Shinjiro Atae’s Coming Out Opens Up Global Conversation About LGBTQ Rights in Japan
J Pop Exchange Logo Sakura Heading Photo

Shinjiro Atae’s Coming Out Opens Up Global Conversation About LGBTQ Rights in Japan

By Molly Kaiser for The J-Pop Exchange

In the latest in a year full of conversation and lobbying for LGBTQ rights in Japan, J-Pop idol Shinjiro Atae from the former group AAA made headlines when he came out as gay at a concert in late July.

At a venue in central Tokyo, Atae read from a letter he had prepared: “I respect you and believe you deserve to hear this directly from me. For years, I struggled to accept a part of myself. But now, after all I have been through, I finally have the courage to open up to you about something. I am a gay man.”

He further reflected on his public coming out in a letter to Teen Vogue, and said that living in the U.S. for the past few years has allowed him to understand his sexuality, but that he still has feared embracing his identity. He says he attended gay bars sparingly in LA and would wear a hat to disguise himself.

The New York Times reports that this type of public announcement is “extremely unusual” in Japan, where the rights of the gay community have yet to be codified into law. The country is the only in the G7 alliance that doesn’t have laws in place to protect LGBTQ people, and has yet to legalize gay marriage.

The country’s conservative stance on gay rights was called into question last May ahead of the 49th G7 Summit in Hiroshima. Ahead of the summit, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told Bloomberg News, “I think it’s critical that Japan takes steps to move toward recognition of LGBT communities broadly, not just marriage equality.”

At the G7 Summit the year prior, Prime Minister Kishida signed a statement confirming “shared values” with other member nations and that everyone should be protected from violence regardless of their sexual expression. According to Nikkei Asia, opinion polls show 70% of the public supports same-sex marriage. But Kishida’s conservative administration remains stubborn on further pushing the envelope.

Over the past two years, lower courts in different prefectures have delivered conflicting rulings on whether or not the government’s policy banning same-sex marriage is constitutional.

Graphic from Nikkei Asia

At a national level, most recently, Japanese parliament passed its first law addressing anti-LGBTQ discrimination that critics called “watered down.” The law states that “unfair discrimination” on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation will not be tolerated and that all citizens should be “respected as individuals” with “invioable human rights.”

However, critics point out that the law does not identify penalties for engaging in discrimination and that the definition of “discrimination” itself is murky. One law professor told Nikkei Asia that the revised law “has no meaning at all.”

In conclusion, Atae’s brave public announcement is definitely a step in the right direction for LGBTQ advocacy groups in raising awareness and continuing a dialogue, but there is much to be done in the area of policy-making and incorporating public opinion on gay rights into governance.


More articles:

Miyazaki Makes a Comeback with Spontaneous Film Release

Off The Beaten Path In Japan