In May, former defense minister Tomomi Inada tried to get the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Policy Research Council and General Council to approve a bill that would promote Japanese people’s “understanding” of LGBTQ individuals and issues. She assumed that the Diet would pass the bill during the session that ended June 16, but hardline conservatives in the party objected to wording in the bill, and without unanimous approval it couldn’t proceed.

The press coverage of the matter has focused more on politics than on the content or purport of the bill. Inada has always been proud of her conservative credentials and obviously sees no conflict between those values and her support for sexual minorities in Japan, but certain colleagues and opinion-makers see this support as proof that she is veering from the true path.

As explained in a June 18 article on the News Post Seven website, part of Inada’s problem is that her presentation of the LGBTQ bill coincided with the presumed political resurgence of her mentor, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. News Post Seven says that Abe is exposing himself more readily to media scrutiny right now in a possible bid to regain the premiership. Conservatives applaud this move and have somehow identified Inada as a heretic in order to fortify Abe’s far-right support, even though in the past she was touted as his likely successor.

In a May 27 column in the Sankei Shimbun, editor Rui Abiru wrote that Inada once opposed a bill to defend human rights on the grounds that passage would prevent politicians from speaking their minds on certain issues, and the fact that she is now working for LGBTQ rights proves that she is being pulled into “liberal totalitarianism” by left-wing elements. In a different Sankei column that appeared June 7, former announcer Yoshiko Sakurai said that she used to have high hopes for Inada and wonders why she changed so much. If the LDP follows Inada leftward, she wrote, then the conservative movement in Japan is doomed.

News Post Seven suggests that the delay in advancing the bill had more to do with destroying Inada than with any misgivings about what was in the legislation. Inada told Gekkan Nippon magazine that she was removed from an executive position in the Shinto Association of Spiritual Leadership, an alliance that includes a group of conservative politicians headed by Abe, saying her ouster was punishment for supporting a legal option for married couples to use separate surnames. Conservatives maintain that allowing such an option would destroy the traditional Japanese family. In an interview with Shukan Post, Inada rejected Abiru’s analysis that she was abandoning the conservative cause. She is against anyone being investigated for their opinions. The LGBTQ bill would not mandate such proscriptions but simply increase general understanding of LGBTQ lives.

In a June 18 column for Tokyo Shimbun, Yuji Kitamaru focused on Abe’s role in blocking the bill. The former party head said it was part of his “tōsō” (struggle), a word that reminded Kitamaru of a campaign pledge Abe once made to not let “those people” defeat him — “those people” meaning nominal left-wingers. Politically, Abe is mainly interested in distinguishing between allies and enemies and doesn’t really care about policy or what the public wants, says Kitamaru, who believes Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga feels the same way.

This adversarial mindset has become widespread throughout the world, with the LGBTQ community being a common flash point. In a feature for Mainichi Shimbun, journalist Motomi Kusakabe writes about the situation surrounding LGBTQ people in South Korea. The main force pushing back against LGBTQ understanding in South Korea is Protestant groups that pressure politicians to deny LGBTQ people any form of legitimacy. Even the country’s president, Moon Jae-in, a former human rights lawyer, has said that while the rights of sexual minorities should be upheld, the government can’t do anything until society reaches some sort of consensus on the matter.

Kusakabe quotes Genya Fukunaga, a Tsuru University lecturer knowledgeable about sexual minorities in South Korea, who says Protestant conservatives can consolidate their power around anti-LGBTQ activities since South Korean liberals don’t have the will to advocate for sexual minorities. It isn’t worth the political capital.

As long as LGBTQ people are denied any semblance of personhood, conservative movements can use them as scapegoats, but once LGBTQ people openly assert their common humanity through popular culture or direct media coverage, arguments about their adverse effect on society become impossible to defend. Kusakabe mentions a YouTube channel in South Korea created by two cohabiting gay men — one Japanese, the other Korean — who simply chronicle their daily lives. Their programs attract up to 30,000 views, but the men are still cautious about revealing their identities.

According to surveys cited by Kusakabe, public opinion toward LGBTQ people is more accepting in Japan, even if legal protections are still lacking. A transgender woman named Sari Kaede is the subject of a new theatrical documentary, “You Decide.,” in which she reveals her life and living situation in a bid to show her fellow Japanese that she is no different from them. In fact, the film’s Japanese title, “Musuko no Mama de, Joshi ni Naru” (“Becoming a Girl While Remaining a Son”), stresses the idea that she is still someone’s son who just happens to be a woman now. The simple, almost banal point of the film is that there is nothing threatening about her or her lifestyle.

When cornered, some Japanese conservatives say that LGBTQ people are a destructive force because they don’t procreate, a facile argument given that, by definition, LGBTQ people comprise a minority and Japan’s low birthrate is due to heterosexual couples’ reluctance to have children. (Not to mention the fact that LGBTQ individuals do procreate.) Moreover, this reluctance is brought about by economic anxiety exacerbated by a widening wealth gap that conservatives are loath to address. Don’t forget, there’s an election coming up.

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