In July last year, a lawmaker from Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Mio Sugita, said LGBTI people were ‘unproductive’.
It caused a big problem. Around 5,000 people protested outside the party headquarters in Tokyo.
The protests by mainly young LGBTI Japanese were widely covered by national media.
I was proud to see the community publicly denounce homophobia. They were unafraid to show their faces and give their names.
Some called this Japan’s Stonewall Riot.
The 50th anniversary of New York’s Stonewall Riots gives a chance to reflect on the situation for LGBTI Japanese.
In 2000, when I began LGBTI activism, you could count Japan’s LGBTI groups on two hands. There were only a few people who would reveal their names and faces to the media.
We all knew one another. What’s more, activists ran the groups as separate gay or lesbian or transgender organizations.
Today, we have many groups nationwide. There are LGBTI groups belonging to universities, for example. Recently, LGBTI communities have been working together as a group.
In 2003, Japan passed a law allowing transgender citizens to change sex under certain conditions. After years of aggressive lobbying, the transgender community celebrated the win.
In 2015, Tokyo’s Shibuya and Setagaya wards were the first in Japan to issue official documents to couples of the same sex. It became big news and a lot of people paid a lot of attention to the issue.
This documentation system is different from the country’s marriage system. That’s because of the municipal administration issue the document, not the regional or national government.
Therefore, same-sex couples cannot obtain the rights granted by marriage. These include inheritance, spousal benefits, and custody rights.
There are a few, small benefits these certificates give. For example, couples are able to move into public housing of a municipality.
Hospitals may recognize same-sex couples and grant visitation rights.
The certificates also allow family discounts for services such as mobile phones, insurance, and airline mileage.
Between 2015 to 2018, this system of issuing local certificates spread to nine administrations.
Activists have submitted petitions to the local congresses, trying to create such a system for the municipality in which they live. The often achieve results.
Thanks to these efforts, more than 10 towns are considering to introduce a partnership system and several towns plan to introduce the system from this April.
However, there are about 1,700 municipal administrations in Japan. Only seven percent of the population of Japan lives in a municipality with such a system.
Japan’s milestone year
In Japanese politics, the ruling LDP led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is very conservative. It will be extremely difficult to implement gay marriage as long as LDP is running the country.
LDP lawmakers are known for making problematic comments about LGBTI citizens.
‘Homosexuality is a hobby’, ’same-sex marriage will lead to a decline in birthrates’ and that LGBTI people would cause the ‘nation to collapse’.
In the Japanese parliament, opposition Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP) has submitted a bill outlawing LGBTI discrimination. It is planning an equal marriage bill.
As Japan goes to vote on Upper House lawmakers in July, LGBTI issues have become a major theme.
In the near future, we can hope for regional governments to introduce same-sex partnerships.
According to opinion polls, there are now more Japanese that approve of same-sex marriage than oppose it.
What’s more, for the first time, a Japanese citizen is challenging the government on equal marriage.
This also gives me hope. For LGBTI Japanese, 2019 looks set to be a milestone year.
Taiga Ishikawa was one of Japan’s first openly gay male politicians. He has fought for LGBTI rights through activism and politics for nearly 20 years. Last year, regional HIV and LGBT advocacy organization, APCOM, presented Taiga Ishikawa with the Shivananda Khan Award for Extraordinary Achievement at the HERO Awards gala in Bangkok.
Stonewall 50 Voices
Gay Star News is marking this 50th anniversary year of the Stonewall Riots. Our Stonewall 50 Voices series will bring you 50 guest writers from all around the world, with a focus on the diversity of our global LGBTI community. They will be discussing the past, present, and future of our struggle for love and liberation.