“Basically, in Japan, homosexuality’s existence itself is outrightly denied. I cannot be satisfied by this,” says a lesbian student at the University of Tokyo.
In Japan, same-sex couples do not exist legally. Socially, homosexuality lacks both recognition and representation. In this uncomfortable situation, how do LGBT students of the University of Tokyo feel about their future? What can everyone do to raise awareness and create recognition of homosexuals and open the debate for their rights?
LGBT is an umbrella term that stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender. The first three initials, LGB, describe non-heterosexual orientations, while T stands for people who feel that their gender assigned at birth does not match who they are. In order to avoid confusion and also because of the lack of transgender students who answered the survey conducted, this article aim to shed light mainly on the plight of homosexuals.
“I think the problem is that no one is curious or interested in this issue, and because of their lack of curiosity, they start judging it in a biased manner,” remarked a bisexual student.
In one word, what everyone needs is this – understanding.
First, the understanding that LGBT people exist. “People are unaware that LGBT people might be your neighbour, friend, colleague or family, which makes it harder for LGBT to live openly,” said a gay student. Statistics vary but it is often said that one out of twenty people are homosexual or bisexual.
Second, everyone has to understand that homosexuality is neither a problem, nor something to laugh at, but rather, simply a sexual orientation. It is also not something one decides to become.
By becoming more concerned about homosexuality, we can create a more comfortable place for LGBT people to live in, and in doing so, help them to come out and live a happier life without constantly hiding their sexual orientation. Conversely, homosexuals can help to create awareness by coming out to those in their social circle – perhaps beginning with their family and friends, and then co-workers and other acquaintances. “Coming out has helped dispel some misconceptions that people have,” said a homosexual student.
Third, the understanding that LGB people deserve more legal rights. While homosexuals are just regular people who love another person of the same sex, they are legally considered different. They cannot marry, they cannot adopt, and they cannot benefit from any of the privileges given to heterosexual couples.
In short, being gay, lesbian or bisexual is not that special; it just means feeling attraction for someone of the same sex. The problem is that many people do not understand it, and as a result no rights are given to same-sex couples.
What can students of our University do to encourage LGBT acceptance in Japan? Dr. Noritaka Moriyama is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Advanced Social and International Studies, specializing in Queer (otherwise referred to as Sexual Diversity or LGBT) Studies at the University of Tokyo. To the question above-mentioned, he answered: “Todai must produce self-assured queer people and queer-friendly allies in order to change various fields of this world to more queer-friendly ones.”
Openly discussing homosexuality with friends or teachers, attending conferences, gay prides, or reading about it in the Internet – there are many ways to develop awareness about the inequalities that homosexuals face.
“I want to marry”, said many gay, lesbian and bisexual students. By developing a new generation that understands homosexuality, we are giving hope to queer people.
Education may be the key for accelerating this process of understanding. “Some teachers realize the significance of providing correct information about queer topics for queer and non-queer students in schools, but most teachers do not recognize it and there is still plenty of room for improvement,” noticed Dr. Moriyama. As a positive answer to this blooming realization, several students said that they found the younger generation generally more receptive to LGBT concerns.
“I believe homosexuality needs to be taught in elementary schools and middle schools. If you are exposed about this since you are little, I feel the discomfort around this issue will decrease,” remarked a lesbian student.
Finally, one last comment from a homosexual student of Todai to conclude this article: “Rather than being black or white, gender is like a spectrum. There is no clear delineation. I hope that the label LGBT will slowly diminish and instead, we will just be able to freely love anyone we want.”
Amaël Cognacq is a first-year PEAK student at the University of Tokyo.