National

Parade aims to raise awareness of sexual minorities

by Sang Woo Kim

Staff Writer

Tokyo Rainbow Pride, the nation’s largest festival for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities, will have its third annual parade in Tokyo on Sunday, aiming to raise awareness of sexual minorities in Japan.

The parade is scheduled to proceed from Shibuya Station to the Harajuku district in the afternoon, while numerous citizens groups, businesses and foreign embassies will open booths in Yoyogi Park.

“We had 12,000 visitors in last year’s Pride,” said Shinya Yamagata, 47, a freelance editor and chief representative of the event, “but we are expecting to have 20,000 visitors for this year, as the number of parade floats has increased from nine to 15.”

He added: “By uniting people and groups from diverse sexual backgrounds, the Rainbow Pride presents an opportunity to (get) sexual minorities to march out of the closet in a world governed by the norms of the majority.”

Junko Araki, 50, also known as “Madame Bonjour JohnJ,” is head of Community Space AKTA, an LGBT support center based in a gay neighborhood in Shinjuku Ward. AKTA is one of the civic groups that participate in the Pride march under the name of the Living Together Project.

“Around 1,500 people are newly diagnosed as HIV positive every year in Japan, and over half of them are transmitted through male-to-male sex,” said Araki.

“This is why we are running the Pride to remind (people) that HIV is not over and that we are living with it.”

The parade is organized by a group of volunteers and funded by donations from the public. “Like other major Prides held in Europe or in North America, we hope to get support (for the event) from the government one day in the future, like a visit by the governor of Tokyo, for example,” Yamagata said. British Ambassador to Japan Tim Hitchens is scheduled to speak at the event, according to Yamagata.

“Tokyo will have its second Summer Olympics six years later. Our goal is to make the event big enough to be attended by 100,000 people by then,” said Yamagata.

“Ideally but ironically, I dream of living in a world in which we do not need to march anymore,” joked Yamagata, “but this is indeed something unrealistic.”

Free of charge, Tokyo Rainbow Pride runs from 11 a.m. till 6 p.m. on Sunday.

The parade starts at 1:30 p.m. and finishes at 3:30 p.m. Visitors must register with staff before joining the street march. People of all sexualities are welcome.