One week before launching the Party of Hope, Tokyo Gov Yuriko Koike endorsed the Equality Gala of Lawyers for LGBT & Allies Network (LLAN) held in Tokyo.
Koike’s prepared bilingual statement of Sept 19 marks a historical moment in what could become the most LGBT-friendly host city in Olympics history:
"Congratulations on Equality Gala 2017. The Tokyo government values people and seeks to realize a city where women, men, children, the elderly, people with disabilities, and LGBT can live with vitality, can be an active player and seeks to realize diversity. While a national discussion is required with respect to same-sex marriage, prejudice and discrimination against LGBT people must be eliminated. I wish the success of this event from the bottom of my heart, towards the realization of a city that embraces diversity and is filled with warmth and kindness."
This year’s Equality Gala, only in its second year, included some of Tokyo’s top movers and shakers. Yasushi Takayama, LLAN Board member and Chief Legal Counsel/Senior Managing Director of Nomura Holdings Inc, spoke about the importance of being a marriage equality ally, especially from a business perspective. Senior and managing partners of all “big four” Japanese law firms and managing partners of 10 major international law firms were in attendance, along with Diet member Gaku Hashimoto, son of the former prime minister and rising star in the LDP. Senior managers came from Lixil, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Mizuho, Kao, Fuji Film, Toyota, Dentsu and Omron.
The Japan power presence was met by global speakers from Australia, UK and Taiwan who challenged Japan to win the LGBT gold for Asia in support of the unity in diversity 2020 Olympics theme. Same sex marriage is now officially recognized in 24 countries comprising over one billion people; the most powerful G7 countries are leading the way. Japan remains an outlier.
The Honorable Michael Kirby of Australia, former Justice of the High Court, said what is good for partners in a same sex marriage is good for the country. It is “good for everybody to see the reality and to shatter the stereotypes.” Powerful words for a country where it is estimated that one in every 13 people is LGBT and young people do not feel recognized or are targeted for their sexual minority status.
This year Japan passed legislation to protect against bullying based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Human Rights Watch and U.N. agencies such as UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and UNESCO, recommend LGBT-inclusive approaches to education. The Japanese government said it would not include it in the educational curriculum for at least 10 years.
“There is a problem in Japan in getting people to make the same decision, to take that extra step to stand up,’ said Kirby. “It’s like Australia was 30 years ago. It’s okay to be gay, we know you are out there, just don’t ever say anything about it. Just keep quiet. That is the pact we made with you. That has to be over. It has to be over for human rights but it also has to be over for business.”
Kirby acknowledged the presence of Japanese Olympic athlete and LGBT-ally Dai Tamesue, who he thanked for his strength and friendship. “I would trade 20 judges for one Olympic champion! But how many openly gay judges are there in Japan? How many members of the Diet are there in Japan? How many openly gay athletes are there in Japan? How many openly gay top businesspeople in Japanese corporations are there in Japan? This is the question that hangs over this dinner.” He especially called out the members of prominent Japanese businesses who were present to link their bottom line focus to people bringing their full selves to work.
Kirby said that his partner Johan of 48 years rang him at 6 a.m. and said, “Now you be respectful to the Japanese. They have a very ancient culture. They will not react well to a foreigner coming and telling them what to do!” But he believes he’s being very respectful to push things along and said that he would return every year to Japan until it has made real progress. Earlier this year Justice Kirby was honored by the Emperor of Japan with the Order of the Rising Sun for his recent work as Chairman of the UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korea.
Nick Herbert, Conservative member of British Parliament, was the first chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT Rights. He joked that his civil partnership is just 20 years to Kirby’s 48. “I have a way to go.” The Parliament of the United Kingdom has 45 openly LGBT members out of 650 elected, representing 7.5% of the Parliament. Herbert noted, “That makes us officially the gayest parliament in the world!” Most estimates suggest that around five percent of any given population identify as sexual minorities. This translates into at least six million people in Japan who, if they could, might identify themselves openly.
In 2014, Herbert led the campaign in the British House of Commons alongside then Prime Minister David Cameron to introduce equal marriage. One of the arguments against gay marriage in the UK was that it would dilute the sanctity of heterosexual marriage. His response in the House of Commons: “Are a straight married couple going to turn to each other and say, ‘Darling, our marriage is over. Sir Elton John has just gotten engaged to David Furnish.’”
The legislation for freedom to marry passed by huge majorities. Herbert said: “I’m a legislator for 12 years, and most of the time I and my colleagues cause a great deal of misery. We tax our citizens. We make promises that we don’t keep. We regulate businesses. We tell people that they can’t do things. We are generally an infuriating group of people. But I cannot think of a single law that has been passed that had a happier effect than this one did, which is to harm no one and create enormous happiness.”
The case for equal marriage was not introduced under the banner of human rights or equality. Cameron promoted the legislation because he is a conservative and marriage is fundamentally a conservative institution. “It represents the commitment of two people to each other in the public eye. It represents fidelity and longevity in a relationship, everything society should want from a relationship,” said Herbert.
With 24 countries having already passed equal marriage, five out of the seven most powerful G7 member states now have, or about to have, equal marriage. Italy introduced civil unions in 2016. “I don’t really need to spell it out, do I,” said Herbert. “One country in the G7 remains, a country that will be hosting the Olympics in three years.”
Victoria Hsu, co-founder of the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights, said that Taiwan could become the first Asian country with equal marriage. “Japan can still take the gold if we don’t!”
Dr Nancy Snow is an LGBT writer/advocate, Pax Mundi Professor of Public Diplomacy at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies, and author of "Japan’s Information War."© Japan Today