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Speak Out! Japan's LGBTQ+ Community Responds to Politician Sugita's Discriminatory Statements

posted on by Lynzee Loveridge
Manga creators Yuhki Kamatani, Shō Arai, activists Hiroko Masuhara, Fuyumi Yamamoto, documentary filmmaker Graham Kolbeins, YouTube creator Masaki C. Matsumoto talk ignorance, queer education, and the fight to be seen in Japan

Mio Sugita, a lawmaker in Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), recently came under fire for an article she contributed to that appeared in the August issue of Shinchosha's Shinchō 45 magazine, which shipped on July 18. In the article, titled “LGBT Shien no Do ga Sugiru” (LGBT Support Is Excessive), Sugita made the controversial argument that members of the LGBTQ community are "unproductive" because they do not have children, and she questioned whether the community should benefit from social programs funded by taxpayer money.

A video of Sugita from 2015 where she appeared on known right-wing and nationalist causes channel Japanese Culture Channel Sakura's Hi Izuru Kuni yori program with fellow politician Kyōko Nakayama and Dragon Quest video game series composer Kōichi Sugiyama resurfaced in light of the recent magazine article. In the video, she stated there is no need for LGBT education in schools, dismissed concerns about the high suicide rates among the LGBTQ community, and said that making policies following her beliefs is a way of "differentiating" the LGBTQ community rather than "discrimination." Sugiyama and Nakayama are shown agreeing with Sugita's comments throughout the video.

Sugita's statements spurred action among Japan's LGBTQ community and allies, including a protest on July 27 in front of LDP headquarters in Chiyoda, Tokyo. Approximately 5,000 protesters, including lesbian activist and member of Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation (J-ALL) Hiroko Masuhara (40), participated in the event. Masuhara delivered a message in front of the building expressing her anger, sorrow, and fear that Sugita's comments were published unchallenged by the LDP.

"An incumbent member of the Diet made discriminatory comments based on eugenics and they were published in a magazine, but the LDP treats it as if it's 'just another person's point of view.' I'm disappointed in them."

Masuhara described her own experience where she attempted to deny her sexuality and eventually found support.

"I like women," Masuhara said. "This is a characteristic that should be very nice, but from when I noticed at 10-years-old to 22-years-old, I denied it. I couldn't find self-affirmation. It was a long and painful adolescence. But, by gradually coming out to my friends and family, I gathered up their warm acceptance. I am able to live positively and can now say that I am a worthwhile person. Sugita's remarks turn back the hands of the clock to decades ago."

Masuhara gained attention in Japan when she and her former wife Koyuki Higashi were married at Tokyo Disneyland, the first same-sex couple to hold a ceremony there, in 2013. Their wedding was the subject of the manga Lesbian-teki Kekkon Seikatsu (Lesbian Married Life) by artist Emiko Sugiyama. The couple have since split amicably.

Queer Japan documentary filmmaker Graham Kolbeins has worked with bara and gay manga creators like Gengoroh Tagame, Jiraiya, Hiroshi Hasegawa, Seizoh Ebisubashi, and Takeshi Matsu. He found the Liberal Democratic Party's lack of response to Mio Sugita's comments a tell-tale sign of its overall dismissal of Japan's LGBTQ citizens.

"Shinzo Abe's party has made superficial overtures toward supporting the LGBTQ community in the past, but it's instances like this (along with the complete lack of substantive legislation) that demonstrates the disingenuousness of the LDP's position," Kolbeins said.

"As we filmed interviews for Queer Japan at Tokyo Rainbow Pride in 2016, LDP representative Tomomi Inada made a surprise appearance at the Tokyo pride festival– a first for an LDP official. The nationalist politician, who has since resigned in disgrace, had at that time established a committee within her party to address the rights of LGBTQ people, which on the surface seemed like a positive step. But the results of that committee's report offered no legislative solutions to the problems facing LGBTQ people in Japan, from workplace and housing discrimination to school bullying. Instead, Inada's conclusion was to express hope for a society 'in which no one feels the need to come out.'"

"This kind of backward thinking, that it would be better for LGBTQ people to never speak about their identities, represents the most 'progressive' attitudes toward LGBTQ people within Japan's ruling party, while there are others, like Mio Sugita, who have no reservations about openly marginalizing and dehumanizing LGBTQ individuals. Prime Minister Abe has refused to budge on the issue of same-sex marriage, even making the hypocritical argument that Japan's constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman. This reasoning is more than a little bit ironic coming from a man who has spent his whole career aiming to revise the constitution in an effort to re-militarize Japan," Kolbeins said.

"With the LDP in power, LGBTQ rights and protections on a national level feel like a distant pipe dream. On the bright side, openly LGBTQ politicians, like Aya Kamikawa and Taiga Ishikawa, have been winning elections in Japan. A handful of cities and wards have begun issuing partnership certificates to same-sex couples. While these certificates have little to no legal power, they represent an important acknowledgement of LGBTQ people, and a step in the right direction."

Intersex manga creator Shō Arai told Anime News Network that climate towards the LGBTQ community in Japan will not change until society rethinks how it deals with hate speech, including on social media.

"There's nothing you can do about a private individual thinking bigoted thoughts, but there's a climate in which comments on forums like 2chan or Twitter that are visible to others are treated as “individual freedom.” As long as backbiting and bigotry are included in “individual freedom,” you're going to get people like this. It's not as if politicians or celebrities are a special case. Society as a whole needs to radically rethink slander, hate speech, and barbed remarks," Arai said.

Arai is the subject of the documentary film Seibetsu ga, Nai! Intersex Mangaka no Queer na Hibi (I Have No Sex!: An Intersex Manga Creator's Daily Life) and the author of the essay manga Gakkōde wa Oshiete Kurenai 'Sekumai' no Hanashi (The Story of Sexual Minorities They Didn't Tell You In School).

Non-binary, asexual manga creator Yuhki Kamatani shared their thoughts through their editor: "Naturally, the statement in question is unforgivable, and while I haven't said anything publicly, anger is whirling in my mind. But I am really bad at putting my own philosophy and opinions into words. My stance is similar to that of Utsumi in my manga Shimanami Tasogare (Shimanami Twilight): I admire those who raise their voices, but can only quietly support and cheer them on from the sidelines."

"What I can do is draw comics that provide an opportunity for people to think about these issues."

Kamatani is the creator of Nabari No Ou and previously discussed their experiences from adolescence to adulthood while being a non-binary person with Buzzfeed Japan. These themes continue in their works, from their debut one-shot Hanaya to Kamatani's newest work Shimanami Tasogare, which chronicles one boy's fear of being outed as gay in a new town and how his isolation begins to lead to suicidal idealization; until he finds a community where he belongs.

Politician Mio Sugita's comments have far-reaching implications, not just for Japan's LGBTQ community, but for anyone who doesn't fall under her narrow definition of "productive." Fuyumi Yamamoto is a 36-year-old representative from Deaf LGBTQ Center in Japan. Yamamoto is queer and deaf herself, having grown up with deaf parents and learning Japanese Sign Language as her first means of communication. Her husband of five years, Makoto Yamamoto, is transgender.

Yamamoto strongly objects to Sugita's comments as a member of two minority populations within Japan. She describes Sugita's statements as an example of someone clinging to "common sense" in the face of growing diversity awareness in the country.

"In Japan, 'difference' is often hard to see. There are many who believe it is shameful to show 'difference.' There's a famous proverb, 'The nail that sticks out gets hammered down,' and that climate, that culture persists to this day," Yamamoto said. "Sugita assumes that sexual minorities are unhappy people. Yet the sexual minorities we know are happy people. They are very positive."

Yamamoto also elaborated that procreation is not the end-all-be-all for couples, regardless of individuals' gender.

"Two (or more) people who get along well support each other in many ways and combine their strengths. That's what a 'couple' is," Yamamoto said. "Among different-sex couples, there are couples who can't have children. In the old days, couples who couldn't conceive were criticized by relatives, but this practice is wrong. Secondly, categorizing human beings as 'productive' or 'useful' is wrong. Declaring that people deemed 'unproductive' or 'not useful' are not needed in society is eugenics. Recently in Japan, a history of forced sterilization has come under scrutiny, and the deaf community is conducting a survey of the damage," Yamamoto explained.

Yamamoto and her husband with their successfully crowdfunded support book for LGBTQ and Deaf individuals.

She also criticized Sugita's suggestion that LGBTQ individuals should not have access to social services.

"Thirdly, if you say that 'unproductive' people should be offered no social security, then that would apply not only to sexual minorities, but to the elderly as well. Surely no one is willing to accept a society in which people who have worked for society for years but have grown too old and are no longer able to work are simply left to die, with no social security, as in the mythical ubasute form of senicide."

Ubasute is a legend that is not thought to have been actually practiced in Japan, but was the act of taking elderly, infirm members of the family up into the mountains and abandoning them there to die.

YouTube creator, writer, and illustrator Masaki C. Matsumoto has encountered hurdles in his everyday life as a bisexual man that reaffirm feelings of "otherness," often stemming from general ignorance about LGBTQ people. Matsumoto described an encounter with a doctor at a local health clinic following an incident where Matsumoto was raped by a man.

"I told the doctor that I had been raped a year and half prior, and he was very confused—so confused he asked if I was the one who raped someone. When I specifically told him that a man had raped me, he became even more perplexed. He said, 'okay,' eventually and moved on to other questions," Matsumoto said.

Politician Mio Sugita argued that LGBTQ individuals in Japan have it better than in other countries, because sexual minorities are not discriminated on religious grounds. However, by Matsumoto's own account, Japanese LGBTQ individuals face the same kind of ostracism as the gay and trans communities in North America.

"Many queers have family issues," Matsumoto said. "Some are kicked out of home at a young age. Some no longer attend family obligations. We tend to have weaker ties to family members than non-queers do. That makes us vulnerable to things like financial problems, emotional breakdowns, and overall insecurity. That means we have fewer support systems. Plus, we are programmed to think that we do not deserve such support systems."

Matsumoto also disagrees with Sugita's dismissal of teaching LGBTQ topics in Japanese schools. He said while it would greatly benefit kids in schools, he finds the subject is hardly satisfactory in its current state even in regard to heterosexual information.

"They don't teach much about self-determination, self-control, self-esteem, sexual agency/autonomy, rights, or boundaries. If kids are taught those things at school, they will be not just aware of their self worth, but also more accepting of different sexualities and gendered behaviors, both of others' and themselves'. Instead, however, we're taught names of body parts, reproductive functions, some STDs, and that's it," Matsumoto said.

Matsumoto feels the best way to combat ignorance in Japan is for the queer community to be acknowledged.

"We need to show people that we walk among them. We are already part of the society and we're everywhere. There's a phrase that we hear often, and that is "in your world." We hear it when cisgender, straight people ask us questions about queer lifestyles and experiences. But queers don't live in a separate world. We take out trash early morning feeling so sleepy we wish we could ditch work/school and go back to bed. We run to the train station but miss the train, and have to call work to tell them we'll be late. We want to cut our nails but can't find the nail-clipper so we go out and buy one, only to find the old one later sitting on the table the whole time."

"Basically, 99% of a queer person's daily life is the same as that of a non-queer person's life. We need to change people's perception that queer people must have something fundamentally different than them."

Additional reporting by Jennifer Sherman

Protest photos by Kim Morrissy

Special thanks to Rachel Thorn

Sources: SakuraSoTV YouTube channel, Shinchosha's website, The Mainichi (Link 2) (Kenichi Omura), The Asahi Shimbun, The Japan Times (Tomohiro Osaki) via Shaun Musgrave's Twitter, @ladyinermine's Twitter, Hiroko Masuhara's blog, ANN E-mail correspondence with Graham Kolbeins, Yuhki Kamatani, Fuyumi Yamamoto, Masaki C. Matsumoto, and Shō Arai

This article has a follow-up: Square Enix Responds to Dragon Quest Composer's 2015 Anti-LGBTQ Statements (2018-08-07 13:45)
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