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History of sexist, anti-LGBTQ remarks by Japanese vice-minister Mio Sugita

Mio Sugita is seen in a commemorative photo taken after she was appointed as Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications at the prime minister's office on Aug. 12, 2022. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- People are voicing protests online and elsewhere after Mio Sugita, whose discriminatory remarks about LGBTQ and other sexual minorities sparked controversy, was appointed in Japan as Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications in the reshuffled Kishida Cabinet. Below the Mainichi Shimbun looks back on the 55-year-old's past remarks.

    The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) member wrote an article titled "Support for 'LGBT' is excessive" for the monthly magazine "Shincho 45" in August 2018. In the piece, she wrote, "Can the use of tax money for LGBT couples gain public support? They don't have children, therefore they are not productive." Sugita further explained her discriminatory theory against sexual minorities, saying, "Why can't we just stick to two sexes -- male and female?" and, "If we have to recognize various sexual orientations, then it may lead to calls for allowing marriage between siblings, marriages between parents and children, or even marriages to pets or machinery."

    Following the article, Sugita was flooded with criticism from sexual minorities and their supporters. People staged protests in front of the LDP headquarters and elsewhere, and "Shincho 45" was suspended after the October 2018 issue.

    Ruling Liberal Democratic Party member Mio Sugita attends a House of Representatives plenary session at the Diet on Nov. 12, 2020. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

    When asked about her contribution to Shincho 45 at an Aug. 15 press conference following her appointment as a parliamentary vice-minister, Sugita explained, "I have never dismissed diversity nor discriminated against sexual minorities." Regarding the Kishida administration's goal of creating a "society that respects individuality and diversity," she said, "As a parliamentary vice-minister, I don't think there is anything inconsistent with the Kishida administration's goal."

    In an interview for a BBC documentary that was aired in June 2018 about Japanese journalist Shiori Ito, who was sexually assaulted, Sugita commented, "In her case, there were clear errors on her part as a woman -- drinking that much in front of a man and losing her memory."

    In a September 2020 LDP meeting in which the Cabinet Office explained its policy to increase the number of "one-stop support centers" for victims of sexual violence, operated across Japan by the government and the private sector, Sugita said, "Women can tell lies as much as they want," as if to say that claims by victims of sexual assault are tainted with lies.

    In an online survey held in February and March 2021 by "No to all sexist public speeches," a group consisting of university professors, this remark was selected as the most problematic comment about gender issues.

    During a January 2020 plenary session of the House of Representatives, when a lawmaker of the opposition party backing separate surnames for married spouses was asking a question, a female legislator yelled out, "Don't get married then!" Several lawmakers pointed out that Sugita had made the remark.

    Mio Sugita attends a House of Representatives Budget Committee at the Diet on Feb. 7, 2020. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

    Photojournalist Natsuki Yasuda questioned Sugita's appointment as a parliamentary vice-minister.

    "Sugita said during the press conference that she has never dismissed diversity nor discriminated against sexual minorities, but it has become clear that she doesn't understand the problem with her own remarks and she doesn't look back on them. Prime Minister Kishida should be held accountable for appointing such a person to an important position in the government, particularly the Ministry for Internal Affairs and Communications, which creates the foundations of society," Yasuda said. She added, "The government is going to send a message to society that the issue of discrimination is not worth considering, and is of low priority."

    On her blog, Sugita referred to Ainu and Zainichi Korean women living in Japan who participated in the 2016 United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in Geneva as "old female cosplayers in ethnic costumes" among other terms. With this in mind, Yasuda pointed out, "Sugita has ridiculed those who have raised their voices. It's terrifying for people who become her target."

    Photojournalist Natsuki Yasuda is seen in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Nov. 25, 2021. (Mainichi/Yoshiya Goto)

    Furthermore, Yasuda warns of society becoming accustomed to such discriminatory remarks. She said, "People who aren't her target may start to shrug it off, saying, 'Oh, this person again.' But the people who are targeted are trampled on by her each time. Do we want a society that overlooks discrimination? I think Sugita's issue raises this question."

    (Japanese original by Maki Nakajima and Yukako Ono, Digital News Center)

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