists, Hickley will also be in Tokyo in time for a rally advocating for marriage equality.

‘I wanted to add to the choir of voices of LBGTQ activists in Japan, and I hope that it resonates with people over there and that it starts some dialogue around same-sex marriage – and also transgender rights – because obviously, that’s certainly on the forefront in Japan,’ Hickey said.

‘I happen to be lucky enough to be a part of the same-sex (marriage) fight here in Canada, and also for transgender rights and non-binary persons, so I hope that I can help my fellow activists in some way over there by having my presence there and talking about my own personal experience.’

Increasing protections & public awareness

While Japan is generally progressive with regards to LGBTI rights (particularly when compared to other Asian countries), the LGBTI community still does not have full equality and continues to face a number of cultural and legislative hurdles.

However, in recent years, there have been moves to introduce protectins and increase recognition of Japan’s LGBTI community, such as introducing the partnership oath system and anti-LGBTI discrimination legislation which will be introduced in Tokyo while the city hosts the 2020 Olympics.

Japanese LGBTI rights activists have become more vocal.

This month will also see thirteen couples in four different cities will file lawsuits against Japan’s government for failing to recognize same-sex marriage.

In August last year, several thousand people took to the Tokyo streets to protest comments made by politician Mio Sugita, after she called same-sex couples ‘unproductive’.  A petition calling for her to apologize also garnered over 25,000 signatures.