Japanese sexual minority groups and their supporters staged a rally outside Tokyo’s iconic Shibuya Station on Sunday calling for equal rights and public support for enacting a long-sought equality law before the Olympics, despite fading hopes due to the governing party’s resistance.
Around 100 people wearing rainbow facemasks danced and held banners with slogans in Japanese and English, such as “Equality Now!” “Legalize!” and “Equality Act during the current Parliament!”
Support and awareness of sexual diversity has slowly grown in Japan, but there’s still a lack of legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Japan does not legally recognize same-sex partnerships, and LGBTQ people often suffer discrimination at school, work and even at home, causing many to hide their sexual identities.
Rights groups are pushing for the passage of an equality act as international attention falls on Tokyo as it hosts the Olympics, set to begin July 23. The International Olympic Committee also has issued a statement stressing the importance of inclusivity in sports.
“We are not giving up yet,” Soshi Matsuoka, an openly gay writer and activist, said at Sunday’s rally. “If the legislation is scrapped, the lives and dignity of sexual minorities may continue to be ignored … We want to have each of our voices heard.”
Gon Matsunaka, who heads Pride House Tokyo, an international initiative to provide a place for LGBTQ people and others to connect during the games, said the legislation had been watered down and wasn’t perfect. But he said “enacting a law is a crucial first step to protect the rights and lives of the sexual minorities who still suffer discrimination.”
The equality bill has been discussed for several years and was nearly ready for submission to Parliament before the current session ends on June 16. But conservative members of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s governing Liberal Democratic Party have mounted strong resistance and stalled the process at the last minute.
Remarks by some ruling lawmakers during discussions of the bill last month sparked public outrage.
Lawmaker Kazuo Yana was quoted as saying in an closed-door session that same-sex relationships “defy the preservation of the species, go against the biological basis.”
Eriko Yamatani, known for her support of traditional gender roles, called it “ridiculous” that transgender people with male bodies say they have female hearts and want to use women’s restrooms or participate in women’s sports.
Sally, a 39-year-old transgender woman, said Sunday that she’s faced harassment at work and is now taking a leave of absence. She said lawmakers are not only stalling the legislation but spreading prejudice.
“We need law that promotes understanding and bans discrimination at the same time,” she said.