Activists’ Videos Highlight Long Struggle for Equality
(Tokyo and New York, July 19, 2021) – The Japanese government’s failure to pass a national nondiscrimination law to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics was a lost opportunity to advance the rights of everyone in Japan, J-ALL, Athlete Ally, All Out, and Human Rights Watch said today, releasing a video of five Japanese longtime LGBT activists. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga should immediately and publicly commit to enacting an LGBT Equality Act.
The Olympic Charter expressly bans “discrimination of any kind” as a Fundamental Principle of Olympism. However, despite promises from Japan’s ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) that they would pass the country’s first national LGBT law during the 2021 Diet session, the legislature failed to pass a law during the session, which ended in June.
“LGBT people in Japan, including athletes, are entitled to equal protection under the law, but currently there are a very limited number of openly out professional athletes in the country, and many remain in the closet from fear and stigma,” said Yuri Igarashi, director of the Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation (J-ALL), an umbrella organization of more than 80 LGBT organizations in Japan. “We expected the Olympic Games to be a wonderful opportunity to introduce and pass legal protections so that everyone in society can live openly and safely. It is extremely disappointing that this law did not pass this time.”
The Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, which were postponed for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, will start the week of July 23, 2021. Not a single openly LGBT athlete will compete for the host country, reflecting Japan’s need to create a safe and inclusive environment for LGBT people.
J-ALL and other Japanese LGBT groups have, for the past six years, urged political parties and elected representatives to pass legislation to protect LGBT rights. In 2020, J-ALL, Athlete Ally, All Out, and Human Rights Watch created the #EqualityActJapan campaign in Japanese and English to support a law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
In January, 116 Japanese and international groups sent a joint letter urging passage of such legislation to Prime Minister Suga. In March, the groups submitted a petition with 106,250 signatures from Japan and abroad to all Japanese political parties, including the LDP, calling for the introduction of the Equality Act in the Diet. Over 20 corporations and other organizations from Japan and overseas have also endorsed the Equality Act..
In response, the LDP announced that it would enact an LGBT law during the 2021 regular Diet session, but did not do so. The media reported that many conservative LDP members of parliament opposed the bill. Although other party leaders publicly supported the LGBT legislation, the prime minister has never publicly expressed support for the LGBT equality law.
“LGBTQ+ athletes have always competed at the highest levels of sport, and the Olympic Charter underscores that every athlete’s access to sport is a human right,” said Hudson Taylor, founder and executive director of Athlete Ally. “As the esteemed host of this year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, Japan has the power be a global leader in human rights by ensuring that LGBT people nationwide are protected from discrimination under the law. Without these protections, the true spirit of Olympism – one of inclusivity and equality – can never be fully realized.”
Japanese public support for LGBT equality has been surging in recent years. In November 2020, a nationwide public opinion survey found that 88 percent of those polled “agree or somewhat agree” with the “introduction of laws or ordinances that ban bullying and discrimination (in relation to sexual minorities).”
In October 2018, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government adopted an ordinance that protects LGBT people from discrimination in line with the Olympic Charter. This municipal “Olympics” law was a direct result of human rights consultation tied to the Olympics, and has proven to be popular. However, it has also demonstrated gaps in protection across the country and thus the need for a national approach, the groups said.
“Protecting LGBT+ people from discrimination is a crucial and long-overdue step for Japan,” said Matt Beard, executive director of All Out. “By failing to pass anti-discrimination legislation ahead of the Olympic Games, the Japanese government is not only failing to comply with the Olympic Charter, but is also disregarding the will of the 88 percent of the population that favors such legislation.”
Japan has also ratified core international human rights treaties that obligate the government to protect against discrimination, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
“LGBT people in Japan face intense social pressure and fewer legal protections than other Japanese,” said Kanae Doi, Japan director at Human Rights Watch. “Prime Minister Suga should immediately commit to passing an LGBT equality act to make LGBT equality a part of Japan’s permanent Olympic legacy.”