Political shift gives hope to gays

The likelihood that the Democratic Party of Japan, the last party to submit [an antidiscrimination law] bill, will dominate the powerful House of Representatives in an alliance with the Social Democratic Party, which speaks out for homosexual rights, has raised hopes that the inertia may at last be overcome.

This was echoed by Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender program at Human Rights Watch, who visited Japan last month. He met with key opposition party figures to discuss Japan’s future on issues of sexual orientation.

“There is no law in Japan that protects people who are being discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation,” Dittrich told reporters on July 22.

“So for instance, a landlord would evict somebody because he is gay or she is lesbian and there is no law that you can refer to for protection,” he added. Dittrich himself was a publicly gay politician in his home country, the Netherlands, where he was a pioneer in securing homosexual rights.

In Japan, a government-sponsored antidiscrimination bill submitted to the Diet in 2002, but later abandoned, would have protected the rights of homosexuals along with other groups, including “burakumin,” or descendants of former outcast communities such as tanners, according to Kanae Doi, Tokyo director of Human Rights Watch. The 2002 bill and another one proposed by the DPJ were both scrapped because the lower chamber was dissolved before they could be fully deliberated and voted on.

SDP leader Mizuho Fukushima, who also met with Dittrich during his trip, agreed human rights is a sensitive topic in the Diet, and the subject of sexual orientation faces a particularly tough time as people do not necessarily feel it is relevant to them.

If the DPJ wins Sunday, Fukushima predicts a slow but steady improvement in homosexual rights.

“It won’t be, for example, that same-sex marriages will be recognized immediately. But for now we must educate people, eradicate bullying and make people understand that these problems exist in society,” she said

According to Human Rights Watch’s [Tokyo director Kanae] Doi, Japan is falling behind global standards by not having an antidiscrimination law other than that protecting gender equality.

“An antidiscrimination law exists almost everywhere else in the world. But in Japan, since there is no law protecting sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity or race, it is difficult for such people to prosecute,” she said.