The country’s major religions and social norms are against same-sex sexuality. LGBTIQ people face discrimination in work, education and daily life.
A court ruling deemed the ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. However, it is unlikely that the Supreme Court will change the current law. Until then, Japan’s younger generations will have to deal with this stigma.
The vast majority of LGBT people in Japan remain closeted for fear of discrimination and prejudice. Their lives are filled with isolation and loneliness, and their suicide rates are notoriously high. Intolerance also extends to the workplace and beyond.
Even members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party make homophobic statements. One of them claimed that being gay goes against “the preservation of the human species.”
Many older Japanese believe sexual minorities are inferior and will be ostracised, but they are reluctant to criticise their peers in public for fear of being called racist or anti-Semitic. As a result, homophobia in Japan can be particularly pernicious.
Intolerance in the workplace is also rampant and a key issue for LGBT rights advocates. Some companies have adopted policies that allow their employees to use their preferred names in official documents and benefit from life insurance if they lose a partner. However, more can be done to ensure that employers are aware of the needs and rights of their LGBTQ staff.
While some cities in Japan have introduced same-sex marriage laws, the government has been slow to follow suit. Activist groups such as Marriage for All Japan have been working to bring about legal reform. The group filed lawsuits in several district courts last year claiming that the government’s failure to recognize same-sex marriages violates constitutional principles.
Sense of Isolation
Many Japanese people have little knowledge of the LGBTQ community. If they are aware of its existence at all, it is only from television, movies and the internet. The lack of information means that, when someone identifies as LGBTQ, they are often mocked, with the uneasy laughter of others joining in. In some cases, this can lead to a sense of isolation for LGBTQ individuals, who may feel that the people around them are not accepting or understanding.
Despite this, there is hope for change. Some gay people in Japan have formed couples and live with each other. This is a good thing, but they must also have the same rights as heterosexuals do. For example, they must be informed when a partner dies in a disaster or accident.
This is not the case for most same-sex couples, who are not told of their partner’s death unless they themselves inform their friends and relatives. In addition, same-sex couples cannot be legally recognized as a couple, which makes it difficult to rent an apartment together, and is not accepted when it comes time to inherit or receive insurance payouts. This can create a feeling of loneliness for LGBTQ people in Japan. It is important that people learn more about the LGBTQ community so they can be more understanding.
Lack of Knowledge
Japan’s heterocentric views on family and marriage make it difficult for LGBT people to come out. This lack of knowledge also makes it hard for them to gain the support they need.
The fact that LGBT people are still invisible in Japanese culture is part of the reason that homophobia persists. It’s one of the reasons why many LGBT people feel reluctant to come out at work, or even tell their families that they are gay. The fear of being perceived as “selfish” or a “Western concept” deters many from sharing their sexual orientation with their loved ones.
But attitudes have started to change. Support for same-sex marriage is growing, with more than 80% of people in their 20s supporting it. Portrayals of gay life on television and film have shifted from seedy, erotic dramas to more “wholesome” images. And more firms are starting to see protecting LGBT rights as a way to boost their economic performance.
Despite these positive changes, ignorance remains a big problem. A recent survey showed that while 80% of straight people were familiar with the terms “lesbian,” “gay,” and “transgender,” nearly 90% of them had never heard of the words for “bisexual” or “intersex.” This gap shows the need to continue education.
There are many areas of Japanese society that have embraced LGBT lifestyles and values. Japan stopped criminalising gay sex far earlier than most Western countries, its Kabuki and Takarazuka theatrical traditions incorporate fluid gender identities and Tokyo has a flourishing nightlife scene that welcomes same-sex couples. Despite this, media stereotypes of queer people persist and coming out is still difficult.
A recent court ruling that laws that deprive same-sex couples of the right to marry constitute unlawful discrimination was a significant step forward, and some districts legally recognise same-sex partnerships. However, it remains the only G7 country without comprehensive protection against anti-LGBT discrimination.
Despite this, the views of LGBT advocates are gaining ground in public debate. Polls show that between six and seven in 10 Japanese support legal recognition of same-sex marriage, including majorities among the younger generations.
However, the governing party remains conservative on the issue and Kishida has made clear that she is not committed to bringing about sweeping changes. Efforts to introduce a law against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity are being slowed by political posturing and prejudiced comments from some lawmakers. Nevertheless, with encouragement from peer G7 nations, Japan has now set up an engagement group on LGBT issues that is working to bring about the first comprehensive non-discrimination law in the country’s history.