During a party celebrating his election to a Tokyo ward assembly in April 1999, the candidate was being congratulated by supporters, as were his parents, who were hailed as the biggest contributors to the successful campaign.

The candidate had mixed feelings, however, because he knew that the person who had most backed his campaign was actually his lover — others only knew him as the candidate’s friend and chief aide.

“I could tell only a few of my supporters that I was gay and that my chief secretary was my partner,” said the ward assemblyman, who is in his 30s and asked that his name not be given.

Although issues related to homosexuality are more openly talked about today and many gays have chosen to come out to friends and family, it seems much harder for them — and others with alternative sexual lifestyles — to maintain such open attitudes in their working lives, due to fears over how the news would affect relationships with colleagues, superiors and others they interact with at work.

Junji Annen, professor of law at Seikei University, said that securing the rights of sexual and other minorities in the workplace is important not only from a moral perspective, but also for potential economic benefits.

Annen was a member of a Tokyo Metropolitan Government advisory council for drafting guidelines on the promotion of human rights that took effect in November.

“The originality of an individual is what often provides their workplace with an advantage,” he said. “I believe people cannot fulfill their ability unless they fully present their individual traits.”

The assemblyman left his previous job to care for an ailing family member, and decided to become a politician after coming to realize the shortcomings of the current public welfare system. He currently works to improve welfare services for ward residents.

“As a gay person, I feel my mission is to push my ward to take steps to ensure the rights of homosexuals and other minorities,” he said. “But it seems too early to even tell my supporters that I am gay.”

Referring to his “double-life,” he said he is often aware of being hypocritical when confronted with the differing needs of ward residents and the gay community.

His story, however, is not that unusual.

A Self-Defense Forces officer who works in an aviation-related section is another person who leads such a double existence, hiding his sexual orientation at work while living with his male partner in Kanagawa Prefecture.

“I fully accept my sexual orientation now, but I still do not want to unnecessarily confuse colleagues,” he said. “I’ll probably hide the fact I am gay from colleagues for the rest of my life.”

The officer added that the SDF is an ideal job for him, because there is almost no outside interaction, minimizing the possibility of his private life becoming known at work.

His partner currently works at a Tokyo dental clinic as an intern dentist. He is now searching for employment after his internship ends in March, and hopes to find a place where the relationship among employees is not too intimate.

“If I become close to my colleagues, I may feel a sense of guilt for hiding my sexual orientation,” said the dentist, who is in his 20s. “Work and private life cannot cross paths for me, but I think it is a common attitude for people of my generation.”

But, of course, there are also exceptions.

In 1997, Masahiko Honda, 33, told colleagues at his firm — at that time the Japanese unit of Internet service giant AOL, which has since become DoCoMo AOL — that he was gay after he volunteered as a producer for a member page for homosexuals.

The firm had been ordered to launch such a page by its parent company, which successfully boosted membership through creating members-only Web sites designed for homosexuals, Honda said.

“I felt so much better after I came out,” he said. “It was very frustrating to hide who I was and completely separate my work and private life.”

Honda, a Tokyo native, concealed his sexual orientation throughout school and his first job at a Tokyo department store. Now, however, he even invites his boyfriend, a public school teacher, to a marathon event for company employees and their families.

“My sexuality is a part of my personality, which has helped me do certain jobs at work well,” he said. “Hiding your personality is one way to get by, but I wonder whose benefit it really serves.”

Last month, a Justice Ministry panel debating the creation of an independent human rights watchdog revealed that homosexuals will be included among minorities whose rights should be protected, along with foreigners, HIV carriers and former patients of Hansen’s disease.

“By suppressing minorities, we simply waste their abilities,” Seikei University’s Annen said. “In the end, it is us who pay the price for our prejudices.”

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