Osaka’s Yodogawa Ward serves as municipal model on LGBT rights

Kyodo

Since becoming the first municipality in Japan to declare support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in 2013, the Yodogawa Ward Office in Osaka has attracted attention from other institutions keen to learn from its approach.

The ward first moved to implement measures to help LGBT people after ward chief Masafumi Sakaki met former U.S. Consul General for Osaka-Kobe, Patrick Linehan, who is openly gay, to discuss the issue.

Among its initiatives it started a help line and a community events space for LGBT people, and put up a rainbow sign, recognized as a symbol for the LGBT community, at barrier-free restrooms in the ward office.

The interest in the Yodogawa Ward Office also increased after Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward assembly passed a statute in March last year enabling certificates to be issued to same-sex couples. Officials from regional municipalities, assemblies and companies nationwide began visiting Yodogawa.

The office has accepted some 60 such visits since last year, including from a university and the Legislative Bureau of the House of Representatives, ward officials said.

“First and foremost, it is necessary to acknowledge the fact that 5 to 7 percent of the population are LGBT people,” said Masahide Shirakata, 51, a ward official in charge of the support measures.

He admitted that he carried prejudices and hesitated to face the issue at first, but realized through communicating with LGBT people that it is a human rights problem.

Shirakata said many officials from other municipalities ask whether there was any opposition from local residents. “We should be aware that some people are deprived of the rights to live as people. As an administrative body, we must not overlook this issue,” he said.