Tokyo Rainbow Pride (hereinafter, called TRP) is one of the largest LGBTQ events in Japan, and its history began in 1994 with the name “the First Lesbian and Gay Parade”. After that, the parade has been held despite several cancellations and changes in the organization group before taking its current form in 2012, run by “Tokyo Rainbow Pride Non-profit Organization”. With the motto “Be yourself, have fun, be yourself”, the organization holds the pride parade and festival in Yoyogi Park, Shibuya, Tokyo once a year. LGBTQ people from all over Japan gather (LGBTQ is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning, which is also a general term for sexual minorities). Comparing the 1990s, when the event was first held, with today, it is clear that there has been a huge difference in the way LGBTQ are viewed. We interviewed the co-representative director of the event, Fumino Sugiyama, about the changing public view of sexual minorities, the TRP at the Corona Peril, and the relationship between student life and LGBTQ
The appeal of the TRP lies in its unity. Many people say that they gather in Yoyogi Park to unleash the energy of the past year, and to give each other the energy to live life to the fullest. This event has become an indispensable part of the lives of some LGBTQ people who still feel trapped in their lives. The Corona disaster occurred in such a situation. Is it really possible for these people, who used to share their vitality by meeting together and seeing each other’s faces, to hold an “online” event? Mr. Sugiyama brushed aside our skepticism when we asked. There is no longer a limit to the number of participants and it achieved the goal of “barrier-free”. (Details mentioned later)
The TRP was forced to go online, but despite our concerns, they found a new way.
TRP has also drawn public attention due to its casting procedures for the event. The following two points were widely discussed；Is it appropriate that, there were only a few celebrities who were LGBTQ people in the event? Was it appropriate to invite the celebrities to the event who may not have had enough knowledge about LGBT? Mr. Sugiyama shared his view on each point at issue. The first one, with the slogan “声をあげる。世界を変える。 Our Voices, Our Rights.” The slogan stands for the idea that everyone should have the right to raise their voice to live equally and safely, regardless of gender, race, or thought. To ensure the rights of LGBTQ people and protect their dignity, it has long been regarded that the focus should be put only on the LGBTQ people and their voices. However, Mr. Sugiyama emphasized his viewpoint as follows. When talking about the rights of LGBTQ people, it is not enough to merely focus on what kind of difficulties they are going through. There isn’t a law against LGBTQ discrimination, and same-sex marriage isn’t legalized yet in Japan, this means, according to Mr. Sugiyama, there is a social structure that excludes a particular group of people from society, which is quite discriminatory. It is time to recognize this issue, involving those who do not identify themselves as LGBTQ people, Mr. Sugiyama highlighted. Only then, the public would notice the problems relating to LGBTQ have a close connection with every member of society, which would lead to an inclusive society. To express this message, TRP has chosen celebrities who were not LGBTQ members. Those who appeared in the event as allies were; Ms. Kiko Mizuhara, Mr.Ryuchell （りゅうちぇる）, Ms. Mari Natsuki, Mr.Terry Ito, etc. According to Mr. Sugiyama, there were some criteria for the casting of the event. The main was the following two points, whether their statements have an impact on society and whether they have enough passion for raising social awareness toward LGBTQ and surrounding issues.
Mr. Sugiyama also explained why TRP selected Kiko Mizuhara as one of the ambassadors of the event. Kiko Mizuhara is a Japanese actress and fashion model. She was criticized for having been on a Dokkiri show in 2015, where she pretended to be a lesbian, although she wasn’t. Considering that she was on a TV show, which included discriminatory content not only for lesbian people but also for the whole LGBTQ people, not a few people doubted whether she was the person to appear in TRP. However, Mr. Sugiyama said that Ms. Mizuhara played a vital role in the event by sharing her thoughts on her deed in the past. Of course, the TRP organization had known that there were a lot of criticisms about Ms. Mizuhara’s remarks and acts on the TV program when they asked her to join the TRP. However, they had also known that she was looking for a chance where she could speak up about the incident and how much she regretted it. Therefore, the group decided to select her as one of the speakers who would emerge in the event. In addition to that, Ms. Mizuhara was very supportive of LGBTQ people and this event. There are still many cases where people unintentionally hurt LGBTQ people’s feelings by their remarks or acts because of their lack of understanding about LGBTQ, Of course, there is no perfection or an absolute answer, but what each of us can do is try to know more about them, and when we make mistakes, then we should apologize to them. These are the key to making our community and the whole society a more inclusive place, said Mr. Sugiyama, and what TRP 2021 has embodied.
Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, TRP took place online, which enabled more and more members of LGBTQ and their allies to join the event. Since 2020, when the outbreak of the virus made it tough to administrate the social systems as they did before, TRP shifted how the event was held to online. This year, more than 1.6 million audiences, which is more than three times the number of the participants from 2020, joined the event. What was the key to this success? Mr. Sugiyama said that TRP event used to take place in the Shibuya area in Tokyo, which made it hard for those who live in remote areas to join. However, the restriction of location has now been taken off, so the event is more accessible for everyone who wants to participate in it. There indeed is less chance to communicate directly with other participants than usual. However, despite such adversity, TRP group has succeeded in spreading the message that promotes the understanding about not only LGBTQ but also about what an equal, inclusive community is. Especially in this regard, TRP has had an impact on society, making the best of holding the event online.
Mr. Sugiyama is a trans man who raises two children as well as a co-representative director of TRP. He saw several improvements in everyday life, but he strongly pointed out a lack of legislation for LGBTQ rights in Japan. Indeed, in legal LGBTQ inclusivity, Japan ranks 34th out of 35 OECD countries; in other words, Japan can be said a human rights undeveloped country. He specifically highlighted a phrase, “respecting human rights is priority than acquiring an understanding of the people.” This is also a phrase of Mr. Oigawa, the governor of Ibaraki, which is the first prefecture to implement the same-sex partnership system. Even though the 14th article of the Japanese Constitution states “All of the people are equal under the law”, same-sex marriage is not legalized yet. This fact indicates that LGBTQ people are not included in “all of the people.” Same-sex marriage is an issue not only related to marriage but also related to human rights. Now, Liberal Democratic Party maintains a stance that understanding of the people is essential rather than promoting human rights. LDP rejects a bill for eliminating discrimination against LGBTQ which 6 opposition parties submitted. This is because LDP opposes the discrimination passage in the draft, then it attempts to enact legislation aiming to increase an understanding of LGBTQ problems instead. Mr. Sugiyama strongly asserted that a role of politics is to make understanding of the people by creating rules.
Having said that, Mr. Sugiyama does not mean to force people and politicians, who do not support LGBTQ community, to understand and accept everything. He just keeps grassroots efforts with the hope that such people do not take objection to facts, there are people having trouble carrying out everyday life and seeking greater comfort in life. One of the aims of TRP is to foster an understanding of LGBTQ issues, but TRP also attempts to connect the actions to make a livable society for everyone because somehow all of the people are minority in at least one aspect. At the last of the interview, Mr. Sugiyama enthusiastically talked about an importance of giving an equal opportunity for all people. “It is because people cannot feel happy unless everyone else is happy and equal opportunity is needed for that,” he said. His strong conviction apparently appears in the current year theme of TRP, “声をあげる。世界を変える。 Our Voices, Our Rights.”
At last but not least, LGBTQ issues are not only related to LGBTQ people but also people who do not identify as a sexual minority. Through an establishment of identity and internal struggles, more people start to think about coming out (of the closet).
Naturally, there are several things that people should be aware of when someone comes out to them, but there is no such thing as an “instruction manual” that clearly states these things. The difficulty is that there is no right answer no matter how much you think about it, but it is an extremely important process to always keep a stance trying to find the best solution.
The first thing to keep in mind is that coming out should not make you feel like you know everything about LGBTQ and other minorities. This is similar to thinking that you know everything about Japan after just one trip to Japan, which can be very rude to the people concerned. You are needed to listen carefully to the concerns of a person who comes out and accept them warmly before trying to understand. In the first place, coming out needs trust. You must thank the courage and be a sympathetic supporter. It could lighten the burden on the person who has come out.