Tokyo opened its first major community center for LGBTQ people on Sunday this month, as part of a pre-Olympic project that activists hope will tackle stigma and raise awareness of discrimination.
Pride House Tokyo is based on similar inclusive pop-up sites set up during previous Olympics, but will offer permanent meeting space and an information center, seeking to educate the public about sexual diversity and provide refuge. to people who are victims of harassment or discrimination.
Although Japan has some protections for sexual minorities, it remains the only G7 country that does not recognize same-sex unions, and many couples say they may find it difficult to rent apartments together and are even excluded from hospital visits.
These challenges mean that spaces like Pride House, set up in coordination with the organizers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, are badly needed in Japan, activists say.
“Japan, not just in sports circles, but society as a whole – including schools and workplaces – is not friendly towards LGBTQ people, and it is difficult to get out of it,” he said. Gon Matsunaka, who heads the project behind Pride House, told AFP.
While the center is set up in a recent Olympic tradition, the project is officially named “Pride House Tokyo Legacy,” and campaigners hope its influence will extend beyond the Games.
The place “will be a landmark that could change the landscape for LGBTQ people in Japanese society,” Matsunaka said.
The International Olympic Committee echoed hopes for a lasting legacy.
“In sport we are all equal,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement on Sunday.
“We therefore welcome that Tokyo 2020 has integrated diversity and inclusion into the model of the Olympic Games,” he said, wishing “the success of Pride House Tokyo”.
– ‘Unthinkable to go out’ –
The first Pride House – inspired by the tradition of Olympic hosting centers for national teams – was launched at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games.
Since then, temporary venues have appeared in London 2012 and Rio 2016, as well as other international sporting events like the Commonwealth Games.
In 2014, Russian authorities rejected a request to open a Pride House at the Sochi Winter Games, the organization said. Instead, remote spaces have been set up internationally to allow LGBTQ fans to come together.
Among the people involved in the creation of the Tokyo Pride House is Fumino Sugiyama, a former athlete who was on the National Women’s Fencing Team before becoming transgender.
“When I was in fencing it was unthinkable to come out into the sports community, which was particularly homophobic,” said Sugiyama, 39.
“I faced a dilemma between trying to do the sport I love, where I can’t be myself, or trying to be myself and having to stop fencing,” he said. he declares.
While there are now several openly gay top athletes around the world, from American women’s football star Megan Rapinoe to British Olympic diver Tom Daley, “not a single top athlete has come out” in Japan, did he declare.
Some local governments, employers and universities in Japan have taken gradual steps in recent years to expand protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens.
In some cities, local districts recognize same-sex partnerships and some employers and universities have specific protections against discrimination.
– ‘A growing number of allies’ –
“Society has changed a lot, with a growing number of allies,” Sugiyama said.
“But there remains the fundamental question of the absence of a legal system to guarantee LGBTQ rights in Japan, for example the right to marry. ”
There is no widespread religious stigma against homosexuality in Japan, and some popular celebrities and television personalities are openly gay.
And activists recently launched several legal challenges aimed at expanding community rights, including lawsuits last year accusing the government of discrimination for failing to recognize same-sex unions.
But success is not guaranteed.
In 2019, the Supreme Court upheld strict rules on sex reassignment on legal documents, including a requirement that a transgender person have no reproductive capacity, which can effectively force some people to undergo sterilization. to edit their documents.
Sugiyama said it would be important for Pride House in Tokyo’s bustling Shinjuku district which has a well-known gay district to remain open beyond the Olympics.
“LGBTQ people face a variety of issues,” he said. “Young and old, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. “
© 2020 AFP