By Takashi Kawaguchi and Haruka Matsuzaki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers OKAYAMA — Municipal efforts to support sexual minorities are spreading through the nation, as seen in Okayama Prefecture.
This spring, the Soja city government in the prefecture launched a “partnership system” that officially recognizes same-sex couples for the first time in the Chugoku and Shikoku regions. In Kurashiki, the city’s board of education has created a model for classes that encourage elementary and junior high school students to think about sexual diversity, a measure that has attracted national attention.
“The introduction [of the partnership system] was decided with the aim to reduce the number of citizens who have worries in their daily lives as soon as possible,” Hideki Niiya, chief of the Soja city government’s civic life division, said in Okayama city on May 11 at a gathering on the subject of issues related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people organized by the Okayama Lawyers Association.
The city took steps to establish a relevant ordinance after a regular city assembly session in November last year in which the Soja mayor was asked about the partnership system and promptly expressed his intention to consider it positively.
Under the system that the city introduced in April, partnership certificates are issued to couples aged 20 or over who meet certain conditions such as being residents of the city. The certificates come in the size of business cards and nicknames can be used. LGBT couples with the certificates can receive insurance benefits and family discounts for mobile phone fees.
According to the city government, the certificate had been issued to one couple as of May 20. The city is also looking into deleting a category that specifies gender on application forms for residence certificates and other documents filed with the citizens section.
Partnership systems drew national attention when two Tokyo wards, Shibuya and Setagaya, introduced it in 2015. According to a survey conducted by Osaka-based nonprofit organization Nijiiro Diversity, the number of municipalities that had launched such a system had risen to 20 as of April 17 and 426 couples had used the system.
Osaka and Sapporo are among the government ordinance-designated cities that have made similar moves. In Okayama city, which has yet to introduce such a system, its gender-equal ordinance was revised to change part of the text from “regardless of sex” to “regardless of sex and other factors” as well as from “men and women” to “all the people.”
“We’ve reached the stage in which people concerned can finally speak out,” said an official of the city’s section to promote community-building to enable women to succeed in their career. “First, we want to consistently work on raising awareness to deepen understanding among residents as a whole.”
Step-by-step efforts are also being made in educational fields.
In 2015, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry issued a notice that lists points of consideration for students with gender identity disorder. Following that, the Kurashiki board of education held study classes on nurturing students who are tolerant of sexual diversity, at a total of 20 elementary and junior high schools in the 2016 and 2017 academic years.
Based on the findings from the classes, the educational board created materials that specify the purpose for teaching as helping students empathize with the life struggles of LGBT people and points of attention, among other things.
This “Kurashiki model” has attracted attention from boards of education across the nation. The Kurashiki educational board received inquiries or visits by about 70 entities as of the end of the 2018 academic year.
In a survey among LGBT people about their school lives that was conducted in the 2015 school year mainly by Proud Okayama, an LGBT support group, more than 60 percent of respondents said they once thought they no longer want to live because of their sexuality.
“There is still bias against and no understanding of LGBT people. Young people tend to struggle and have difficulty living,” said Fumiko Suzuki, head of Proud Okayama. “Moves to protect the rights of such people have a long way to go. I want local governments to spread proper information about sexual diversity more actively.”Speech