Eliminate bias against sexual minorities

Repercussions continue over a monthly magazine article contributed by Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Mio Sugita charging that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community is “unproductive” because they “do not give birth to children” — and questioning the use of taxpayer money on policies that support same-sex couples. Members of the LGBT community and their supporters immediately protested Sugita’s argument. The LDP as a party initially appeared to have no plans to take issue with what she wrote, but on Thursday the party cautioned Sugita over her “lack of understanding of the issue and expressions that lacked consideration for the people involved.”

What Sugita wrote in the article contradicts what the LDP said two years ago: that it would “aim for a society in which diverse forms of sexual orientation and gender identity will be mutually accepted.” Whether it is appropriate to rate people’s “productivity” in terms of childbirth — or to judge on the necessity of government support for people on the basis of whether they are “productive” — should be reflected on. What’s needed are not emotional attacks on the lawmaker or any attempt to silence her for her views, but efforts to turn the controversy into informed discussions on the issue of public support for sexual minorities.

Sexual minorities remain exposed to various prejudice, discrimination and bullying at schools and at work — with many of them keeping the problem to themselves as they find few people to turn to for help or advice. But in recent years, moves are gaining ground in this country to respect people’s sexual diversity. Three years ago,

Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward became Japan’s first municipality to recognize a same-sex couple’s partnership as equivalent to marriage — a precedent that has since been followed by cities such as Sapporo, Osaka and Fukuoka. Some companies are reviewing their policies to reflect employees’ diverse lifestyles and women’s universities such as Ochanomizu University are reportedly looking into accepting transgender students.

These efforts are in line with provisions in the Constitution that ensures respect of all people as individuals and equality for all under the law. Action, however, remains lethargic at the national level. It should be accelerated if the ruling party is serious about championing “diverse forms of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

In her article in the latest issue of Shincho 45 magazine, Sugita, elected on the LDP’s proportional representation ticket to a second term as Lower House member, argues that administrative support for LGBT people is going too far. Since LGBT people are “unproductive” in that they do not bear children, how can the government authorities be justified in using taxpayer money on policies that support the LGBT people, she asks. The lawmaker goes on to say that media tendency toward embracing same-sex relationships in the name of diversity “could make people capable of enjoying normal romance and getting married believe that they have the option of going homosexual, and as a result risk increasing (the number of) unhappy people” and that “a society deprived of ‘common sense’ and ‘normalcy’ is destined to lose ‘order’ and eventually collapse.”

Sugita’s views on “normalcy” or “unhappy people” aside, her argument that some people are unproductive because they don’t give birth to children is unacceptable. Having children is a matter of choice for each individual, and it is ludicrous to rate people’s “productivity” in such terms. Linking people’s “productivity” by any measure to the need for government support for them borders on the discriminatory concepts that are associated with eugenic beliefs.

Of course, Sugita’s freedom to state her own political views must be respected. Criticism of her opinions should not descend into any personal assault on her as lawmaker. What should be clarified is the LDP’s position on the issue as a political party. Sugita herself wrote in a tweet — which she later deleted after filing a complaint with the police because she received a threatening email over the article — that she was encouraged by a senior LDP colleague, who later stated that she had said nothing wrong. The party should make clear whether it remains committed to what it pledged two years ago — to aim for acceptance of “diverse forms of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

There is private research showing that 1 in 13 people in Japan are sexual minorities. It would indeed be a loss to society if they cannot fully realize to their potential due to social prejudice or discrimination. The controversy triggered by Sugita’s magazine article should be turned into a broad public discussion on what policy steps to take to eliminate prejudice and discrimination against sexual minorities.