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Japan under new pressure to protect LGBT+ citizens before the Olympics

Japan under new pressure to protect LGBT+ citizens before the Olympics

  • 96 Japanese and international groups unite to demand change.
Tokyo's Rainbow Pride Parade 2019.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should commit to new discrimination laws to protect LGBT+ people.

That’s the fresh demand from Japanese and international LGBT+ campaigners. They are asking the country to bring in new anti-discrimination legislation ahead of the 2021 Olympics.

LGBT+ rights in Japan are far less advanced than in other G7 countries. It is the only nation in the G7 to offer neither marriage equality nor legal civil unions. Moreover, it lacks discrimination protections around employment, goods and services and hate speech.

Now 96 Japanese and international groups have untied to demand change.

They say the government now has the time to bring in the anti-discrimination legislation before the Olympics in 2021. Authorities had to delay the games from this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Yuri Igarashi is co-representative director of the Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation (J-ALL), an umbrella group of 100 LGBT+ organizations in Japan. Igarashi said:

‘LGBT people in Japan are entitled to equal protection under the law. Postponing the Olympic Games to 2021 will give the government time to introduce and pass protections of benefit to everyone in Japan.’

Japanese public supports LGBT+ protection

The groups have written to Prime Minister Abe highlighting the Olympic Charter. It expressly bans ‘discrimination of any kind’ including on the grounds of sexual orientation as a ‘fundamental principle of Olympism’.

Indeed, in March 2015, Abe publicly proclaimed Japan’s intention to ‘stamp out discrimination and respect human rights’. He also told the national Diet (parliament) that ‘discrimination or prejudice against sexual minorities is not allowed in any aspect of society’.

Furthermore, the campaigners point out that Japan has obligations to protect citizens from discrimination under international human rights treaties it has signed.

The campaigners also remind Abe that support for LGBT+ people has surged in Japan in recent years.

Currently the city of Tokyo and the Ibaraki region are the only two areas which have non-discrimination protections for LGBT+ people. But 83% of the Japanese public supports the Tokyo municipal LGBT non-discrimination ordinance.

Kanae Doi, Japan director at Human Rights Watch, said: ‘Japan has an opportunity to be a global LGBT rights leader. The Tokyo metropolitan government has shown solidarity with the LGBT community, and the national government should follow suit.’

Government’s failure to act creates work-arounds

Meanwhile, the government’s failure to legislate for LGBT+ people means local authorities, businesses and others try to create their own sticking-plaster solutions.

For example, Japan does not have marriage equality or civil unions. But over 50 cities now issue partnership certificates to same-sex couples.

These certificates are not legally binding. But the cities hope they will help with day-to-day issues like visiting partners in hospitals or moving into shared rented accommodation.

Moreover, Japanese companies are adopting new partnership certificates to help them protect LGBT+ families.