Stonewall Japan History

Stonewall Japan’s origin goes back to 1988, when a few pioneering participants of the JET Programme established the organisation and named it ‘ATAGO’ after the name of the room where the first meeting took place. An acronym was attached: ‘A Terribly Apropos Gay Organization’. Shortly after, an ‘L’ for ‘Lesbian’ was added to be more inclusive, making the name ‘ATAGLO’. In an era void of the Internet and social media platforms, ATAGLO’s presence was a life-saver for LGBT+ JET participants. In the beginning years, the organisation produced a newsletter [Between the Sheets], a couch-surfing directory, telephone counseling, and mentoring.

In May 1994, a group of LGBT+ JET participants who went by the name ‘GayJet’ expressed their frustration that CLAIR – the organisation that facilitates employment and support for JET participants – was censoring and discriminating against LGBT+ voices. In a sense merging with ATAGLO, the group worked on a proposal to become a Special Interest Group (SIG) of the already established AJET, an organisation under CLAIR that is run by JETs for JETs to foster support and community. The intention of being an officially recognised group of AJET was to be able to be included in AJET publications, gain publicity, build stronger relations to improve the lives of LGBT+ JETs, etc.

After months of corresponding with both AJET and CLAIR, GayJet took the next step and wrote up a proposal along with 450 signatures of support.The discussions went well, and the input and reactions from CLAIR personnel coordinators as well as AJET proto-bureaucrats were positive. A meeting to discuss the new SIG, at this time named ‘GayJet’, was set to take place on February 4 and 5, 1995. Normal operating procedures detailed that all passed motions by AJET would be discussed with CLAIR. Nevertheless, on January 30 1995, coined ‘Mauve Monday’, the group was informed that there would be no discussion of said organisation at the meeting in February. The reason being that CLAIR threatened to retract funding and benevolence if the use of the word ‘gay’ was included in its associated publications. Disheartened, but not defeated, the group rebranded as ‘Stonewall’, and became a Special Interest Group of AJET in March/April 1995.

For several years up until the mid 00’s, Stonewall’s membership was 2,000yen in return for a print copy of the ‘Stonewall Guide to Coming and Going Out in Japan’, the Stonewall contact list, BRIX (the bi-monthly newsletter), and access to the Stonewall library full of books. Discussions on a Yahoo forum facilitated by Stonewall were free.

Up until 2005, the ‘Stonewall Guide’ became an annually updated printed publication, which was sent to members via post for a small fee. In 2006 the Guide was scanned into a PDF file, and is the last known edition to have been made. In that year, BRIX was a quarterly publication of poetry, stories, pictures and such made up of submissions from members. The BRIX editor changed nearly every year though, and momentum for material decreased. The last printed BRIX is suspected to have been published in 2007. An effort to make BRIX into an online publication started in 2008, and gained some initial interest. Unfortunately, the BRIX format ended by 2011.

As an AJET-affiliated group, in the past, Stonewall presented a seminar at the JET Orientation in Tokyo every year. The name of the seminar, however, may have been selected by CLAIR, as a Stonewaller who attended one of the early seminars remembers: “One year the seminar was called ‘JETs with Alternative Lifestyles’. I remember the seminar started with the leader saying: “So everybody’s gay or lesbian or queer or an ally, right? Last year people saw the title and thought ‘alternative lifestyles’ meant we’d be making our own clothes and yogurt or something. Anyway, we’re…gay.”

The following year, the name changed to ‘Life as a Gay JET’, then ‘Life as a GLBT JET’, and its final form in 2014 was ‘Life as an LGBT JET in Japan’. After over a decade of presenting at Keio Plaza, CLAIR regrettably retracted Stonewall’s presence from the annual event.

Changing from the early days when members had to call each other via landline telephones, members soon started to communicate via email. First it was purely through personal accounts, but later on Stonewall created its own gmail address network. Every member’s email address was written down, and grouped into those who paid and those who hadn’t paid the 2,000yen membership fee. Back in 2006 there were over 100 members recorded to be in the group.

Between 2006 and 2007, a Yahoo group forum was set up, but was soon replaced by a Google group as the technology was easier and at the time better to input Japanese text. Up until October 2009, Stonewall existed as a combination of the online Google forum and a large contact list of members. This network meant communication was possible, although not always smooth as eventually the core leaders left their time on the JET Programme and Japan itself.

Although the leadership roles changed slightly over time, the majority of the 00’s were lead by the Male and Female Coordinators, BRIX Editor and Librarian. A countless amount of volunteers have been paramount in continuing to keep the community together. There have been many events over the years organised by inspirational and self-motivated volunteers. Some of these include a trip to the Hadaka Matsuri, a Mt. Fuji climbing trip, a ski weekend in Nagano, a Tokyo Orientation night out, a camping trip in Hakodate, and the annual participation in the Okayama Naked Man Festival. It was in 2008 that regional leaders were suggested; however, it was not until 2011 that Stonewall underwent a complete structural change.

In 2011, the relationship between AJET and Stonewall seemed distant, and a representative of AJET asked a member of Stonewall if they would be interested in leading efforts to rebuild AJET’s LGBT social group. In May 2011, a group of 10 JET participants gathered to make the basis of a new leadership and rebranded as ‘Stonewall AJET’. A month later, there were numerous meetings, a complete restructure and making of a constitution. Support grew to more than 120 people, and Stonewall AJET was officially established. The new organisation made a Facebook group, established a President, Vice President, Web Coordinator, Event Coordinator and Block Leaders. A constitution was drawn up, which is still the framework of what we have today. You can still find the quite fabulous sumo wrestler riding a unicorn logo in the realms of the Internet.

Soon after, Stonewall AJET rebanded as ‘Stonewall Japan’ with a new logo, new Facebook group and a website. After much hard work, we now have a structured leadership, website, online national and regional forums, social media accounts, our own email server, bank account, and a membership of over 2,000 stonewallers. We have attended same-sex weddings, consulate events, Prides from Sapporo to Okinawa, and are looking forward to the future.