Japan is scheduled to host the Tokyo Olympics in just over a month’s time, with the first openly transgender athlete and many openly lesbian and gay sportspersons competing in the games, that was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the world’s eyes on Japan, the local LGBTQI+ community is hoping that, the country will finally pass an anti-discrimination law to protect its sexual minorities.

Tokyo Olympics is scheduled to open on July 23. But hopes that the law will be passed before the games appear bleak. The Diet (Japan’s Parliament) is due to wrap up its current session on June 16 and the proposed law faces opposition from conservatives in Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s Liberal Democratic Party.

“In contemporary Japan, people are bullied and cornered just for being LGBT,” Japan Alliance For LGBT Legislation (J-ALL), an organisation spearheading the fight for the law, said on its website.

 “Japan needs a LGBT Anti-Discrimination Law equivalent to the standards of other industrially-developed countries.”

“It’s major progress that Japan’s political parties are discussing LGBT-related legislation, but many LGBT people in Japan still remain in the closet, unable to discuss with others out of fear and stigma,” said Yuri Igarashi, co-chair of J-ALL in a statement.

No Law Against Discrimination

Japan does not have a law against homosexuality, but there are no laws to protect persons from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The country does not recognise same-sex marriages and does now allow same-sex parents to adopt children.

Earlier this year in March 2021, a local district court ruled that the laws that bar same-sex couples from marrying was unconstitutional.

In 2016, opposition parties had introduced a Bill to protect LGBTQI+ persons from discrimination. The LDP then presented its own Bill “to promote a tolerant society”, without any express provisions to protect LGBTQI+ people.

Following negotiations between the LDP and opposition Constitutional Democratic Party, the phrase “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is unacceptable” was added to the draft of the Bill in May 2021.

However, the Bill has faced opposition from conservative members of the LDP and one member said that the cross-party law proposal was being withdrawn.

There was outrage after anti-LGBTQI+ statements of some politicians were reported by the media.

Kazuo Yana, a lower house LDP member, is reported to have stated in a meeting that LGBT people go against “the preservation of the species”.

‘Bill Must Not Be Shelved’

Activists and international human rights organisations have urged the Japanese Parliament to pass the Bill.

Yuri Igarashi, co-chair of J-ALL pointed to corporates like Coca-Cola, Deloitte, EY Japan, Intel, Microsoft, PwC, Salesforce, PepsiCo, and SegaSammy coming out in support of the law.

“It is the responsibility of the Japanese government to pass an LGBT equality act now,”  Igarashi said.

Amnesty International has also called on Japan to send a clear message against discrimination and inclusivity to the world.

“This bill must not be shelved. With the Olympic Games approaching, the government can make a timely decision to champion equality and inclusion for all. This not only chimes with the spirit of the Olympic Games but would also fulfil the long-awaited aspirations of LGBTI people, their families and allies, and all those who value equality and justice in the country,” said Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director Yamini Mishra in a statement.

According to Kanae Doi, Japan Director of Human Rights Watch, LDP legislators who have opposed the proposed law and used anti-LGBTQI rhetoric, “are out of line”.

In a blog,  Doi and Kyle Knight, a senior researcher said that “other LDP leaders should override their ugly rhetoric and pass the Equality Act immediately.”

HRW also released a 43-page report, The Law Undermines Dignity’: Momentum to Revise Japan’s Legal Gender Recognition Process, that urged the country to “revise its abusive and outdated transgender recognition law”.


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