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Japan Passes Law to ‘Promote Understanding’ of LGBT People

Fight Continues for Comprehensive Nondiscrimination Legislation

Supporters of Equality Act Japan gather in front of parliament before they submit a petition in Tokyo on March 25, 2021.  © 2021 Kanae Doi/Human Rights Watch

In June, the Japanese Diet, the national legislature of Japan, passed its first-ever law on sexual orientation and gender identity. It seeks to “promote understanding” and avoid “unfair discrimination.” The law states that “all citizens, irrespective of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, are to be respected as individuals with inherent and inviolable fundamental human rights.” While a good start, the measure falls short of the comprehensive nondiscrimination legislation called for by a number of Japanese rights groups.

The legislation obligates the national government to draw up a basic implementation plan to promote understanding of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and to protect them from “unfair discrimination.” It also stipulates that government entities, businesses, and schools “need to strive” to take similar action.

This progress would not have been possible without the more than 100 organizations and companies, and thousands of individuals who supported the #EqualityActJapan campaign. In 2020, the Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation (J-ALL), Athlete Ally, All Out, and Human Rights Watch created the campaign in the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. It called on the government to introduce legislation that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. More than 100,000 people signed a petition in support of the proposed law.

A first draft of the bill had to be shelved following opposition from conservative members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which included prejudiced statements and political posturing. But in early 2023, LGBT rights groups united to revive the bill, launching a new Group of Seven (G7) engagement group, Pride7, to establish a dialogue between civic groups and G7 governments about LGBT-related policies. With encouragement from peer G7 nations, the LDP submitted a revised bill to the Diet on May 18, a day before the G7 summit began in Hiroshima. But again, facing opposition from lawmakers, the bill was subject to delays and revisions.

The long journey for equality for Japan’s LGBT community is not over. This new law, while advancing the rights of LGBT people, falls well short of ensuring them equal protection from discrimination.  

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida should go further. A comprehensive nondiscrimination act is what is needed if Japan is to protect the human rights of all.

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