The Diet is set to end its session Wednesday without passing a promised law on LGBT understanding, leaving a ruling party pledge unfulfilled just as the country is set to host what was intended to be a “diversity” Olympics.
A bill under which discrimination against LGBT individuals would be deemed unacceptable was dropped by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s ruling party, and was set to officially die Wednesday when the current Diet session ends.
The situation worsened when members of his Liberal Democratic Party were reported to have made discriminatory remarks against sexual minorities during the bill’s discussion process, sparking protests outside the party’s Tokyo headquarters.
The ruling party’s failure to act strikes a sour note five weeks ahead of the opening ceremony for an Olympics organizers had said would be based around the concept of “Unity in Diversity.” Missing this opportunity could see the issue kicked down the road, potentially making Japan less attractive to the skilled foreign workers the aging country needs.
“The Olympic Charter clearly bans discrimination,” said Gon Matsunaka, head of Pride House Tokyo, a group that promotes LGBTQ understanding. “This is a breach of the contract with the International Olympic Committee.”
Japan lags its Group of Seven peers in several areas of civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning and/or queer people. The LDP had pledged in the 2019 Upper House election to swiftly pass a bill promoting “correct understanding” of LGBT issues. But according to the Asahi newspaper and other media outlets, conservative elements in the party have blocked progress.
“Since Japan is such a significant participant in the international business world, it is likely to become increasingly awkward for Japanese companies as well as the country’s political leadership if the country remains an outlier when LGBTQ equality has become more and more quotidian in that world,” said Jennifer Pizer, law and policy director at Lambda Legal, which says it is the oldest and largest U.S. civil rights group for LGBT people and those living with HIV.
LGBTQ issues caused controversy at the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia in 2014, which took place in the shadow of the country introducing anti-gay legislation. Former U.S. President Barack Obama and some other world leaders stayed away from the opening ceremony after the introduction of the law.
While Japan cannot be compared to Russia, where LGBTQ people are sometimes violently persecuted, “the Sochi example of public attention could serve as a helpful wake-up call for Japan’s leadership,” said Pizer. “The international spotlight will only grow brighter as the start of the games approaches.”
Asked earlier this month about the fate of the bill on LGBT discrimination, Suga told the Diet he would work to fulfill promises to the public. He also agreed at the weekend to a G7 statement pledging to tackle discrimination against LGBTQI+ populations.
The Tokyo 2020 website says diversity and inclusion are essential to a successful games, and that inclusion will see people accepted and respected regardless of gender and sexual orientation, among other factors.
Nonetheless, the head of the Tokyo Organising Committee was forced to step down in February after making disparaging comments about women. Yoshiro Mori, a former prime minister, was replaced as Tokyo 2020 chief by Seiko Hashimoto, a female minister and former Olympic athlete.
Unease over the LGBT law may stem from concern it could lead to recognition of same-sex marriage, Matsunaka said. A survey published by the Asahi newspaper in March found that 65% of respondents said same-sex marriage should be recognized, compared with 41% in a similar survey in 2015. The majority across all age groups apart from those in their 70s and over supported the change, the paper said.
Japan moved a little closer to allowing such unions when a court in Hokkaido ruled in March that the lack of legal recognition for same-sex marriage violated the Constitution. It was the first such judgment in favor of marriage equality, although it fell short of making it legal.
“Men in their 50s, 60s and 70s tend to be against same-sex marriage, and that is the gender and age of LDP lawmakers,” said Matsunaka. “Rather than reflecting the whole of Japanese society, the opinions of one group are preventing a change in the law. That shouldn’t be allowed.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.