By Atsuko Matsumoto / Japan News Staff WriterThere has been some progress toward improving the rights of LGBT individuals in Japan in recent years. But now the government and the public should both make further efforts to debate the issue, a lawmaker said at an event held on Thursday in Tokyo titled “Advancing LGBT Rights: Sharing Perspectives from the EU and Japan.”
Referring to Ireland and France, which have advanced LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights, including marriage equality, Kanako Otsuji of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan said, “What is common in these nations is that they debated the issues thoroughly.”
“It is necessary to debate their rights both inside and outside the Diet,” she added.
Among Japan’s 700 Diet members, Otsuji is the only one who is openly lesbian. She was among the panelists at the event.
“In Japan, the common discriminatory attitude [toward LGBT individuals] is a silent approach of ‘Don’t touch,’ and ‘Don’t talk,’” she said.
In Ireland, by contrast, everyone was talking about such issues recently. In 2015, the once deeply Catholic nation became the world’s first country to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote.
Irish LGBT activist Rory O’Neill, another member of the panel, said the national referendum was an incredibly powerful move that settled the issue for good. O’Neill, also known as drag performer Panti Bliss, led the yes campaign and became a national icon of the movement.
While admitting that a referendum can be risky, O’Neill said, “If you do get the result you wanted, it’s a much more powerful way to do it because we debated the merits of marriage equality endlessly.”
“At the end of that difficult process, the whole country voted — every grandmother, every neighbor, every truck driver, every academic and everybody voted — and the whole country decided they are fine with the gay marriage,” he said.
He contrasted Ireland’s process to that of France, where marriage equality is “still a live issue” because it was introduced from the top down.
Throughout the Tokyo event, held at the Delegation of the European Union to Japan, the question of whether to come out drew a heated exchange of opinions among the panelists.
Gon Matsunaka, president of the nonprofit organization Good Aging Yells, said a tendency of excluding those who are different still makes it difficult for gay people in Japan to take the first step to come out.
O’Neill said, “The single most important individual thing that an individual LGBTI person can do to advance human rights of their own group is to come out.” The longer abbreviation he used includes the letter I for “intersex.”