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More understanding of sexual minorities needed in Japan: Ex-defense minister Inada

Former Liberal Democratic Party Policy Research Council Chairperson Tomomi Inada answers questions in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun in Tokyo on July 30, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- After House of Representatives Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker Mio Sugita came under fire for writing in an article for monthly magazine "Shincho 45" that members of sexual minorities were not "productive" along with other claims, former Minister of Defense and fellow LDP lawmaker Tomomi Inada sat down for an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun.

Inada, who belongs to the same conservative political faction, took to Twitter soon after the controversy with the article broke out, writing, "The role of 'conservatism' is to recognize diversity and create a tolerant society." During her interview, Inada added, "True conservatism is looking out for minority groups."

The following is a summary of the interview.

Mainichi Shimbun: Why did you tweet about sexual minorities?

Tomomi Inada: I believe the role of conservatism is to recognize diversity and create a tolerant society. As the chair of the party's Policy Research Council, I established the Special Mission Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity within the LDP in 2016. We intend to encourage the creation of legislation that promotes a deeper understanding of the LGBT community as the autumn extraordinary session of the Diet approaches. My intention in tweeting my opinion was not to criticize Sugita, but to express my views clearly.

MS: Why did you establish the special mission committee?

TI: My interest stemmed from my son's friend being a member of the LGBT community. In fall 2015, I brought up human rights for sexual minorities in a speech in Washington, D.C., and there was quite a response from the community. Following that, when I said, "I absolutely want to tackle these issues," conservative supporters of the LDP would ask me, "Why?" So we had conservative lawmaker Keiji Furuya (currently chairman of the lower house Committee on Rules and Administration) serve as the chairperson of the special commission. We did so after consulting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and receiving his approval.

MS: What is this bill that promotes a deeper understanding of the LGBT community?

TI: We are not necessarily considering using taxes to support LGBT couples. Our intention is to take financial measures in order to promote understanding. It is not about affording sexual minorities special treatment.

When the submission of a draft of lawmaker-initiated legislation for the promotion of citizens' understanding of the LGBT community was shot down in 2016, I realized that no real progress had been made within the LDP toward understanding sexual minorities after all.

MS: You belong to the same conservative Hosoda political faction within the LDP as Prime Minister Abe and Mio Sugita. What does "conservatism" mean to you?

TI: I see "conservatism" as respecting others and creating a tolerant society, a society where members help each other. To live freely in a way that suits you, you also must allow for other people to live their lives as they wish. That doesn't mean just letting everyone have their way, but to create a society where the winds of freedom can blow unobstructed.

MS: People who criticize sexual minorities tend to focus on the organization of the traditional family.

TI: As a conservative politician, I also consider the traditional family unit to be important. However, in an era where people are now living to be in their 100s, I think we need to be a little more flexible in our definition of what a family should be. Usually when one thinks of a family, they think of a man, a woman and children, but there are also couples without children, single mothers and single fathers, and some people get married in their 60s or older. So shouldn't there be a wide variety of support for all the different shapes of families?

MS: Are you in favor of same-sex marriage?

TI: I think moving directly to support same-sex marriage is difficult. The LDP does not recognize same-sex marriage, but we can understand the existence of not only heterosexual couples, but also same-sex couples. Understanding that is one step toward diversity.

MS: Do you think Sugita's claims have eroded the position of the LGBT community?

TI: Whether or not someone has a disability, or whether or not they have children, and in addition, regardless of their sex, they should be respected. Being able to look out for minorities is the true meaning of conservatism.

I have received a letter from a member of the LGBT community before. It was from a man who identified as gay, but was conflicted and couldn't come out. When he told his parents, he wrote that they replied, "We're sorry that we didn't understand (your lifestyle)." If you learn that there are people like that who are continuing to suffer, then it is only natural that you come to understand their situation more.

MS: Do you think the LGBT issue will be discussed during the LDP presidential election campaign?

TI: I think it's a good topic to discuss. The prime minister understands that.

MS: What would you like to see come out of the controversy with Sugita?

TI: It is important for this controversy to spark debate within the LDP. It's a good idea to protect the existence of the traditional family while also adding on new diverse models. That is one of the ideals of "tradition and creativity" (the name of an LDP study group Inada chairs). I intend to live to see the true nature of things with a free mind unhindered by stereotypes.

MS: What kind of bill should the LDP introduce to aid sexual minorities?

TI: The opposition parties submitted a bill in 2016 to prohibit discrimination against individuals belonging to sexual minority groups. However, jumping to wording that completely outlaws discrimination will not be effective unless we first work on having the public understand exactly what the LGBT community is.

We are finally seeing the economic sector begin to cater to members of the LGBT community, but it is still unclear just how many business owners really understand sexual minorities. Even when municipalities introduce bylaws to recognize same-sex partnerships, very few people actually apply. No policy will be realized without the advancement of understanding about the LGBT community.

(Interviewed by Hiroyuki Tanaka, Political News Department)

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