Report: LGBT-Week for Promoting Understanding of Sexual Minorities

NPO Peer Friends

【The article below is the full version of the article that appears in the thirteenth issue of the CGS Newsletter.】


"Understanding Sexual Minorities Week," held from 17 to 21 May 2010 with government sponsorship, aimed to disseminate accurate information about sexual minorities who are often subjected to prejudice and lack of understanding. It was also designed to gather the voices of sexual minorities themselves. The week featured a special counseling hotline and a symposium attended by Mizuho Fukushima, the Minister of State for Special Missions (Gender Equality, Youth Development and Suicide Prevention). Taro Sato from Peer Friends, an NPO for protecting the human rights of sexual minorities, reports below on the planning and realization of this event.

(CGS Editorial Committee)



I am aware that the name "Understanding Sexual Minorities Week" garnered criticism from numerous standpoints and engendered much discussion.[1] Nor am I unaware of the face that the event was criticized for its actual content as well. In fact, I myself opposed the event at first. Yet, at some point during its inception and planning, I reconsidered my position and decided to help bring about its realization. I had two main reasons for doing so. First of all, the Week was approved by close to 40 interested groups nationwide, from the north in Hokkaido to the south in Okinawa. Thus I came to see it as a landmark event, a Week desired by many groups. Second, as far as I know, it was the first event in Japan to receive official sponsorship from the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Justice from the perspective of human rights or anti-discrimination. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare had previously granted sponsorship for promoting awareness of HIV prevention, but this Week was probably the first instance of government sponsorship being granted in consideration of the problems of human rights and racism.

So why did such a Japanese government policy come about? This report will discuss its context and background, inscribing the activities related to the achievements symbolized by this Week and how the events played out.

Last year, one major change occurred: the advent of a new administration. This was unmistakably a driving force in the Japanese government's implementation of policies for sexual minorities. With the new administration, members of the House of Representatives who understand these issues assumed key positions in the government and in the ruling party. This opportunity for change was particularly fruitful thanks to the fact that non-partisan lawmakers (who later became ruling party members) had organized a study group on sexual minorities called the Bipartisan Workshop on Systems and Institutions for Gays and Lesbians Worldwide. These allowed them to make more effective use of this chance and lead to greater achievements. This eventually had a great deal to do with the realization of Understanding Sexual Minorities Week.

For the Bi-Partisan Workshop on Systems and Institutions for Gays and Lesbians Worldwide, researchers at the National Library examined the legal systems and educational policies in different countries concerning sexual minorities with a focus on gays and lesbians. After they reported their findings on each country in turn to bi-partisan lawmakers and their secretaries, as well as NPOs and NGOs, the participants exchanged their opinions.[2] The workshop had three main goals since its beginnings in the summer of 2008. The first goal was to gather and strengthen a core group of Diet members with an informed understanding of this issue. The second goal was to create a cooperative framework with NGOs and NPOs. Finally, the third goal was to rectify the paucity of relevant resources and data at the National Library with the information accumulated through these studies.

Participants included Mizuho Fukushima (Social Democratic Party Leader, Upper House Member), Daigo Matsuura (Democratic Party Member, Upper House Member), and other Diet members as well as their secretaries participating as proxy members. The sessions were held not simply for the purpose of learning about the situation in different countries but were also opportunities to engage in negotiations with government agencies before the advent of the new administration. One of our major achievements can be seen in the Japanese government's issuance of the "Certificates of Unmarried Status" necessary for same-sex marriage abroad. [3]

     The relationships forged through the workshop, among the participants and between the participants and the relevant agencies, created an organic framework for the realization of related policies after the change in government. For example, in her capacity as the Minister of State for Special Missions, Mizuho Fukushima was responsible for ten social co-existence policies including the declining birthrate, gender equality, and youth development. In other words, she gained a powerful authority to engage in these issues. Other participating assembly members and secretaries assumed influential positions in the Democratic Party or became secretaries of the three most relevant ministries. In this way, the workshop participants gained the authority to determine the most effective, workable policies regarding sexual minorities.

         Minister Fukushima in particular had been considering the advancement of policies regarding sexual minorities since before the change of government. Then, she asked me and a fellow secretary of the workshop, Taiga Ishikawa from Peer Friends, to consider with government bureaucrats what could be done for sexual minorities in terms of the co-existence policies under her purview. She created the opportunity for discussion and debate between us and departmental chiefs and councilors who were concerned with these issues.

         In response, Taiga Ishikawa focused on the idea of "weeks" for enlightening people on various kinds of discrimination and other social problems. For example, the Japanese government had previously hosted and sponsored a project called "Promoting Understanding of Hansen's Disease Week." Ishikawa wondered if a similar educational week could be realized for sexual minorities.

         Ishikawa requested sponsorship for such a Week during the above-mentioned discussions. The Cabinet Office, however, responded that we should first contact the Ministry of Justice, since it is the ministry in charge of human-rights issues. Subsequently, we requested sponsorship from the Justice Ministry through Hideki Morihara, the then secretary of Social Democratic Party member Ryoichi Hattori, member of the, to request for support. We were told that they would consider it, but then heard nothing further from them for some time.

         While waiting for their answer, Ishikawa and his colleagues called on other interest groups for their approval of the Week. As we gathered widespread support from various groups, I overcame my own initial skepticism and began to think that we should make this happen. With my newfound resolve, I talked to Daigo Matsuura about the government's sponsorship. Finally, at Matsuura's discretion, we succeeded through an unconventional process in which the secretary-general asked both the Ministry of Justice and the Cabinet Office for the sponsorship with the help of another Democratic Party member who had attended the workshop. We were greatly astonished at this achievement, and at the same time, we were convinced that the Week would surely be realized with sponsorship from both departments.

         Despite this, neither the Justice Ministry nor the Cabinet Office took prompt action. From what I heard, there was a lack of consensus among departments of the Justice Ministry and the Cabinet Office regarding our project which prevented them from providing us with their sponsorship for a while. Minister Fukushima repeatedly talked to the bureaucrats of the Cabinet Office who were opposed to sponsoring the Week and they finally bowed under her pressure. The Cabinet Office made the exceptional decision to take the lead in supporting us although it was not directly in charge of this issue, providing sponsorship through the "Office for the General Promotion of Policy on Youth Affairs and Childrearing". Unfortunately, it was not supported by the whole Cabinet Office but from a "unit", but the Ministry of Justice immediately followed their lead by providing their support from the level of a "unit", as well, namely the "Human Rights Bureau."

         It was with such unexceptional twists and turns that the Week came to be sponsored as a "human-rights" issue. Due to the importance place by government offices on precedents, their sponsorship is most likely to continue in future years. The Week achieved a measure of success in its realization.

         However, even as the Week ended, the Japanese government's enforcement of policies concerning sexual minorities has been greatly frustrated. This is because Minister Fukushima, who played a significant role in enforcing these measures, has been removed from office due to her stance of the issue of U. S. military bases in Okinawa, and her Social Democratic Party left the ruling coalition with the Democratic Party. After the existing Cabinet resigned en masse, a new Cabinet was inaugurated with new leaders. Koichiro Genba, who is often regarded as more conservative, replaced Fukushima as the State Minister in Charge of Measures for Declining Birthrate and Gender Equality. Considering his approach and remarks so far, we can hardly expect him to promote policies about sexual minorities. Rather, we have to be concerned about its regression.

         In fact, I had heard that "Visions of Children and Youths" would be proclaimed in June 2010 under the leadership of Minister Fukushima, but there is yet no movement in early July.[4] This is disappointing because I heard that this Vision would be even more progressive than the Third Basic Plan for Gender Equality whose references to sexual minorities have become the subject of much discussion. In addition, even the future of the Third Basic Plan for Gender Equality remains uncertain under the new Minister in terms of what would be included in its official formulation in December. However, I heard that the references to sexual minorities in "the Basic Plan" were made by the Cabinet Office at the request of the Democratic Party's Conference of Promotion of Gender Equality, in response to lobbying by an NGO group. So it will probably be difficult to eliminate the references altogether.

         Sexual minority rights have generally been recognized by the Japanese government, despite its swing-over, and have secured a place as one of its policy issues.

         In order to promote policies about these issues in the future, further lobbying of Diet members will be needed. Here, I emphasize the subsequent need for more "breadth" and "depth." By breadth, I refer to the need for more assembly members, such as conservative members of the Liberal Democratic Party, to have an awareness of these issues. As in the case of the Special Law for People with Gender Identity Disorder, a broad base of support and agreement on an issue is required in order to enact related laws. Therefore, we need to gain understanding about these issues from a wide range of assembly members.

         At the same time, I would like to emphasize the necessity of depth as well as breadth. As seen in the case of this Week, assembly members like Ms. Fukushima and Mr. Matsuura who willingly spare their time are essential for the realization of human-rights policies. Such active commitment from members is rarely found even regarding other social and political issues. However, without the lobbying of such Diet members, the government is unlikely to take action. With the loss of Ms. Fukushima in the administration, there is a growing need for proactive members of the government and the Democratic Party who have a greater understanding of these issues.

                                                                      Taro SATO

 NPO Peer Friends

[1] The LGBT community was dissatisfied with the term "rikai" ("understanding" or "appreciation") used in the Japanese title because it suggests that sexual minorities are akin to an unknown topic that must be "properly understood" and implies their marginalization. (Note, however, that this problem is avoided by the abbreviated title, "LGBT Week".) It raised questions such as: "On what basis do you judge that you've 'properly understood?'" and "Who makes that kind of judgment?" Some of this discussion can be viewed online at

[2] The Japanese National Library does not only acquire and circulate library materials but also aids members of the national diet in their legislative duties by conducting surveys and collecting/ providing relevant data and reference materials.

[3] When a Japanese national is married overseas, he or she must submit a Certificate of Legal Capacity to Contract Marriage to the government of the country where they are married. The certificate is issued by the Japanese government or prefectural authorities to prove that he or she satisfies the conditions for marriage under Japanese law. In 2002, the Ministry of Justice issued instructions to municipalities nationwide to add the sections "Gender of Applicant" and "Gender of Prospective Marriage Partner" on the application form for the certificate and to prohibit the issuance of certificates for applicants planning to contract same-sex marriages overseas. It has been said that the Ministry of Justice took this action because it feared that the issuance of certificates to applicants intending to marry a partner of the same sex may be perceived as the Japanese government's approval of same-sex marriage. Participants of the Bi-Partisan Workshop on Systems and Institutions for Gays and Lesbians Worldwide entered into negotiations against these measures, and on 23 March 2009, Mizuho Fukushima reported that the Ministry of Justice had removed the sections pertaining to gender on the certificate and were considering the introduction of a "New Certification (Certificate of Unmarried Status)" as the only prerequisite verification for a marriage contract. This was based on the argument that such a form would prevent any implication that the Ministry of Justice was passing judgment on same-sex marriages. But at the House of Representatives Judicial Affairs Committee meeting on 3 April 2009, Representative Tomomi Inada (Liberal Democratic Party) objected to the new certificate because it would result in "the acknowledgment of foreign laws on gay marriage." For whatever reason, the situation stagnated temporarily but on 1 September 2009, the Ministry of Justice finally announced that it would begin issuing the "New Certification (Certificate of Unmarried Status)."

[4] "Visions of Children and Youth" has since been announced on 23 July by the Cabinet Office for Promotion of Development and Support for Children and Young People (Director, Prime Minister Naoto Kan). With regard to sexual minorities, it mentions that they aim "to abolish discrimination against people with gender identity disorder and those who face difficulties because of their sexual orientation, especially children and young people who need to be taken care of, and to conduct Enlightenment activities for promoting understanding" as part of its "Support for Children and Youths who Require Special Attention such as Foreigners." It is the first time that an official policy of the Cabinet Office has clearly mentioned the necessity for measures concerning "sexual minorities." Even though the reference was inconspicuous, the text potentially marks a significant first step which could influence future lobbying by interest groups at the national level. The full text is available on the official website of the Cabinet Office: