Private groups are calling on the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to add homosexuals to its list of people whose basic human rights need to be protected.

Earlier this month, 29 citizens’ bodies, including nonprofit organizations, jointly submitted a petition to the metro government to include gay men and women on its list of groups that need protection.

Such groups are mentioned in a metropolitan guideline for promoting human rights. The list includes children, senior citizens, women, non-Japanese residents, the disabled, those with HIV and the homeless.

The joint petition came after it was revealed in June that the metro government crossed off homosexuals from a list originally proposed by an advisory council last December. The proposed list was prepared by a metro government-appointed council consisting of 13 professors, lawyers and journalists.

“The council’s proposal was epoch-making, as neither the central government nor any local governments have ever covered homosexuals as a group whose basic rights must be fully protected,” said Junji Annen, a professor of law at Seikei University and a member of the council.

While the metro government plans to further deliberate on the draft before it releases the actual guideline sometime this autumn, the exclusion of gays and lesbians has already provoked firm sturdy opposition from the homosexual community.

“As gays have been becoming more open about their sexuality today, prejudice and discrimination against them have recently been escalating, making it urgent for local and central governments to move to protect the rights of homosexuals,” said Masaki Inaba, 31, a program director of the Japan Association for the Lesbian and Gay Movement.

He said the series of attacks on gays in Yumenoshima Park in Tokyo’s Koto Ward, which culminated in the murder of one person in February, is a sign that antigay sentiment is escalating.

According to Masaaki Nakamura, director of the metro government’s Human Rights Office, homosexuals were removed from the list after the inclusion was met with stiff opposition from sectors of the government. The main argument was that it was too early to include gays in the guideline, because as a social group, homosexuals are not recognized by the majority of Tokyo residents, he said.

In a 1997 survey conducted by a major daily newspaper, about 65 percent of Tokyo residents polled said they did not believe homosexuality was natural, he said.

Nakamura also said many government officials claimed homosexuality is merely “some people’s sexual interest or habit.” They thus argue that gays cannot be categorized with those who share “inborn or inescapable” characteristics and are in need of protection, he said.

Inaba of the human rights group said these should not be reasons for the metro government to exclude homosexuals from its list.

“Such lack of social recognition or misunderstanding of gays is a source of prejudice and discrimination against us, suggesting the need to include us in the guideline,” he said.

Inaba further contended it is possible that metro officials omitted gays from the draft just to please Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, who was reportedly not in favor of adding gays to the list.

While the governor promised during a press conference in July that he would further consider whether to include gays, he added that he was unable to imagine how gays’ rights are infringed on, because he is “pure hetero.”

Council member Annen said the issue is not merely ethical, but is also a test of whether Tokyo can be a truly international metropolis.

“If Tokyo wishes to become an international city, as Gov. Ishihara hopes, it must have progressive policies — such as securing the rights of minorities — to attract diverse people from all over the world,” Annen said.

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