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LGBTQ activists in Japan launch engagement group ahead of G-7

LGBTQ activists hold up cards showing a logo each of their newly founded a civil engagement group Pride7, or P7, for the upcoming Group of Seven Summit that Japan hosts in May, to make policy proposals, including a demand that Japan enact anti-discrimination law to guarantee equal rights for them, at a news conference at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in Tokyo on March 22, 2023.(AP Photo/Mari Yamaguchi)

TOKYO (AP) -- Japanese LGBTQ activists and rights groups have launched a civil "engagement group" to make policy proposals ahead of the Group of Seven summit in Japan and announced plans to hold an inaugural Pride 7 summit in Tokyo later this month, seeking to accelerate their efforts to get the Japanese government to adopt an anti-discrimination law.

    Japan is the only member of the Group of Seven advanced industrialized nations that lacks a law protecting the rights of LGBTQ people.

    "Other G-7 members are watching if Japan enacts an anti-discrimination law," said Natsuo Hayashi, co-director of the Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation, a local civil group.

    His group, joined by two other organizations, on Wednesday announced the launch of Pride 7, which plans to make policy proposals for G-7 organizers in the hopes of achieving an LGBTQ anti-discrimination law in Japan while also addressing problems in other countries, especially in Asia. P-7 is joined by rights organizations in 10 other countries, including six other G-7 members, as well as Thailand, Vietnam, Botswana and Mexico, and the EU.

    Gon Matsunaka, another member of the group, said a P-7 summit will be held on March 30 with ambassadors from G-7 nations and representatives of economic organizations and labor unions. Matsunaka said they plan to submit a policy recommendation to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

    LGBTQ activists and their supporters have stepped up their efforts to achieve an anti-discrimination law following discriminatory remarks in February by a former Kishida aide, who said he wouldn't want to live next to LGBTQ people and that citizens would flee Japan if same-sex marriage were allowed.

    Amid national outrage over the remarks, Kishida's Liberal Democratic Party and other non-partisan lawmakers have begun preparing legislation to promote awareness of LGBTQ rights, but some conservatives have shown resistance.

    The activists noted that Japan signed the communique adopted at the G-7 Elmau summit hosted in Germany last year that calls for "full, equal and meaningful participation of women and girls in all their diversity as well as LGBTIQ+ persons in politics, economics, education and all other spheres of society," and must fulfill its commitment.

    Support for sexual diversity has grown slowly in Japan and legal protections are still lacking for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. They often face discrimination at school, work and at home, causing many to hide their sexual identities.

    In recent years, more than 200 local municipalities, including Tokyo, have introduced certificates of partnerships for same-sex couples allowing them to rent apartments and sign documents in medical emergencies, and for inheritance. Still, the certificates are not legally binding and same-sex couples are often barred from visiting each other in the hospital and from getting access to other services available to married couples.

    Recent surveys have shown the majority of Japanese support legalizing same-sex marriage. Rights activists say the conservative government has stonewalled the push for equal rights supported by the general public.

    Kishida has insisted that allowing same-sex marriage would change Japan's family values and the society and require a careful decision. He has not clearly expressed his view, and is seen as indecisive amid his considerations about governing the ultra-conservatives in his party who object to a law spelling out anti-discrimination against LGBTQ people.

    The party quashed an attempt to enact an equality awareness promotion law ahead of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. While momentum is on the rise ahead of the G-7, experts say legalizing an anti-discrimination law for LGBTQ people would have to wait sometime if they miss this chance.

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