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Prejudice and discrimination against sexual minorities are a growing human rights issue in today’s society. A recent survey by a civic group based in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, gives a glimpse into the positions taken by political parties on the matter — with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party standing out from others in not viewing issues surrounding LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people as human rights problems. Though the issue has yet to come to the fore in political debate in this country, lawmakers and their parties should realize that they are in a position to play an important role in helping solve the difficulties and worries experienced by sexual minorities.

One major problem is that many people may not be conscious of the issues involving sexual minorities. For example, more than one-third of respondents gave no answers or said “Don’t know” when asked to name problems sexual minorities are facing in a survey taken in 2011 by the Fukuoka Prefectural Government. Citizens on their part need to be exposed to relevant information more frequently so that they will have a better understanding of the problems sexual minorities are facing.

Last year, the education ministry surveyed public schools on how they are dealing with transgender students — who have difficulty accepting or identifying with the gender assigned to them at birth and are described in medical terms as suffering from gender identity disorder (GID). It found that 606 students consulted with their teachers and that 62.6 percent of the schools are providing special treatment for them, including allowing them to use toilets or dressing rooms for the opposite sex or to wear clothes of the opposite sex.

Also last year, the Tokyo-based Inochi (Life) Respect White Ribbon Campaign polled 609 LGBT people aged from 10 to 35 who went to schools in the Kanto region — the first survey researching school life of LGBT people in such large numbers. It shows that 68 percent of the respondents experienced violence — physical, verbal or sexual — or being left out or ignored, and that 53 percent of males and 31 percent of females did not tell others about their identifying as LGBT, mostly because of fear of being bullied or not being understood.

The survey by Rainbow Pride Ehime, taken while the campaign for the Dec. 14 Lower House election was going on, asked the political parties whether they regard issues related to sexual minorities as human rights issues. The LDP, the Democratic Party of Japan, Komeito, Jisedai no To (Party of Next Generations), the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party gave their responses, while Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) and Seikatsu no To (People’s Life Party) and two minor parties did not respond. For most questions in the survey, political parties were asked to choose from among answers prepared by the group.

Among the six parties that responded, only the LDP chose “There is no need to deal with the issues as human rights issues” while the other parties said that they will actively deal with the matter as human rights issues. The LDP’s response is regrettable, given that since 2002, the Justice Ministry has taken up issues related to sexual minorities as part of the issues to be discussed in the annual human rights week organized in early December. Many local governments include the same issues when they survey residents’ attitude on human rights questions. Some LDP members are in fact active in tackling the issues.

Asked about measures that should be taken to protect the human rights of sexual minorities, the LDP picked “While measures aimed at people with gender identity disorder are necessary, there is no need for specific measures for homosexuals.” The other parties selected “Active enlightenment and measures are needed because society lacks understanding of the issues.” The answer chosen by the LDP may reflect a view in society that although the GID issue should be approached with sympathy, homosexuality is a matter of different dimension.

The survey highlighted many essential points in dealing with sexual minorities issues. One is the need to enlighten students about diversity in sexual orientation and people’s feeling toward the gender they were identified with at birth. As the Ehime group pointed out, it would be important to help teachers deepen their knowledge about and improve their approach to people who identify as LGBT.

The group also asked the parties whether legalized same-sex marriage or civil partnership irrespective of the couple’s sexual orientation should be introduced. The JCP, the SDP and Jisedai no To were positive about introduction of either or both of the proposed institutions while the LDP opposed both of them. Due to the lack of such legal institutions, sexual minorities face disadvantage and worries in such matters as social welfare services and inheritance. The general public and political parties should not shy away from discussing in earnest the introduction of such new institutions.

Another question raised by the group was whether same-sex couples should be allowed to raise children as foster parents. The JCP, the SDP and Jisedai no To expressed support for such arrangements, while the LDP said the issue should be decided from the viewpoint of children’s development and the DPJ said the party will consider the matter.

The group points out several things that most people may not be conscious about — that a class in school typically has one or two adolescent students who are LGBT and that an NPO report shows that male homosexuals have a roughly six times higher risk of committing suicide than heterosexual men.

The general public and businesses should not dismiss issues related to sexual minorities as something that has nothing to do with them. Eliminating prejudice and discrimination against sexual minorities and helping them overcome the problems they face should be regarded as part of the overall efforts to improve the human rights situation in society and rectify the plight of the socially weak, including racial minorities and impoverished people. Businesses need to consider in concrete terms what setup they should have to help solve the problems LGBT employees face at work.

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