- Karin Shimoo
“Abandoning the Country?” Diversity Just For Show
“I respect human rights and other senses of values, but if we recognize same-sex marriage, there will be people who will abandon this country.”
“What kind of country respects human rights but doesn’t recognize them?”
I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt discomfort and frustration over the statement of Arai, the former executive secretary to the prime minister when asked about same-sex marriage.
In fact, many supporters of the petition campaign calling for legislation to protect the human rights of LGBTQIA+ people commented, "We’re not in that era anymore" or "I feel ashamed as a Japanese person.”
It’s been two decades since same-sex marriage began to be legalized overseas. In Japan, there’s a movement to reconsider the stereotypes of “family” and “married couple,” which used to be the “norm.” I’m personally a big fan of “What'd You Eat Yesterday?” and “Ossan‘s Love” (the Japanese TV series about homosexuality), and they both have been popular. This situation gradually helped raise awareness of LGBTQIA+ issues, not only among the younger generation but also among the general public. Although these media portrayals of LGBTQIA+ folks aren’t always accurate and can rather reproduce prejudice, it’s undeniable that they’ve spread interest in sexual diversity. Sixty boroughs have also enforced the treaty against LGBTQIA+ discrimination, which has accelerated efforts related to LGBTQIA+ issues at the local level.
I thought that society was becoming easier for more people to live in.
However, it turned out that “diversity” has become only for show in today's Japan. And this isn't only a political issue but one that each of us is responsible for.
The “true intentions” expressed by the word “country”
There was one word in former secretary Arai's remarks that left a deep impression on me. It was the words "abandoning the country."
When I first heard this, I was astounded and thought, “No, no, on the contrary, there are people who have no choice but to ‘abandon’ their country because of such old-fashioned thoughts.” There are many LGBTQIA+ people, such as Kan from Netflix's “Queer Eye,” who left Japan to become a family with someone they love and move to a country where same-sex marriage is legal. However, Kan once stated in an interview with Cosmopolitan, that moving abroad is also a “conflict” because you have to give up things you love, such as your job, your family, your friends, and other things you value.
On the other hand, the former secretary’s comment about “abandoning the country” wasn’t a recognition of such a current situation. It was a term that asserted that the identity of Japanese people would be lost in exchange for the recognition of human rights. This isn’t a minority view, and consideration for the conservatives who’d say “It affects the core of the (traditional) family” has often led to the suspension of legal reforms related to the selective dual-surname system and LGBTQIA+ rights. And this time, too, opinions agreeing with the former secretary's stance were often seen on social media, such as, “It’s unsuitable for Japanese culture” or “It’s not acceptable to force it.”
Then why do people think that recognizing the human rights of LGBTQIA+ people is a threat to Japan's identity?
I did a little research because it was something I didn’t understand, as I feel that recognizing the human rights of all people isn’t at all controversial. After being exposed to many opinions through blogs, debate programs, and other media, the only conclusion I could come to was that there seemed to be no objective reason. However, there was a preconception of “how Japan should be'' or “this is how a Japanese family should be” at the root of the opinions of the opposition. Also in their opinion, I could see a strong sense of reluctance to accept the current trend of the time that rejects their preconception. Of course, some of them took advantage of such opinions and advocated anti-gay marriage for political reasons, either to raise their own status or to gain more supporters. But the majority, I felt, were unwilling or unable to accept the changing times and therefore accepted discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people. I guess the former secretary's words, “Respect but don’t recognize,” were the very “true intentions” that explain this current situation.
No more anti-LGBTQIA+! The growing gap between “true intentions” and “public stance” due to peer pressure
How should we deal with people who have opinions, such as “This is how Japanese families should be?” And what should we do about the current situation in which such preconceptions are influencing the shape of our society?
When the former secretary's comments were reported, society immediately saw it as a problem. There were calls for political updates on social media and from street interviews played on television. I was happy to see that finally recognizing LGBTQIA+ rights was becoming “the norm.”
On the other hand, I sometimes wondered, “Aren’t these opinions missing the point?” upon closer observation of the public reaction. Most of the criticisms were all pointing out things like “It’s not that kind of era” or “Japan is the only one among the G7 countries that don’t recognize it.” Why on earth should we recognize LGBTQIA+ rights? Why is “not recognizing same-sex marriage” discrimination? I don't think many people were able to put the reasons for them into words. At least I could only see a lot of arguments like, “We should recognize it because it's a time when we have to.”
But if there’s a type of peer pressure that says, “Not recognizing LGBTQIA+ human rights is out of date!” it would deepen the gap between those who are reluctant to accept the current trend and those who aren’t, which in turn would lead to more discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people. This may be a common opinion, but I believe that if we reject those opinions outright, we’d lose the opportunity for conversations and wouldn’t be able to solve the fundamental problems. I often see people on the Internet claiming that not recognizing LGBTQIA+ people is also some kind of diversity.
However, a genuinely diverse society is one in which people with different features can be a part. Currently, Japan, where LGBTQIA+ people are bullied in school or are unable to rent a house just because they are gay, can’t be described as a truly diverse society. “Diversity” can only be achieved when people are ready to change the shape of society.
Because the true meaning of “diversity” hasn’t been examined, things like former secretary Arai's comment are happening. There’s a tendency to see it as wrong to speak out against the discomfort of this era, where people are just pushing “diversity.” In such a society, there could be an increase in the number of people who ostensibly appear to welcome diversity but actually are indifferent to or ignorant of it. Is a society built on such “diversity” just for show really a comfortable society?
In the words of journalist, Yuji Kitamaru, what’s required of us now is “to give substantial reasons for coming under fire… Why is such an era no longer desirable? We need to put it into words” – I think this is the key.
I understand the frustration of feeling that our politics is out of date and that consideration for LGBTQIA+ human rights is slow to take hold. I often wonder when we’ll be able to move forward. However, I believe that even if one tries to create a diverse society with great vigor, in the end, it’ll only be a mere show of what it could be. I think the best thing we can do now is to recognize our lack of knowledge and how we should proceed with discussions so that diversity doesn’t become “just for show.” It’s also important to remember that politics is a reflection of society. The best strategy is to learn and discuss with our close community and try to raise awareness little by little while demanding changes in politics.
What we can do now:
Reconfirm your opinion: Do you have preconceptions? Why is it important to respect human rights in the first place?
Support your opinions with objective reasons: Why should we change society? What kind of society is coming after the change?
Avoid proceeding with arguments saying things, such as “It is out of date,” “It is not that era anymore,” “Underdeveloped country with human rights aspect,” or “Only in Japan.”
The state of politics is a reflection of the state of society. It may be a good idea to try to raise awareness among the people around you. However, let the discussion proceed constructively.
Please also read the following:
Yokoyama, K. (2023). 横山耕太郎 “荒井元秘書官｢同性婚、見るのも嫌｣がなぜ問題なのか？ 日本は“その理由”と向き合わないといけない” . Business Insider. < https://www.businessinsider.jp/post-265357>.
Thiel, H. (2021). “英国で同性婚へ！『クィア・アイ』出演カップルの葛藤と未来”. Cosmopolitan. <https://www.cosmopolitan.com/jp/trends/lifestyle/a36851174/kan-tom-marriage-interview/ >.
Translated by Kyoko Itagaki
Edited by Emiru Okada
Graphic by lakila