Please view the main text area of the page by skipping the main menu.

Editorial: Japan must quickly develop laws to protect dignity of LGBTQ people

Transgender people, from left Aki Nomiya, Minori Tokieda and Fumino Sugiyama, hold signs calling for an end to trans hate during a news conference in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on March 16, 2023. (Mainichi/Koichiro Tezuka)

Efforts to protect the dignity and rights of LGBTQ people and other sexual minorities have been underway in the international community.

    The European Union, in its Charter of Fundamental Rights, prohibits any discrimination based on sexual orientation. After the Netherlands recognized same-sex marriage in 2001, 33 other countries and regions, including other European nations and the United States, have followed suit.

    At the Group of Seven summit meeting held in Germany in 2022, the leaders' statement called for ensuring that everyone is given the same opportunity regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, and is protected from discrimination and violence.

    Yet Japan, this year's G-7 president, is lagging far behind in developing relevant laws: Same-sex marriage is not recognized in Japan, nor does the country have laws banning discrimination against sexual minorities. To change one's gender in their family register, they have to undergo surgery to remove their reproductive functions.

    Sexual minorities are finding it hard to live in Japanese society.

    Japan lags far behind among G-7 members

    Shinya Yamagata, an editor, lives in Tokyo with his same-sex partner who is a year older. To prevent others from knowing they were living together, they had long rented separate apartments and used their respective addresses for formality, as they feared prejudice.

    In recent years, an increasing number of local governments in Japan are introducing a "partnership system" to officially prove the relationships of same-sex couples. Yamagata uses this system.

    However, the framework is not legally binding, and does not guarantee the rights on par with legal marriage in terms of inheritance, taxes, health care and pensions. There are cases where same-sex partners are not recognized as family members even when their loved ones become ill.

    Being in his late 50s, Yamagata is getting conscious about aging and death. As he has a chronic disease, he harbors growing anxiety about his future. "I've been treated like a second-class citizen. It's discrimination by the state," he says.

    Minori Tokieda is a transgender woman in her 30s. She was born as a male and identifies as a woman.

    Since her high school days, she had felt uncomfortable being treated as a male. In college, she was at a loss as to how to explain her gender, and could not build relationships with those around her.

    After finishing school, she opted for a job where she did not have to care about how she was being seen by others or converse with them. She hopped from one non-regular job to another, struggling to make ends meet. She would also hesitate to fill in the gender box in her CVs.

    She had to endure so many circumstances requiring patience. As she found it painful to use men's bathrooms, she looked for multifunctional types.

    She says she'd rather not undergo sex change surgery as she is worried about its potential effects on her health and finances. "I want society to become one where I can live without problems with a gender I'd like to be treated as," Tokieda said.

    Parents with children who identify themselves as sexual minorities have spoken up about their anguish and prejudice they have persevered. "My child stopped attending school, and had their job interviews terminated," said one parent, while another complained, "I was told that 'it's a parent's job to stop their children from taking the wrong path.'"

    Need for anti-discrimination provisions

    In February this year, a secretary to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made discriminatory remarks against sexual minorities. "I hate to see them. I wouldn't even like to live next door to them," he said.

    Parents were quick to raise their voices of protest, as they were concerned that the remarks "could trigger someone to take their own life."

    According to a 2022 survey by an incorporated nonprofit organization, nearly half of sexual minorities aged between 10 and 19 who responded to the poll said they had thought about taking their own lives over the past year, and 14% had actually attempted to do so.

    It is a pressing issue to eliminate discrimination against sexual minorities. And yet, politicians are too slow to act.

    Two years ago, a multipartisan group drafted a bill calling for the national and local governments to make efforts to deepen public understanding toward sexual minorities. Due to objections from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's conservative wing, however, the bill has yet to make it to the Diet for deliberations.

    Essentially, a law clearly banning discrimination against sexual minorities should be created. As it stands, even a bill to "promote understanding" toward LGBTQ people has yet to be instituted.

    Public awareness in Japan is changing. In an opinion poll conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun in February, 54% of respondents were in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, and 65% said they didn't think the rights of sexual minorities were being protected.

    Miho Mitsunari, a professor at Otemon Gakuin University in Osaka Prefecture, who specializes in issues relating to the rights of sexual minorities, pointed out, "Society is rapidly becoming diversified, and politics has become inconsistent with it."

    People must not suffer disadvantages because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It is urged that Japan quickly develop legal systems to guarantee the rights of LGBTQ people.

    Also in The Mainichi

    The Mainichi on social media