National / Politics | DECISION 2014

Ishikawa aims to become first openly gay member of Lower House

by Mami Maruko

Staff Writer

Openly gay politician Taiga Ishikawa says that winning a Diet seat in Sunday’s election would empower him to change politics and help Japanese society recognize its diversity.

Ishikawa, 40, is ranked first on the Social Democratic Party’s proportional representation list in Tokyo, which means if the SDP wins any seats, he is sure to get one.

He says he will work toward legalizing same-sex marriage and strengthening the rights of sexual minorities, women, and the disabled.

“Society is gradually orienting itself toward a ‘strong Japan,’ where the strong become stronger and the weak become weaker,” Ishikawa said.

“I want Japan to become more diverse, where anyone can co-exist. There are so many different people living here; I believe politics should reflect the voices of these different people.”

Ishikawa is a former member of the Toshima Ward Assembly. He says online campaigning, which was permitted last year, has helped him greatly with his campaign. He rallied support from a range of minority groups, especially homosexual, bisexual and transgender people.

“When each minority — however weak — connects with another by social networking, its power becomes bigger,” he said.

The Internet has special resonance for Ishikawa, because it was online in 2000 when he managed to make contact with other gay people, he said.

At age 26, his world opened up. Until that moment he had felt isolated, firmly in the closet in a society where it was taboo to talk about one’s sexuality.

“It’s said that three to five percent of Japanese people are homosexual. However, there aren’t many people who come out and say they are, or say that their neighbor is gay or lesbian, because prejudice and discrimination still exist,” he said.

In this situation, “I feel it’s important for me to raise my voice and show society my existence as a gay politician.”

He would not be the first openly gay politician in the Diet. Lesbian Kanako Otsuji took a seat in the Upper House last year after another member resigned and she, as the runner-up, inherited the seat.

Ishikawa touched on the results of a recent survey of 10 political parties by nonprofit organization Rainbow Pride Ehime, in which the Liberal Democratic Party replied that sexuality need not be dealt with as a question of human rights.

Five other parties replied that it should be dealt with proactively. The remaining parties did not reply.

“I was disappointed to see the answers of the ruling LDP,” he said, warning of the possibility of Japan falling into global “isolation” at a time when it needs to deal with diversity ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

“I know that there are young liberal LDP members who are actively discussing how to deal with these minority issues, but the result shows that, essentially, the party still has old ways of thinking. This must change,” he said.

Ishikawa graduated from Meiji Gakuin University and after coming out became a representative for a nonprofit organization that supports gay men. He then worked as a secretary to former Social Democratic Party leader Mizuho Fukushima, and was elected to the Toshima Ward assembly in 2011.

He also ran as a candidate last year in the SDP’s leadership election but lost heavily to Tadatomo Yoshida.