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Japanese politicians refuse to pass LGBTQ rights bill as Olympics approach

Person holding rainbow poster Love Wins for same-sex marriage rights among people marching in the Tokyo Rainbow Pride (TRP) Parade 2016 in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan.
Person holding rainbow poster Love Wins for same-sex marriage rights among people marching in the Tokyo Rainbow Pride (TRP) Parade 2016 in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan.Photo: Shutterstock

Advocates around the world are calling foul on Japan, worrying that the country won’t meet their pledge to pass a LGBTQ rights law before hosting the Olympics in August.

The concern follows the country’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the majority party in control of both chambers of the legislature, the National Diet, refused to get behind a bill championed by minority parties called the Equality Act. The bill states that discrimination “must not be tolerated.”

Related: How Japanese homophobia is distinctly different from American homophobia

LDP, which is conservative, pledged in April to pass a bill supporting the LGBTQ community before June. During closed-door negotiations, thought, LDP politicians expressed their feeling that the effort to end legalized discrimination had “gone too far” and would harm the country more than progress it, according to reports.

Many officials reportedly made disparaging remarks about LGBTQ people, but LDP leaders anonymously denounced them in talking to reporters. Still, Japanese media has reported that Kazuo Yana, a LDP member of the Japanese House of Representatives, said that people being “LGBT goes against the preservation of the human race.”

LDP leaders instead wanted to pass a bill that would encourage the government to “promote understanding” of gay and trans people as a compromise. The vote on that bill has been postponed, according to the Guardian and social media posts.

“Japanese officials insulting LGBT people is not new, but it is increasingly out of touch with Japanese public opinion and the government’s place on the world stage,” Human Rights Watch’s Japan director Kanae Doi and LGBT rights researcher Kyle Knight said, condemning the bill’s failure to pass. The international organization gave Japan “A Gold Medal for Homophobia.”

“LDP legislators are out of line. Other LDP leaders should override their ugly rhetoric and pass the Equality Act immediately,” they added.

“These comments, if true, are in violation of the spirit of the Olympics and Paralympics, which Tokyo is hoping to host,” Pride House Tokyo and Athlete Ally said in a joint statement. They call for “retraction and apology of these remarks, and we sincerely hope that the proposal currently under discussion to eliminate discrimination against LGBTQ people will be realized in a more effective manner.”

Pride House Tokyo director Gon Matsunaka added, “How can athletes truly feel safe playing in a country where a member of the ruling party makes such discriminatory remarks?”

Yana has declined to confirm the reports or comment further on the discussions.

Activists groups around the world have begun to increasingly pressure Japan to pass the Equality Act, especially since the Olympic charter specifically denounces discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and this year’s competition may see its first openly transgender athlete competitor in Laurel Hubbard.

Japan remains the only country in the G7 group of countries that has not legalized marriage equality. Same-sex marriage was outlawed until March, when the Japanese courts deemed the law banning it to be unconstitutional.

While the ruling was celebrated, it doesn’t mean that marriages can start being performed immediately. The National Diet would have to pass a law to formally legalize marriage equality in the country.

Homosexuality has been legal since 1880. Recently, a prefecture district even made it illegal to out an LGBTQ person, but while Japanese LGBTQ people don’t face “widespread religious stigma”, same-sex couples still face discrimination in everyday life, such as lack of housing and visiting privileges at hospitals, as AFP reports.

In October, Pride House opened the first permanent LGBTQ center in Japan in Tokyo, near the Olympic village.

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