When a local politician from Tokyo’s Ebisu district last week condemned media coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights issues and called gay people “abnormal” on Twitter, it came as a reminder of times past. It was just five years ago when Tokyo’s governor publicly called gay people “deficient.”
But a lot has changed in Japan since 2011, including the recognition of same-sex relationships in parts of Tokyo; IBM Japan and other major companies extending some benefits to employees’ same-sex partners; and Osaka’s Yodogawa ward, in 2013, and Okinawa’s capital, Naha City, in July 2015, declaring themselves “LGBT friendly” municipalities.
Around the world, progress by LGBT people has often provoked a backlash, such as the Ebisu representative’s homophobic remarks. And while the politician’s colleagues reacted swiftly to criticize him, even calling for his resignation and prompting him to apologize, such statements cut deep, and contribute to a sense that LGBT people in Japan are under siege – particularly those most vulnerable to hateful comments from authorities.
During Human Rights Watch’s ongoing research on bullying and harassment of LGBT youth in Japanese schools, we have heard over and over again that homophobic remarks from public officials and school administrators discourage victims of bullying from reporting abuses.
What’s crucial in such cases is that the government both condemn these statements, and take measures to protect LGBT people – including children who are trying to learn about sexual orientation and gender identity. The Japanese government has a responsibility to ensure noxious statements about gay people don’t go unchallenged. It’s part of their duty to protect all of its citizens’ rights to security, privacy, and freedom of information and expression.
Japan has held a leadership role at the United Nations in recent years, where it has voted for both the 2011 and 2014 Human Rights Council resolutions calling for an end to violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s time to bring these principles home, and protect LGBT people in Japan.