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The LGBT Community in Japan

The LGBT community in Japan is diverse and vibrant. Though it’s still not as accepted by mainstream society, it is getting better.

However, many LGBT people live in fear of coming out and often hide their identity for economic reasons. Even so, only some districts recognize same-sex partnerships that can be used for things like inheritance and renting apartments.

1. Acceptance

While superficially Japan appears to be a very accepting place for LGBT people, deep-rooted prejudices still remain. This is especially true for people who have been exposed as gay or bisexual, a phenomenon known as “coming out.” Such rejection has led to suicide among some members of the community, and others struggle to live with fear of what their family might think of them. This isolation makes it very difficult to find social support, and thoughts of suicide are very common among sexual minorities in Japan.

Despite this, there have been a number of positive developments for the LGBTQIA+ community in recent years. For example, in 2015, the Japan Rainbow Pride parade was relaunched after 20 years due to high levels of public support and international pressure. Likewise, the coronavirus pandemic may have accelerated progress on equal rights in the country by keeping LGBT issues on the agenda for Japan’s leaders.

Various celebrities have also given airtime to discuss LGBT issues. Matsuko Deluxe, a cross-dressing TV personality along the lines of Lily Savage and Dame Edna, is one such figure who has garnered widespread recognition and popularity in Japan. In addition, a number of Japanese companies have enacted policies to allow gay and transgender employees to bring their partners to work. However, the lack of legislation recognizing same-sex marriages remains an ongoing issue.

2. Social Issues

In Japan, the majority of LGBTIQ people remain closeted. They face prejudice, discrimination and violence and are at a high risk of suicide. Their children are exposed to stigmatising attitudes in schools, and their parents often impose sex identity restrictions on them, such as forbidding them from marrying someone of the opposite sex. A growing number of celebrities are giving public attention to LGBT issues, including the AIDS activist Sho Sakurai of the Japanese band Arashi, the drag queen Matsuko Deluxe and the education specialist Naoki Ogi.

A recent law aims to prevent discrimination based on SOGI, but critics say it falls short of full protection for the community and tacitly allows bigotry. A few municipalities, including two Tokyo districts, give same-sex partners rights similar to those of spouses. And some companies, including Panasonic Corp 6752.T and airlines, allow same-sex couples to join family accounts for phone bargain schemes and air mileage.

The enduring strength of the “traditional” family system, in which a father, mother and child are at its centre, has stalled progress on LGBT rights in Japan. A survey showed that while a majority of adults supported same-sex marriage, they were less likely to accept it in their own family members. Moreover, it is difficult for LGBTIQ individuals to access services, such as insurance and healthcare, by declaring their sexual orientation or gender identity.

3. Legal Issues

With surveys showing more than 70% of people in favor of same-sex marriage, Japan is a country with relatively progressive attitudes toward sexual orientation and gender identity. However, a lack of country-wide nondiscrimination legislation and lingering heteronormative views on family and marriage make it difficult for LGBTQ individuals and couples to build lives in Japan.

Although the government has made some progress in recent years, the issue remains a difficult one for many members of parliament and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Last week, a powerful lower house committee approved a bill meant to promote LGBT understanding, but which critics say fails to provide any legal protections for the community. A clause in the bill stating that “the public’s understanding is sufficient for the sake of avoiding discrimination” is particularly controversial, with some saying it amounts to an attempt to prioritize the concerns of opponents of equal rights over those of the minority.

Amid increasing pressure from the international community, foreign diplomats are urging Japan to advance LGBT rights and embrace a model of de facto same-sex relationship recognition similar to Australia’s pioneered approach. In addition, multinational corporations with Japanese operations are also pushing for marriage equality so that foreign LGBT employees can live and work in the country legally. These forces, combined with high levels of public support and pressure from the LGBT community itself, are likely to keep the issue at the forefront of political discussion in the near future.

4. Discrimination

While there are many signs of change for the LGBTQ community in Japan, discrimination remains a problem. In particular, it can be difficult for LGBT Japanese individuals to come out to their family members – the traditional nuclear family model of the country is very strong and may lead people to believe that coming out as gay or lesbian could cause the entire family structure to collapse.

It is also common for the LGBT community in Japan to experience a lack of awareness from their colleagues, which can contribute to feelings of isolation. A recent study found that around a fifth of sexual minorities in Japan have opted to remain anonymous at work, although some say that this is changing.

The government has attempted to promote understanding of the LGBTQ community by introducing a bill aimed at preventing discrimination, but its wording was criticized for potentially allowing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition, it excludes transgender people, a group that has campaigned for equal rights, from its scope.

The law was introduced after public pressure, but the controversy surrounding it shows that the government is far from in tune with public opinion. For example, a minister was slammed for saying that LGBT people are “unproductive” due to their refusal to have children. This has exacerbated the sense that the government is out of touch with public opinion. In spite of this, there are positive signs for the LGBTQ community, with some local governments establishing non-binding same-sex marriages and a few district courts ruling that the failure to legalise same-sex marriage violates human rights.

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