With rainbow flags flying high and colorful signboards vividly displayed under a clear blue sky, thousands of members of the LGBT community and their supporters took to the streets of Shibuya Ward on Sunday to march in the annual Tokyo Rainbow Pride Festival parade.
According to the organizers, 10,000 people were expected to take part in this year’s march — believed to be the largest of its kind in the nation — with more than 180,000 participating in the festival itself.
The parade marked the 25th year such a march has been held, with the first promoting LGBT rights taking place in 1994. LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.
The theme for this year’s festival was, “I have pride aru ga mama o hokorō” (“Be proud of who you are”).
However, for a 48-year-old gay man who attended the festival in Yoyogi Park, Japan is not yet at a place where he feels he can proudly express his sexuality.
“My company presents itself as a gender-open organization that supports LGBT communities, but I still cannot come out as a gay man in the office because I have heard so many of my colleagues say mocking things about gay people,” said Kazu — who would only provide his first name.
“It’s a similar situation for women who want to take maternity leave,” he explained. “Companies provide such a benefit, but if a mother uses it and then comes back to her office, she will not really be welcomed back by her colleagues.”
He said it’s a matter of introspection and people needing to change their attitudes about such minorities.
A 42-year-old man who attended the parade with Kazu echoed this sentiment, saying he cannot come out because he is afraid he will be pigeon-holed as a result of stereotypes about gay men.
“Hiding my identity is easier than coming out. I know my colleagues will make fun of me behind my back if I come out.”
This year’s Rainbow Pride Festival was sponsored by a record 278 companies and organizations, including major consultancies such as cloud-based customer service provider Salesforce.com, recruitment agency Bizrearch Inc. and game console maker Sony Interactive Entertainment LLC.
With the assistance of Buzzfeed Japan, the parade also included signboards from LGBT members living in the countryside who could no make it to the event but wanted their thoughts expressed at the festival.
In Japan, same-sex marriages are not legally recognized, so they lack the same rights as heterosexual couples.
Still, in some areas, including Tokyo’s Shibuya district, where the parade was held, gay couples can get partnership certificates that recognize same-sex relationships to facilitate matters related to medical services and real estate purchases in the same manner, though the certificates are not legally binding.
As of May 28, Shibuya Ward had issued the certificates to 33 couples.
“I have been participating every year for the past four years, and each year I see more people gather and march,” said a 20-year-old bisexual woman who came to the event with her friend. “I think it’s a good sign that more people are seeking gender equality and promoting diversity in Japan.”