National / Social Issues

Tokyo lawmaker says being gay is matter of 'personal taste,' does not merit taxpayer support

by Tomoko Otake

Staff Writer

A member of the Suginami Municipal Assembly in Tokyo is drawing flak from the LGBT community for saying gay, lesbian and bisexual people refer to themselves so out of “personal taste” and thus are not worthy of support by municipal governments.

Suginami Ward Assemblywoman Yumi Kobayashi, 27, said during an assembly session Feb. 15 that such sexual minorities are “fundamentally different” from transgender people, “who are clearly disabled and should be legally protected.”

“‘Lesbian,’ ‘gay’ and ‘bisexual’ are terms denoting sexual orientation, and it’s not medically clear whether they are disabled or not,” Kobayashi said. “Is it really necessary for local governments to spend a lot of time and money on issues relating to sexual orientation — or personal taste?”

Kobayashi is an independent lawmaker who, according to her official website, fights against wasting public money and advocates the restoration of the ward’s fiscal health. Also during the assembly session, she voiced skepticism over recent moves by Tokyo’s Shibuya and Setagaya wards to recognize same-sex unions.

The measures “could be found in violation of Article 24 and 94 of the Constitution,” she said. Article 24 stipulates marriage as an equal partnership between two sexes, while Article 94 declares the right of municipal governments to manage their affairs and enact their own charters within national laws.

She added that the difficulties faced by sexual minorities in Japan, in housing for couples and in securing access to hospitals as family members, can be “independently dealt with.”

She added that Japan is free of fierce opposition to same-sex relationships, noting that various kinds of support are available, such as counselors who offer services for sexual minorities and shrines that marry same-sex couples, as well as hospitals that treat people with gender identity disorder (GID).

Kobayashi’s comment triggered immediate criticism from Taiga Ishikawa, Japan’s first openly gay male politician and a member of the Toshima Municipal Assembly, also in Tokyo.

He said Kobayashi’s statements are riddled with misunderstandings about LGBT people and could foster further discrimination.

“The biggest problem is that she believes gay, lesbian and bisexual people are that way out of personal taste or choice, propagating the idea that they can choose their sexual orientation,” he said by phone Monday. “Her labeling of all transgender people as being disabled is also wrong. Transgender people refer to all of those with gender identity issues, not just those diagnosed with GID.”

A lesbian blogger who goes by the name of Yu Murata (@fcharu38) expressed shock at Kobayashi’s claim that Japan is more tolerant of gay people than many other countries.

“In Japan it’s so hard to say you are different,” Murata wrote on her blog. “It looks as if there is no discrimination, but LGBT people encounter a lot of difficulties, and there are many things they cannot say, worried how they are perceived by others.”

Calls to Kobayashi’s mobile phone and an email requesting comment were not returned Monday.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5