Some 3,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people paraded through Tokyo’s Shibuya district Sunday afternoon to demonstrate their hope that Japanese society will continue to forge ahead with recent moves to embrace equality and diversity.
In a nation where prejudice against sexual minorities persists, the annual Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade has sought to counter the trend by openly spotlighting LGBT residents and spreading their voices.
But this year, LGBT participants and proponents seemed particularly joyous, emboldened by what they see as a blossoming of LGBT-friendly moves by municipalities and companies.
“The mood is definitely different this year. All the flyers or other goods we have prepared for visitors are disappearing like mad,” said female-to-male transgender Fumino Sugiyama,one of the event’s chief organizers.
Last month, an unprecedented ordinance passed by the Shibuya Ward Assembly in Tokyo saw the district become the first in the nation to issue legally nonbinding certificates that would declare same-sex partnerships as “equivalent to marriage,” allowing them to be treated on a par with married couples in terms of hospital visits and apartment rentals.
Amid the surge in public interest in LGBT issues, organizers decided to extend the festival to two days for the first time, Sugiyama added.
“Since sexuality is something invisible, the issue of LGBT people tends to be regarded as nonexistent unless they make their voices heard,” he said. “The purpose of this event is to make LGBT people visible, but do it in a cheerful, funny way.”
Indeed, parade participants were dressed in an array of gorgeous, attention-grabbing attire, with some attempting to emulate pop diva Lady Gaga and others proudly wielding rainbow flags, a well-known symbol of LGBT equality.
This year also saw numerous companies — including Google, ad giant Dentsu Inc. and clothing retailer Gap Inc. — join in on the fun by setting up booths. Employees from 11 financial industry firms, including Nomura Holdings and JPMorgan Chase & Co., marched as well, holding up placards declaring their companies’ commitment to LGBT equality and diversity.
“Being diverse is not optional; it is what we must be,” the sign from Goldman Sachs read.
Before the parade, lesbian couple Rei and Megumi, who asked to be identified only by their first names, said the public trend in Japan is definitely toward embracing LGBT people.
“In this age of diversity, we are no different from non-LGBT people. There is nothing special about us,” said Megumi, 26.
Kazumi Nakamura, a 51-year-old gay man who was legally married to his partner, Peterjan Bussink, in Holland in 2001, said Japan significantly lags other industrialized nations in developing legal systems that recognize same-sex partnerships of any sort.
There are also some conservative politicians who openly dismiss the idea of same-sex marriage as a threat to traditional family values, he said.
“We’re not asking for the legalization of same-sex marriages in Japan so we can destroy something,” Nakamura said. “Rather, we’re merely asking to create something new so we can be a part of society.”
The latest data released by Dentsu showed Thursday that LGBT residents account for 7.6 percent of the population, up 2.4 percent from its previous online survey in 2012. It also said LGBT people account for ¥5.94 trillion of the nation’s spending.