Several months after coming out, Footballer Kumi Yokoyama is amazed by the outpouring of support he has since received.

In an interview with Japan Times, Yokoyama said “I should say, it’s not that I expected a reaction; it’s that I didn’t think it would become as big as it did.”

“Judging from the reaction around me, what my friends and family have said… I’m glad I did it.”

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Yokoyama, who plays for the Washington Spirit in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), as well as on the Japanese National Team, came out as a trans man in mid 2021.

He is highest profile athlete in Japan to do so.

In the YouTube video, Yokoyama said, “I’m coming out now. In the future, I want to quit soccer and live as a man.”

Yokoyama shared his reluctance to come out at first. However, he realised it would be more difficult to live closeted and eventually mustered the courage to come out.

“I’ve dated several women over the years, but I had to stay closeted in Japan. In Japan, I’d always be asked if I had a boyfriend, but here, I’m asked if I have a boyfriend or girlfriend.”

US President Biden Tweets Support

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US President Joe Biden praised Yokoyama for his courage. In a Tweet, Biden wrote: “To Carl Nassib and Kumi Yokoyama – two prominent, inspiring athletes who came out this week: I’m so proud of your courage. Because of you, countless kids around the world are seeing themselves in a new light today.”

However, no such statement was made by Japan at the time. Japan does not have anti-discrimination protection for LGBTQI citizens. While same-sex activities are legal, there are no same-sex relationship recognition laws in Japan. Moreover, lack of legal protection for LGBTQI people leave them vulnerable. According to Amnesty International, discrimination in employment is widespread. Discrimination against same-sex couples wishing to rent or take up mortgages is also rampant.

“I think that a lot of Japanese people became more aware of LGBTQ issues because of what Biden tweeted. It did make me feel like Japan is lagging behind the rest of the world … but I’m happy to see Japanese society make progress, however that happens,” Yokoyama said.

In October 2021, Yokoyama proposed to his girlfriend at their home stadium, Audi Field.

“If I hadn’t come out, we wouldn’t have been able to get engaged. It really felt like I had torn off my shell, and because of that I was able to propose,” he said.

Yokoyama is one of the two transgender players in the NSWL. The other player, Quinn became the first trans Olympic medallist when Canada’s women’s soccer team captured gold in 2021.

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