Fighting for LGBT rights in Niihama, Ehime

Scott Tamaki

 
It was February 3rd on a Friday night when,  in Ehime prefecture, Niihama’s Akagane museum opened itself up to the gay community. A friend asked me to present about something I felt passionate about and LGBT rights was an obvious choice. The attendees slowly gathered. Niihama residents from various walks in life came to the underground café at Akagane—a retired elementary school teacher, a dentist assistant, a Japanese teacher, some members of Niihama’s guides club, two city hall employees, and one high schooler were in attendance for the LGBT presentation.

 

The presentation started with a basic explanation of the acronym “LGBT”. After explaining what each letter stands for I believe most people got the general gist of it. For about 70% of the audience, it was their first time seeing the acronym.

After a few minutes we started a “maru-batsu” quiz (true or false quiz). The first question was: “According to global statistics, in a class of 30 students, there are about 1 or 2 students who are LGBT.” This statement is true, and the majority of people guessed correctly. People were really shocked to learn that 7% of Japan’s population is LGBT. Or that the earliest some LGBT people realize their identity is before they enter elementary school — others realize as late as junior high school. One of the biggest shocks for people was hearing there was a gay bar in Niihama!  

Another thing that shocked people was that in the next town over, Ehime, there is a support center for sexual minorities. After sharing these statistics about LGBT Japan, people had many questions. As a group we clarified each other’s questions. Some people who were knowledgeable about the LGBT community were able to answer questions better than I could in Japanese.

 

Following the maru-batsu section we broke into group discussions. The first question I asked everyone was: “If your child was a boy and said he liked boys, what would you do?” This was the high point of the lecture. People had very deep and intense conversations. I went in and out of several groups, listening to the conversations people shared. One man gave a superb example of explaining sexual identity: a woman tastes an apple, she likes it. She then tastes an orange. She doesn’t like the orange as much as the apple. Why does she prefer the apple over the orange? The answer: preferring an apple over an orange, a woman preferring a woman over a man, or preferring both, these are natural choices. Those choices are different for each person. It’s not wrong, it’s not right, it’s just different, and that’s perfectly fine. For example, how does a man who likes women explain why he likes women? Can he explain that? And why should he need to explain that? In Japan’s society, however, being different from the group is bad. In schools, children get bullied for being different from everyone else. Standing out makes things harder and “the nail which sticks out gets hammered down” 「出るくぎは打たれる」 is, unfortunately, still the mindset of most Japanese people.

Towards the end of the presentation, one older Japanese man stood up to give his opinion on our group discussion. He said, “This was the first time I heard about people who are LGBT. In Japan, this is an issue we don’t normally talk about. I think it’s important for everyone to understand what being LGBT means and to be accepting of sexual minorities.” The presentation that day ended well and I felt everyone was on board with understanding more about the LGBT community.

 

My name is Scott Tamaki, I’m an ALT from America. I’m not LGBT, but I have supported LGBT people/sexual minorities and their rights since high school. My uncle is gay and married to a nice English man. I have lived in Japan for three years and heard horrible stories of LGBT Japanese people committing suicide, being violently bullied, fired from work for being gay or lesbian, unable to visit their loved one in the hospital after an accident, or being denied adoption rights.

My simple request for people who read this article: Do your own research about LGBT people. Learn about the Japanese LGBT community, watch an LGBT movie, or learn more about the LGBT support organization: “Pride Ehime.”

The human rights violations against the LGBT+ community can end if more people become allies (people not LGBT but who support LGBT rights), and if more people understand the issue.

2017 Stonewall Japan TRP Group photo in front of Flower Dog

Tokyo Rainbow Pride: Booths, Parades, and Picnics!

By Jessica Gordon, Kayla Johnson, & Jon Lucas

Stonewall Japan was ambitious this year! Unlike previous years where we only did a Sunday booth, Leadership decided that we would have a booth and a picnic for both Saturday and Sunday. We also had a fun bar crawl on Saturday night, as well as participated in the Pride Parade on Sunday.

In case you didn’t know, every year Tokyo Rainbow Pride (a.k.a. TRP) gets bigger and bigger. In 2017, TRP had over 108,000 people in attendance, beating last year’s record by about 30,000 more people. According to the TRP website, over 35,000 people came on May 6th, 65,000 on the 7th, along with 5,000 people in the parade, and 3,000 for other events.

That’s why we wanted to try out doing more this year. With more people than ever coming to this event, we wanted to bring more people together into our community. Of course, we also wanted to have a lot of fun!

Before the Main Event
It was a bit intimidating at first trying to organize volunteers and schedules. Luckily I had a secret weapon: previous Stonewall President Louis. After we did a pre-meeting via Google Hangouts, we arranged nearly all the schedules and emails.
Two days before TRP, we both sent articles to All About Japan discussing Stonewall and the Stonewall events planned for those days. With more exposure, we hoped to bring more people to the booth and picnics, as well as just get our presence out there so that others could join our group.
Later, Kanto Leaders Kyle and Kayla were chosen to take charge of the picnic and I was chosen to lead the booth. Our volunteers were finalized, and everything just needed to come together.

Saturday – Booth
From morning to evening, TRP Festa was busy and bustling. When I and the morning volunteers arrived at 9:30, there was already a crowd forming around the drag queen crew at the front entrance for photos.Stonewall Japan Booth at TRP This year TRP was sponsored by a record 190 companies and organizations, all of them set up in huge booths with bright signs, free drinks, and mascots on display. There were big names like NTT Corp., Sony Corp. and Google Inc., which had its annual photo booth for nice pride pics. Every stall this year was literally jam-packed with attendees.

All in all, it was a stark contrast to the first year of TRP, which was mostly a few NPOs and local Tokyo LGBT groups. TRP has come a long way from a small pride event and has transformed into a fully loaded movement.

Our booth was squeezed in between the “Fruits in Suits” booth and a corporation with an orange bear mascot. We received a lot of visitors, and the volunteers worked all day to give out face paints, as well as conduct surveys on the LGBTQIA+ community. Even though the day was hot and the work was hard, we had a great time meeting new people and chatting with everyone who came by!

Saturday – Picnic2017 Stonewall Picnic, Saturday
At about 11, a group came together at Yoyogi Park for some fun snacks, beers, and good times!

For most of the day, people ate, drank, and made good memories with fellow Stonewall members and leaders. The picnic lasted until about 5, when everyone decided it was time to grab some food before the big bar crawl.

Saturday – Bar Crawl
At the annual bar crawl, a large group of Stonewall members headed out for a fun night in Shinjuku’s famous Nichome. Starting at 21:00, we gathered at Aiiro Cafe for a quick drink to get started.

2017 Stonewall Japan Bar Crawl, Saturday night

We slowly met up with both Stonewallers and members of Tokyo’s LGBT Meetup group. We chatted and introduced ourselves to each other, and managed to take our group picture! From there, we wandered over at 22:00 to an already-crowded Eagle. Everyone found new friends to meet and chat with! In order to accommodate both men and women, at 23:30 we headed to the everyone-friendly Arty Farty around the corner. We all danced and sang to some of the best music available in Nichome. As time ticked closer to one in the morning, we made our way to Annex to finish the evening with lighter music, dancing, and lots of opportunities to chat and say our goodbyes as we parted ways. The bar crawl was a fantastic evening, with new friendships forged and old friendships rekindled. Join us at the bar crawl next year and help us make it an even bigger event!

 

Sunday – Booth and Parade!
Face paints were a non-stop event at the booth! Everyone was prepped and ready for the main event of the day: The Pride Parade!
Stonewall Japan gathered around 11:30 for the big group picture in front of a very beautiful flower dog at the center of the Festa. Then we headed off to regroup behind float 22. This year we got a DJ float so we could dance the whole way through!

A very special thanks to the volunteers who stayed at the booth for over two hours while we marched. They made sure to keep getting donations and painting faces!

 

2017 Stonewall Japan TRP Parade marchEven though the parade took longer than originally thought, it was exciting to be a part of this massive solidarity experience. A big thanks to everyone who marched in the heat and sun to represent us and to walk for the rights of LGBTQIA+ people.

After all the hard work – over two days’ worth – we closed the booth early so the overworked volunteers could get a chance to be a part of the Festa and the picnic experiences.

Over those two days we made over 26,000 yen in donations. Ioana made some progress on surveys; I believe over fifty people participated. All in all, a success for Stonewall and its fabulous members!

Sunday – Picnic
The Sunday picnic was an amazing success!
We were close to the same spot as Saturday’s picnic, in Yoyogi park. Everything was set up and arranged around 11 a.m. and came to a close at 5 p.m.

The day was full of people coming and going from our little picnic, and of fun, friendly, thoughtful conversations.
Everyone was polite and, when the event was coming to a close, the small group who remained was kind enough to help clean up our picnic area and dispose of trash.

Cheers for more wonderful picnics for Stonewall and let’s hope next year’s Stonewall Japan experience at Tokyo Pride is just as lovely.

Stonewall Japan Sunday TRP picnic

 

Special Thanks!
Without all of the volunteers the event couldn’t have happened at all, so thank all of you so much! Also, all the leaders for those days and activities are also recognized: Kyle, Kayla, Jon, and George you are all amazing. May so much rainbow love go your way!
See you all at Tokyo Rainbow Pride 2018!