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OTSUJI KanakoName OTSUJI Kanako

Previous member of Osaka Prefectural Assembly(JAPAN)
Office TEL +81-3-3356-0540 FAX +81-3-3356-0545
Address Shinohara bld 3F 2-14-9 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

Birthday: Dec 16, 1974
Party: The Democratic Party of Japan
Member of “Rainbow and Greens (Japan)”
Book: Coming Out (2005, Kodansya, Japanese only)
the first openly homosexual politician in Japan
Sport: Karate & Tae-kwon-do black belt


Gays pin hopes on Minshuto candidate


OSAKA--In a country that lags behind the rest of the industrialized world in terms of gay rights, Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) candidate's bid for the Upper House this July promises to make waves.

Otsuji, 32, will be the first openly gay politician to run for a Diet seat with the formal endorsement of a major political party.

A former member of the Osaka prefectural assembly, Otsuji came out as a lesbian in 2005 while serving on the prefectural assembly. She will run on the Minshuto ticket for proportional representation.

The move is likely to ruffle feathers in a country where people in public positions seldom come out as homosexual for fear it could destroy their careers. An estimated 1 million or more gay people live in Japan.

"Endorsement by a major political party is the first step in changing society," Otsuji said last month when she opened a campaign office in Tokyo. "I will work to create a society that admits different lifestyles."

Otsuji and her partner marked their union in a ceremony June 3, with congratulatory telegrams coming in from Minshuto leader Ichiro Ozawa, among others.

Otsuji's candidacy has encouraged other gay people in Japan to be more outspoken about their sexual preferences.

Asami Oka, 30, a nursing-care worker in Osaka who lives with her female partner, gave a speech at a meeting of Otsuji's political supporters in May.

She described how she had contemplated killing herself when she was in high school because she was getting along badly with her classmates.

She said she wondered if life had any meaning for someone who could not fall in love with members of the opposite sex.

But Oka decided to join Otsuji's campaign, believing that "if solitary people like me see her speak out in the Diet, it would give them hope."

A monthly meeting of gay women in Tokyo invited Otsuji to join them on June 9.

"I wouldn't say, 'Go for it, alone,'" one said. "Let's go for it together."

Otsuji's candidacy has attracted wide attention in both Japanese and foreign media.

Badi, a magazine for gay people in their 20s and 30s, carried an eight-page special on the Upper House contest in its June issue.

In the April issue, before Otsuji got Minshuto's endorsement, the monthly ran an interview with the politician.

"If gays are represented in national politics, the times will change," said the magazine's 30-year-old business manager. "I hope this will be a chance for young gay people to take an interest in politics."

Overseas media wrote stories on her candidacy and her partnership ceremony.

The coverage underlined the ignorance about homosexuality in Japan and the stigma that being gay carries here.

It is also speculated that if Otsuji is elected it could be a major catalyst for change.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan has invited Otsuji to speak before its members in Tokyo on Wednesday.

According to the GayJapanNews group, about 30 nations around the world approve same-sex marriages and ensure the rights of gay couples with partnership laws.

More people in Japan are calling for steps to protect the legal rights of gay couples in issues such as social security and inheritance.

Before Minshuto picked Otsuji as its official candidate, some party members called for caution. They were worried the party would lose conservative votes.

Some of her supporters are also cautious.

"Campaigning for her could mean my own coming out as a gay," said a woman, 29.

But Mitsuo Fukushima, 48, who represents the Shinjuku 2-chome community known as a "gay town," says this is too good a chance to miss out.

"If we miss this chance, there is no telling when a second gay candidate will be endorsed," Fukushima said. "If we cast ballots, our existence will be known.

"I would like to take advantage of this chance to send our minority voices to the Diet."(IHT/Asahi: June 19,2007)


Lesbian politican takes on Japan

[AFP Jun 7 2007]

With a wedding ring on her finger and a party endorsement on her back, is on a mission to become Japan's first openly gay member of parliament and change the way the country treats sexual minorities.

In a political world whose upper ranks are almost exclusively older men, the 32-year-old Otsuji stands out for more reasons than her sexual orientation.

Just weeks ahead of the July 22 elections, Otsuji, who is running on the ticket of the largest opposition Democratic Party of Japan, tied the knot with her partner.

But as Japan does not recognise gay marriage, her ceremony Sunday is considered illegitimate in the eyes of the state.

"By serving as a politician who is openly lesbian, I can make the homosexual population a visible issue," said Otsuji, formerly a local lawmaker in the western city of Osaka.

"I believe one of my missions in parliament would be to expedite legislation of a system similar to a civil union," Otsuji said in an interview at a campaign office in Tokyo's biggest gay district.

She predicted, however, that "it would take at least 10 years of debate" before Japan allows civil unions, a system which would give the rights, benefits and recognition of marriage to same-sex and unmarried couples.

"Right now, Japan doesn't even allow married women to have dual surnames," she said.

In Japan, homosexuality has long been accepted in fact but not openly discussed.

In medieval times, homosexual relationships were an open secret among priests, nuns and samurai knights. More recently, vibrant gay entertainment areas have sprouted in major cities.

But even if gays and lesbians do not encounter outright hostility, Otsuji said Japan was behind many Western countries in awareness of sexual diversity.

She doubted the Liberal Democratic Party of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who often calls for Japan to re-embrace "family values," would endorse a gay candidate.

"There are gay politicians and there must be gay members of the Liberal Democratic Party, too, because it is such a big party," she said. "But I cannot imagine the LDP would endorse an openly gay candidate."

Gay circles in Japan welcome Otsuji's candidacy.

"I think more gays and lesbians of younger generations will start contesting in the field of politics and I hope Otsuji will lead the movement," said gay activist Satoru Ito, who offers counselling and workshops for young homosexuals.

"Many gays and lesbians in Japan are still struggling to come out."

Otsuji herself struggled with years of dilemma and fear until she finally accepted to herself at age 23 that she was a lesbian.

"I would see many homosexual people come out only at gay bars and pretend to be heterosexual during the day," she said. "Even at gatherings of gays and lesbians, they didn't want to use their real names" in fear of their families and straight friends finding out.

"I didn't think it was right that you are forced to hide who you really are."

After university, she went to work as an intern for an Osaka lawmaker. Otsuji hesitantly confided her sexuality to her but was thrilled when the politician agreed to raise the subject of sexual minorities in the assembly.

"Politicians openly deliberated words that had only been whispered and heard at underground gay bars," she said. "That was when I became determined to enter politics."

In another bid to increase awareness for gays and lesbians, Otsuji and her partner, who is one of her campaign aides, held a public marriage ceremony in which both of them wore white wedding dresses.

Otsuji said she had never thought of doing something as conservative as a wedding.

"But I was simply happy to see so many people celebrating my wedding," she said. "Living as a lesbian, there haven't been many opportunities for people to celebrate my life."

Some 1,000 people gathered for the event, part of a gay festival in a park in the central city of Nagoya. Leaders of her party including Ichiro Ozawa, Japan's main opposition leader, sent congratulatory telegrams.

But while Abe is facing sagging approval ratings due to a scandal and mismanagement of the pension system, Otsuji's path to office will not be easy.

Only around 10 percent of members of parliament are women, placing Japan 100 out of 138 countries in female representation according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Despite its endorsement of Otsuji, the Democratic Party of Japan does not mention sexual minorities in its election manifesto.

Otsuji admitted her candidacy will also be a test for the party.

"If I fail this time, Japanese politics may not have another gay candidate for 20 to 30 years," she said.



Japan’s Lesbian Politician Celebrates Her Same-Sex Partnership

[Gay Japan News 5 June 2007]

(Tokyo)Japan’s first openly lesbian politician, who is running in the upcoming national election, celebrated her same-sex partnership on 3 June in Nagoya, Japan., 32, the former Osaka Assembly Member and an official candidate of Democratic Party of Japan for the next month’s election for the House of Councilors, Japan’s upper house, tied the knot with her partner of four years, Maki Kimura, 32, who is working for Otsuji’s office.

Their wedding took place in IkedaPark in Nagoya, the country’s third largest city, during an HIV/AIDS prevention festival, the Nagoya Lesbian & Gay Revolution, organised by ANGEL LIFE NAGOYA. Some 1,000 people including relatives and friends of both Otsuji’s and Kimura’s attended the wedding.

DPJ leader, Ichiro Ozawa, Secretary General of the Party, Yukio Hatoyama and Fusae Ota, Governor of Osaka Prefecture sent congratulatory telegrams on the wedding.

Kanako said in her wedding speech that the wedding has become one of the most unforgettable moments in her life.

After the wedding, Otsuji said: “Gays and lesbians are hiding themselves in society to protect themselves. I want people to know that gays and lesbians exist in society by looking at [the two of] us.”

Otsuji was moved to tears when she received messages on her wedding day from DPJ top officials and the Governor.

Otsuji and Kimura are not legally recognised as a couple becauseJapan hasn’t legalized same-sex marriage or civil partnerships. Five countries -Netherlands, Canada, Spain, Belgium, and South Africa and Massachusetts have legalized same-sex marriage. Most of EU countries and some states in the U.S. have civil partnerships.

The official announcement of the Upper House election is 5 July. The election is scheduled for 22 July.

Otsuji said that she and Kimura have to concentrate on the Upper House election. She added that she wanted to create society where people can live together despite their differences, and that she would think about her life with Maki after the election.
(Editors:Azusa Yamashita,Tom Paine)
(c)Gay Japan News


Lesbian Politician Gets Official Party Endorsement as a National Election Candidate

[Gay Japan News 22 May 2007]

(Tokyo) On Tuesday, May 15, Japan’s second largest political party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), announced that, the first openly lesbian politician in Japan, will be one of the party’s official candidates for this summer’s National Diet election.

Otsuji, 32 was elected as an Osaka Assembly Member in April 2003. In August 2005, she came out of the closet in her book “Coming Out” and marched in the Tokyo Pride Parade (formerly known as Tokyo Lesbian & Gay Parade) along with about 2,500 people.

In her book, Otsuji said “I believe coming out (as a lesbian) is the best thing that I can do for society to encourage people. I want to establish a society where everybody can be who they really are.”

In May 2006, Otsuji worked with the organizers of Tokyo Pride, the Rainbow March In Sapporo and GayJapanNews for Act Against Homophobia. The following month, she visited WashingtonD.C. and San Francisco through the International Visitor Leadership Program operated by the US State Department.

In October 2005, Osaka Prefecture started the House Sharing System which allows gay couples and other forms of couples that are not legally recognized as family to live in residences managed and operated by Osaka Housing Supply Corporation.

In 2005 and early 2007, she submitted two statements about people with Gender Identity Disorder in cooperation with the New Komeito Party and other groups. These statements were adopted by the Osaka Assembly.

Otsuji didn’t run for this past April’s local election because she had already decided to run for the upcoming national election. In the local election, one gay and three transgender candidates campaigned, but only one transgender candidate, Aya Kamikawa, was elected. Kawakami was re-elected to her second term.

Otsuji says she thinks that she has to bring LGBT people’s voices to the National Diet and has made it her goal to seek a seat for that end. DPJ leaders said they decided to endorse Otsuji as an official party candidate to “bring society’s attention to the discriminated people”.

If she wins, she’ll be the first openly LGBT national politician ever in Japan.
(Editors: azusa yamashita and Tom Paine)
(c)Gay Japan News


The Lesbian Politician

[JAPANZINE 2006 Dec by Rebecca Milner]

When came out at the Tokyo Lesbian and Gay Parade in 2005, she became the nation’s first openly lesbian politician. The 31 year-old Osaka assembly woman (who will be 32 on December 16th) was elected in April 2003 to a four-year term and has recently published a book called, Coming Out: A Journey to Find Myself.

“I had wanted to come out ever since I became a member of the Diet,” Otsuji tells Japanzine in a phone interview. “Since my main platform for becoming an assembly woman was to work towards a society where everyone is free to be who they are, I couldn't continue to hide my true self.”

In response to her coming out, Otsuji received over 300 emails of support from people in Japan and around the world. However, she laments that “most of the people around me chose to completely ignore what I had said and refused to acknowledge that I was a lesbian.” Citing the general lack of knowledge in Japan about LGBT issues, she remarked that one of her colleagues in the Diet “even asked me if I wanted to become a man.”

Otsuji hopes that, by coming out, she has helped to further the discussion of LGBT issues in Japan. She has openly addressed issues such as education, suicide and HIV while calling for more community groups, especially professional ones, to examine LGBT laws. One particular issue she has raised is the economic problem faced by lesbian couples because “Japanese women tend to earn less than their male counterparts.” In response to such concerns, she has worked to get a measure approved in Osaka that will allow gay couples to rent apartments in public housing.

According to Otsuji, compared to other countries, the LGBT market in Japan has yet to develop. “Until now, the only vibrant sectors of the LGBT economy were gay bars and the pornography market. However, I fully expect that from now on, as more and more gay people start living their life in the open, the Japanese LGBT economy will begin to blossom.”

Despite the generally conservative social make-up of Japan, Otsuji has high hopes that an open and equal society will develop. “The spread of the internet has brought LGBT news from around the world to us. As with Europe and North America, I think that demands for equality in partnership will be increasing from now on.”

Special thanks to for facilitating the interview.
(c)Carter Witt Media 2006


Japan city's move to change pro-gay law draws ire

[Reuters 2006/09/14]

A Japanese city's plan to amend a precedent-setting local law on gender equality and discrimination against homosexuals has set off protests by activists who say the law is being watered down.

The plan coincides with growing concern among conservatives about a breakdown in traditional values, worries that prompted the government to include a caveat against trying to erase all sex-based differences in a gender equality plan last year.

The local assembly in Miyakonojo, a city of 171,000 some 900 km (560 miles) southwest of Tokyo, this week began debating a revision to a 2003 city law that explicitly bans discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.

Proposed changes to the law, called the "Law for a Gender Equal Society", would revise a sentence that reads: "In a gender-equal society, human rights should be respected for all people regardless of gender or sexual orientation."

The new phrasing would be: "In a gender-equal society, human rights should be respected for all people."

City officials say the change would make the law, which comes to a vote on Sept. 22, easier to understand.

"We feel that by saying 'all people' it's understood that this includes everybody," said Meiko Kawasaki, who is in charge of gender equality.

"As we see it, our position hasn't changed," she said, adding that the city will issue a guidebook on enforcing the law saying there should be no discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.

Activists, however, were outraged.

"We do not understand the reasons behind this at all," said Kanako Otsuji, a prefectural assembly member from the western city of Osaka and Japan's first openly lesbian politician.

"If it were clear that discrimination no longer existed, that would be one thing. But people are afraid of what they don't understand," she said in a telephone interview from Miyakonojo, where she planned to meet city officials.

The international organisation Human Rights Watch issued a letter addressed to Miyakonojo mayor Makoto Nagamine on Thursday protesting the revision and urging the city to reconsider.

"Language affirming equality on the basis of sexual orientation has been part of that ordinance since 2003," Scott Long, director of the group's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program, said in a statement from New York.

"Its proposed removal ... would send a damaging message that your community is regressing from the promise of equality."

Contentious from the start, the law was enacted late in 2003 by a vote of 13 to 12 after prolonged debate under a previous mayor, who was voted out the following year, media reports said.

After Miyakonojo merged this year with several neighboring towns, officials agreed to review all previous laws and held hearings to gain input from local citizens.

No members of women's groups or gay and lesbian groups were invited to take part in the hearings, Kawasaki said.

"From the point of view of human rights, all people are included (under the law)," she said. "There's no change in this."

A city official said no penalty is specified for breaking the law.


2006 Tokyo Lesbian and Gay Parade Shines Despite Rain

[ 2006/08/14]

(TOKYO) The clouds looked ominous as the festivities started to gear up for the 2006 Tokyo Lesbian and Gay Parade this Saturday, August 12. Approximately 3,800 people gathered at the Yoyogi Park Outdoor Stage in a mix of colorful costumes and music.

The skies turned darker as thunder rolled and rain began to fall. In a matter of minutes, it had turned into a torrential downpour and the lightning forced the city to shut down the Yamanote rail line, Tokyo's major loop line, and causing many participants to walk to the site from the train stations where they were stranded.

Everyone huddled under the tents of vendors, NPOs, and local magazines like Badi and G-men as buckets of rain poured down . It looked like the parade would have to be canceled.

But then suddenly 20 minutes before the march was scheduled to start-perhaps due to a few brave souls who tried to dance the storm away-the rain stopped and it turned into a beautiful day.

“It was wonderful how even the weather supported us,” said Kanako Otsuji , Japan 's first openly lesbian politician. “I was so encouraged by all of the smiles on everyone's faces. I think that society begins to change when so many people can share in an experience of self-affirmation.”

The parade toured around the fashionable Harajuku area-the same place Gwen Stefani sang about in Harajuku Girls. It drew people from all across the country as well as many international visitors.

“It had a beautiful feeling and was so colorful,” said Hans from Belgium .

Jason from the U.S.A. said, “It's a very interesting atmosphere compared to American pride events. It seems to be less sexual and more ‘cute'. There's no attitude at all. Just very friendly and a strong sense of community.”

The Pride events continued the following day in Tokyo 's gayborhood, Shinjuku Ni Chome at the Ni Chome Festival. Several blocks were closed to traffic as thousands of people flooded into the area for music, shows, the ceremonial carrying of a Shinto shrine (done to a not-so-traditional choice of music-Madonna), as well as food and drinks. Lots of drinks.

As Pride 2006 begins to wind down here in Tokyo, people turn north to Japan's second largest Pride event, the Sapporo Rainbow March, which will be held on September 17.

“If we do not raise our voices, nobody will know of our existence,” said Aya Kamikawa , Japan 's only transsexual politician. “If we do not make other people think of us, nothing will change. Let's raise our voices together to make a better future!” (Editor: Tom Paine)


Japanese politician opens closet doors

[Bay Area Reporter 2006/07/06 by Matthew S. Bajko] is a rare political voice for Japan's LGBT community. Last summer when she took to the stage at Tokyo's Pride festival and came out, she became the first out lesbian politician on the island nation.

Elected to the Osaka Prefecture in April 2003, Otsuji wasn't exactly in the closet. But no one had bothered to ask her about her sexual orientation, either, so she never publicly revealed it during her campaign.

"If someone had asked me if I was a lesbian I would have said yes. But no one asked me. If they asked me if I was married, I would say no," said Otsuji, speaking through a translator.

Technically, it was the truth. She and her partner, Maki Kimura, a member of her Assembly staff, are not able to marry. Once in office Otsuji decided it was time to break her silence about being gay, and in the words of another pioneering gay politician, give hope to Japan's LGBT community.

So the 31-year-old penned a book titled Coming Out: The Journey to Find Myself ? it has sold 5,000 copies ? and shined a spotlight on a topic still considered taboo in her country. She also jumped on a bullet train last August for the two and half hour ride east to take part in Tokyo's Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade. Otsuji decided to make her announcement there because Osaka, Japan's second largest city, does not host a Pride festival ? though it does have a gay film festival ? and it was the first time Tokyo's LGBT community had organized a Pride event in several years.

"If I was going to come out I wanted to come out to other gay people," said Otsuji during an interview with the Bay Area Reporter on June 26, the day after this year's San Francisco Pride Parade, in the lobby of the Vintage Court hotel. "I got about 300 e-mails from LGBT people. Most of them were very grateful but at the same time they also were concerned about me. There are very few people in Japan who are openly gay. People were afraid by publicly coming out I would be harassed."

As for any backlash to her decision, Otsuji said, "I may have received two or three e-mails and maybe two or three phone calls but that doesn't mean I am accepted either."

The true test of how accepting Japan's public will be of a lesbian lawmaker will come next April when Otsuji must run for office again. There is precedent for Japanese voters overlooking a candidate's sexual minority status ? a transgender candidate won a political office in 2003.

Even more than her being an out lesbian, Otsuji's electoral chances have been complicated since her first campaign due to redistricting. When she ran the first time her district elected 10 people. Now the district is divided into six different districts with each electing two people to the Assembly. Not a member of the leading political parties, Otsuji said she is unsure if she can win a second term and may seek to run for a different office.

"Since I am an independent my chances are very low," she said. "If my district was still electing 10 people I would have been elected."

Powered by Pride

Visiting five American cities as part of a State Department-sponsored exchange, Otsuji's stay in San Francisco coincided with the annual Pride celebration. She took part in the Friday night Transgender March, participated in the pink triangle ceremony and met other Asian women at the Dyke March and rally Saturday, and watched the parade on Sunday.

She met one woman who thanked her for writing her book.

"On Saturday I met a Japanese woman who lives here. She told me her father read my book and could understand [her] better after reading it," recounted Otsuji, who traveled to Washington, D.C.; Buffalo, New York; Austin, Texas; and ended her trip in Seattle.

Along the way she met with fellow out politicians, including U.S. Representative Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) and local lawmakers Assemblymen Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and John Laird (D-Santa Cruz); Supervisors Tom Ammiano and Bevan Dufty; and city Treasurer Jose Cisneros. She also met Mayor Gavin Newsom whom she said, "was tall and handsome ? like a model."

Asked what she thought when she learned about Newsom's decision to marry same-sex couples in 2004, Otsuji remarked, "I thought, 'Good, old San Francisco.'"

The most impressive aspect of her visit, she said, was the city's Pride festivities. Compared to the 3,500-person crowd at Tokyo's Pride, Otsuji said she was astonished to see hundreds of thousands of people at San Francisco's celebration.

"I was so surprised by how many gay and lesbian people there were," she said. "I was speechless by the fact that the San Francisco gay and lesbian community has so much support and so many different people are doing different things and everyone just lives naturally out, because there is discrimination and prejudice in Japan."

In Japan, she said, there are no laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation at the national level. In Osaka, she said there is a statute regarding human rights that includes sexual minorities, but it is not in the law itself.

"It's in the plan that is based on the law," she explained. "It was there before I joined the Assembly."

Since she came out, she has pushed the Osaka government to host a training for employees about LGBT issues and change the cohabitation policies in its public housing system.

"Previously, it was restricted to just families. Now you can live there with a friend. It is not at all the housing, but at some," said Otsuji. "Now same-sex partners can apply to live in the public housing buildings. I also confirmed in the Assembly that same-sex partners have access to visit their partners in the hospital."

Leading a second gay boom

Otsuji is hopeful that the future holds greater acceptance and positive changes for Japan's LGBT community.

"It is something that nobody can stop. My role is to speed up those changes," she said.

She sees her generation ? which came of age during the 1990s when women's magazines published glowing accounts of gay men being a "fashionable presence" ? as leading a second wave of public awareness about gays and lesbians.

"For lesbians in 1993 and 1995 two books were written in which lesbians came out. I read those books when I was 20. Now those of us in our teens during the first boom are creating a second boom," said Otsuji. "The issue of same-sex marriage is not on the political agenda in Japan. But I would like to work to put the issue of same-sex partnerships on the agenda in the next decade."

The first step she said is for more Japanese to come out. It is the same route to political power and social acceptance that her hero, former San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, constantly challenged this country's LGBT community to do.

"First, we have to create a society in Japan where more people can be out, otherwise people's mentalities won't change. People are not aware of the fact there are gay and lesbian people in their families, workplaces and at their schools," she said.

Unlike those gays and lesbians who opt to live outside Japan, Otsuji does not imagine herself leaving her homeland.

"LGBT people cannot choose where they are born, so if I go to San Francisco by myself the problems in Japan won't be solved," she said. "I'd rather change the city where I live to make it easier for other gay people to live like here in San Francisco."

Her guide is Milk, one of the first out gay men to hold public office in the U.S. and the first to serve openly on the city's Board of Supervisors.

"When I was 24 years old, I saw Harvey's movie and [read] his book. What I learned is if a politician has the will to change things and courageousness then things will change," said Otsuji. "Harvey gave that famous speech where he said you've got to give them hope. It really moved me; that's why I became a politician. The things that happened in San Francisco in the 1970s didn't just stop in San Francisco. They crossed the ocean and are influencing Japan as well."



[ 2006/06/30], an elected official from Japan, recently met with a cross section of Buffalo's glbt population as part of a United States State Department program that brings foreign elected officials to communities in the United States. The visit was coordinated locally by the International Institute.

As a Member of Osaka Prefectural Assembly she disclosed that she is a lesbian in hopes that her action will help to encourage the gay community. Ms. Otsuji is the only openly gay or lesbian elected official in Japan. She did tell the group that few Japanese live their lives as openly gay people. In fact Tokyo, a city of over 8.5 million only had 3,500 showed up for their pride parade, a crowd that is similar to Buffalo's pride celebration.

Ms. (age 30), a member of the Osaka Prefectural Assembly, "comes out" in a book she that she authored. The book was published just this month. Two years ago, Ms. Otsuji was elected as the youngest member of the Osaka Prefectural Assembly. Ms. Otsuji was quoted as saying that her activism in the Assembly and desire to frame gay and lesbian issues as human right issues "gave (her) the confidence to disclose (herself) as a lesbian."

Since she was elected in April 2003, she has taken up minority issues at the Assembly's general interpellation, to include gay and lesbian rights. Specifically, she has asked the prefectural government to set up a counselor service window for gays and lesbians. She told her supporters that she would "like to encourage people who are exposed to discrimination and prejudice to live as they are." She is happy that she has finally found the strength to do so. Her book "Coming Out - A Journey to Find Myself" will be published by Kodansha Ltd., Publishers.

The group discussed how U.S. law protects the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals, "gay marriage" registration. As well as how openly gay people are treated by society in communities in Western New York.

Ms. Otsuji will also be visiting Seattle, Austin and San Francisco.


Japanese LGBT activists stand up for Human Rights of Russian LGBT

[ 2006/06/11]

"We want to support our Russian friends" said, an open elected Lesbian politician

On 8th of June, a letter of protest against the human rights violation of LGBT people in Russia was handed in to Mr. Alexander Noskov, a consul of Russian Federation in Osaka, Japan. Mr. Noskov promisted to pass the letter to the government in Russia.

The letter was from a group of LGBT organizations, Tokyo Pride, Sapporo Rainbow March Comittee, and Gay Japan News, and the first openly gay politician in Japan,, who herself brought a letter to the Russian consulate in Osaka and had an audience with the consul.

On 17th of May, they also submitted a letter asking the lifting of the ban on Moscow Pride to the ambassador of Russia in Tokyo as a part of campaign against homophobia in Japan., who came out as lesbian in her first term as a member of Osaka prefectural assembly, expresses her strong support."Japanese LGBT people are concerned with the violation of human rights of LGBT people in the country which is next to us, and we would like to support our Russian friends. Like Russia, Japan is quite conservative. That is why we need action which makes us more visible in society.

I would raise the issue of Moscow Parade and ask the pride participants and supporters in Japan for support, at Tokyo Pride Parade and Sapporo Rainbow March which are to be held this summer".

Yukiko Hosomi, IDAHO Japan


IDAHO in Japan 2006

[ 2006/05/17]

In order to raise awareness on homophobia and to promote IDAHO in Japan, we have created a site for IDAHO Japan.

We asked for the messages of support for the IDAHO campaign and the response was excellent. The positive messages we received are published on the above site. At the moment, all the content is in Japanese, but we would like to have English pages soon.
In addition, a number of actions are being planned for the 17th of May in different parts of Japan to join with the worldwide IDAHO campaigns.

Actions in Tokyo on May 17th
-To deliver the letters to embassies with homophobic policies towards LGBT people in their countries arguing for change
-To give a letter to the media proposing a change in their attitude towards LGBT people to give fair representation
-To give a letter to the Human Rights Bureau, the Ministry of Justice requesting to address the human rights issues of LGBT people
-To organize a public demonstration in front of Shinjuku Station(17:30-18:30) and IDAHO night at akta(19:00-21:00)

There are some actions taking place in Sapporo, Niigata, Sendai and other places and details of these actions can be found at the IDAHO Japan site.

Campaigns in Japan are organized by IDAHO Japan 2006 Committee which consists of (assembly member of Osaka prefecture and the first openly out gay/lesbian politician inJapan)
-TOKYO Pride (organizer of LGBT pride march in Tokyo)
-10th Sapporo Rainbow March Committee (organizer of LGBT pride march in Sapporo)
-Gay Japan News (information site which provides LGBT related news from all over the world in Japanese language)
Tokyo Pride
Sapporo Rainbow March
Gay Japan News


Out of the closet: Japan's transsexuals gain freedoms, but still face barriers


To most Japanese, Takafumi Fujio -- with cropped hair, thick arms and deep voice -- is a typical, middle-aged salaryman. But until four years ago, when the food company worker started on a range of hormonal treatments, he was a woman, a housewife and mother of two.

Fujio is one of an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 Japanese who believe they were born the wrong sex, a sexual minority that has been largely hidden from view in Japan.

But that is quickly changing.

Japan's first sex-change operation was performed in 1998, and its first transsexual and gay politicians were elected to public office in 2003. A groundbreaking legal reform allowing some transsexuals to change their officially registered sex took effect the following year.

The advances -- the result of long years of work behind the scenes -- have given Japan's sexual minorities rising self-confidence and a greater willingness to come out of the closet despite the country's long-prized conformity and disdain for displays of individuality.

"These changes have been way overdue," Fujio said at a recent interview in Tokyo. "I think the law got people thinking, 'If the country has recognized these people, they must be acceptable after all."'

Greater visibility and legal change are part of a general trend in Japan toward more personal freedom.

Technology and tradition have also played a role. The Internet has spread information about alternative lifestyles to people who in previous generations would have been isolated. Meanwhile, Japan's lack of deeply rooted moral or religious censure of sexual minorities has made the transition easier.

The rising visibility is a sharp turnaround for those like Fujio, who grew up in an era in postwar Japan where talk of transsexual lifestyles was rare.

"The transsexual community had a great dilemma. If we spoke out, we risked our jobs, our livelihoods. But by staying silent, nothing would change," said Aya Kamikawa, Japan's first and only transsexual politician.

Since 2003, Kamikawa -- a woman who used to be a man -- has played a key role in lobbying for changes at both the national and local levels, including the sex-change law. She has also successfully lobbied to eliminate unnecessary mentions of gender in public documents.

Still, obstacles to full acceptance remain.

Under the 2004 law, for instance, only unmarried, childless applicants can change their official gender. Applicants also must have had a sex-change operation and been diagnosed by two doctors as having so-called gender-identity disorder.

A mere 151 people in Japan officially changed their sex between July 2004, when the law went into force, and the end of March 2005, according to the Justice Ministry. Fujio himself isn't eligible to change his official sex because he has children.

The stigma of transsexuality is also still high in Japan. Transsexuals say they are reluctant to seek work or even go to the dentist for fear their original gender will be revealed by documents such as health insurance cards.

Moreover, transsexuals experience even more restrictions because some of them are also gay or lesbian. Same-sex marriages are forbidden in Japan, hospital visits by gay partners can be blocked and it's impossible for homosexual couples to jointly purchase a home or for a survivor to inherit the assets of a gay partner.

"We have no legal protection or assurances whatsoever, and that brings many worries," said Aki Nomiya, who was born male but now lives as a woman with a female partner, though she has not had a full sex-change operation.

Japan first needs to allow for a partnership system like that of France, whose 1999 Civil Solidarity Pact gives some legal rights to unmarried couples, Nomiya says.

But officials say Japan isn't yet ready for such changes.

"This is a very complicated and divisive problem that needs to be treated with caution" said Kunio Koide, councilor of the Civil Affairs Bureau of the Justice Ministry. "I don't see widespread support for reforms at the moment."

Still, Japan's sexual minorities as whole have claimed some victories., Japan's first openly gay politician, successfully lobbied for a change in local regulations to allow non-married couples to apply for public housing -- including gays and transsexuals.

"My generation has been the first to speak out about sexual minority rights in any meaningful way," Otsuji, 31, said in Osaka prefecture, where she has held an assembly seat since 2003.

In the meantime, Japan's transsexuals are enjoying their increasing freedom -- while chafing against the enduring restrictions.

As a young woman, Fujio says he suppressed his desire to live as a man and married a male co-worker "mainly out of feelings of obligation," giving birth to two girls.

Nine years later in 2002, Fujio made the decision to divorce and live as a man.

The move, however, has had painful consequences. His ex-husband's family has allowed him to see his children only once since the divorce four years ago.

"Of course it's tough. We have to first get the public to think, `It's OK to live that way of life,"' he said. "Then, maybe I'll get to see my kids -- maybe in 10 years." (AP)


ILGA 23rd World Conference in Geneva

[A strong demonstration of how the LGBT movement and ILGA are alive and needed in the world today 2006/04/14]

With some 220 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists coming from all regions of the world, the 23rd World Conference of the International Lesbian and Gay Association, held in Geneva, from March 27 till April 3 2006 has been a strong demonstration of how alive and needed the LGBT movement and ILGA as its platform are in the world today. The conference was organised by a coalition of Swiss LGBT groups such as Lestime, Dialogai, Pink Cross and 360° led by Yves de Matteis.

A 28 year-old NGO, ILGA is the only worldwide federation of groups ? now over 500 - working to achieve equal rights for LGBT people locally and globally.

ILGA members convene every other year to decide of the association’s agenda, elect its representatives, network, share and voice their concerns over human rights violations still committed on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Today, some 75 countries still criminalise homosexuality and nine still include death penalty to condemn it.

A platform for the African LGBT movement

In spite of visa difficulties, a delegation of 15 representatives both from English and French Speaking Africa was invited to the conference. Representatives from Cameroon and Nigeria provided shocking updates on extent of homophobia in their countries. This included accounts of the recent expulsion of a group of female students in Cameroon who had been accused of being lesbian. Alice Nkom, lawyer, gave details of the case of the 11 Cameroonian men arrested last June who are currently awaiting trial for gay sex in prison. Equally alarming is the Nigerian government’s Bill banning same-sex marriages and homosexuality about to pass. A delegation of activists visited the Permanent Mission of Nigeria in Geneva to express concerns over the homophobic climate in the country following the proposal of this law. The conference provided a platform for LGBT activists to discuss ways in which to increase the visibility of the LGBT community in Africa and to work towards unity and improved networking amongst African LGBT organisations in the fight for LGBT rights. ILGA also welcomed in Geneva the election of two new board members from Africa.

Participants protest in front of Permanent Mission of Russia

Conference participants were also sympathetic to the call of Russian activist Nikolai Alekseev to react to the recent homophobic statements against the Moscow Gay Pride. Catherine Gaillard, representative of the Geneva based Lesbian organization Lestime and head of the Municipal Council of Geneva, liaised with the local authorities to hold a protest. More than 100 activists from 35 different countries joined in a protest in front of the Russian Diplomatic mission, 100 meters from the United Nations headquarter.

Embracing Transgender rights

This 23rd world conference of ILGA is likely to be remembered as the one where representatives of the global LGBT community of activists further embraced gender identity as part of the global movement for LGBT equality. In addition to a very dense two-days pre-conference on transgenderism, ILGA members voted for the creation of a secretariat to focus on Transgender rights (Instituto Runa ? Peru was elected as the interim holder of this position) and in favour of numerous changes in ILGA’s constitution to give proper recognition and space to the struggle faced by transgender people worldwide.

In defence of LGBT workers

Other major themes of this international gathering have been health promotion for LGBT people and religions and homosexuality. A spontaneous initiative also saw a declaration to push for better representation of youth within ILGA. A full day meeting on the theme of discrimination at the workplace gave Global trade unions such as Public Services International and Education International and corporate businesses such as IBM and British Telecom an opportunity to present their policies in defense of LGBT workers. Roberto Mendoza gave an account of his experience as former employee of Coca Cola Mexico being fired on the grounds of his sexual orientation.

Health: Beyond Aids, a common concern for gays and lesbians

Unaids and WHO representatives were amongst the participants of two preconferences on health, the first one focusing on Gay Health and its promotion beyond Aids prevention whilst the second addressed health concerns amongst lesbians and bisexual women. Women Human rights defenders throughout the world gave a concrete insight into various topics such as HIV/AIDS, corrective rape and gender based violence as well as breast cancer, mental health issues, same sex domestic violence and sexual education. Participants underlined the need to share and disseminate information globally, a concern addressed in ILGA’s report on women's health “common concerns and local issues” which was launched during the conference.

Against a fundamentalist reading of religions on Homosexuality

The work initiated in the panel on religions and homosexuality organised by ILGA at the UN in 2005 had a interesting follow up in Geneva. Clercs from various obediences, including Rabbi Francois Garai, Muslim Imam Muhsin Hendricks and Bishop Michael Ingham engaged in a very inspiring interreligious dialogue on several occasions during this ILGA conference. The conference also gave birth to a new Initiative for the Advocacy of Gender, Sexuality and Human Rights in Muslim Communities and gave ILGA the opportunity to meet UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Asma Jahangir.

Particularly moving, a statement by His Holiness the Dalai Lama officially opened this 23rd ILGA World conference and was greeted by a standing ovation from participants. H.H. the Dalai Lama expressed concern’s at "reports of violence and discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people" and "urges respect, tolerance and the full recognition of human rights for all."

Out in Politics

Several openly out LGBT politicians participated to the conference: Joke Zwiebel, Former Member of the European Parliament, Volker Beck, Member of the German Parliament and Whip of the Green Party Group, Lissy Groner, Member of the European Parliament, Spokeswomen on Gender Equality for the Party of the European Socialists and Vice President of Socialist International Women,, Municipal Councillor in Osaka, Japan and Belissa Andia Perez, first Transgender Candidate for Parliament in Peru and Ulrike Lunacek, Vice-President Foreign Affairs Committee (Austria’s National Council) The Greens' Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Development Issues .

ILGA will keep on working for UN recognition of LGBT people and their rights

After 7 years as a co-secretary general of ILGA, Turkish activist Kursad Kahramanoglu decided not to present himself, declaring: “I am proud to leave ILGA in the moment where it is further welcoming our transgender brothers and sisters. ILGA is one of the few places in the world where gender identity and its inclusion in the world LGBT agenda can be discussed at length with such depth by our very same movement”. ILGA members elected German and Sri Lankan activists Philipp Braun and Rosanna Flamer Caldera (for a second term) to serve as secretaries generals of ILGA until the next World conference of ILGA to be hosted, as voted by members in Quebec in 2008. Philipp Braun from LSVD, the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany, has lobbied extensively on partnership, antidiscrimination and transgender legislation in Germany. Since 2003 he has been intensively involved with the campaign to get LGBT rights recognised in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and has been campaigning with ILGA to bring LGBT groups to apply for UN consultative (Ecosoc) status.

Cynthia Rothschild from Centre for Women’s Global Leadership, Scott Long from Human Rights Watch and Chris Sidoti from International Service for Human Rights as well as Douglas Sanders, first man to ever talk of homosexuality within an UN Forum participated to the conference and expressed their support to ILGA’s struggle to get proper recognition within the UN system. Next May, no less than three LGBT groups (ILGA-Europe, Coalition gaie et lesbienne du Quebec and LSVD) will be considered by the UN committee after ILGA and Danish national group LBL were rejected without a fair process in January. In May the rejection of both ILGA and LBL will also be challenged: “It is time" Rosanna and Philipp say “the United Nations become the house of us all, regardless of our sexual orientation and gender identity. Whether it is wanted or not by some, we’ll come out at the UN!”


Out in Japan

[By Justin Ellis, The Advocate WORLD FOCUS 2006/03/14 ]

Coming out is still very difficult in Japan's traditional culture, even though the country has no antigay legislation on the books. So it came as a surprise to many when lesbian prefectural assemblywoman appeared on the cover of the January 25 issue of Newsweek Japan -- with a gay businessman -- under the headlines "Gay in Japan."

The Osaka lawmaker first made headlines last year with the release of her controversial book Coming Out. "Coming out is important for gaining lesbian and gay rights in Japan, because if we can't see the problems, nothing will change, and if we don't speak out, nothing will improve," Otsuji told The Advocate. In Japan celebrities have immense influence over public opinion, Otsuji said, adding "If a few famous people came out, it could change the situation quite simply."


Invisible minority Japan's lesbian community in dual struggle for rights, acceptance

[By THOMASINA LARKIN, The Japan Times 2006/02/28]

Misrepresented, misunderstood and mysterious, a group of women fight a dual struggle, compelled to speak up for their rights, yet fearing the consequences of a life made visible in an oppressive world.

The mysteries surrounding this group have too often become false myths that stereotype the lives of lesbians. Very common is the belief that women become lesbians because of some traumatic experience they've had with a man.

"That's no more valid than asking a straight person if they had a bad experience with someone from the same gender and then become heterosexual," says Kim Oswalt, a Tokyo-based psychotherapist.

"Straight people know they are straight at a young age -- maybe even before having a sexual experience. The same could be said for lesbian and gays -- they may know their orientation at an early age.

"Internalized homophobia is when gays feel like they have to look and act straight to be invisible because there is a culture of repression," says Oswalt. "I have my doubts that the politics of assimilation strengthen the voice of any marginalized group."

On the other hand, even if someone is out of the closet, it's not easy to identify a person's sexual orientation by how they look.

Every Wednesday night, a snug and mellow little Shibuya bar hosts a night called Chestnut and Squirrel, or "kuri to risu" in Japanese. The air is filled with the smell of what organizers call "dyke food," the sounds of ice clinking in so-called "dyke drinks" and the chatter of over a dozen international women.

They may all be there for one common reason, but not one looks much like another.

Within the lesbian "community" are several pocket communities divided by members such as political activists, party girls who are into cruising the bar scene, career women or lesbians with children.

"Sometimes people think that just because two people are lesbians, they're going to get along," says American EV. "But the truth is, I'm not defined by 'being a lesbian.' I'm myself. Being gay is part of who I am, but it's not all of who I am. We all have something in common, but it's just one thing that we have in common. It's not a hobby, like 'I'm gay on Wednesday nights but I scuba dive on Saturdays.' "

Lesbians are all around. They're our nurses, our teachers and our Saturday scuba diving buddies. They're even our friends and our sisters. They just blend in really well, sometimes to the point of invisibility.

"Minority, minority, minority," says Olivia Moss, who wrote her thesis for Cambridge University on Japanese lesbianism in the 1990s.

"For foreign working women in Tokyo, the minority of being foreign, within the minority of being lesbian, within the minority of being a working woman, means that it's no surprise we're 'invisible' on a large scale. Add to this the population who are able to be 'out' at work, and the minority chain just goes on and on and the numbers decrease with the chain."

As Japan has yet to pass same-gender rights or antidiscrimination laws, most women don't fully come out, thus feeding the myth that lesbians don't exist in Japan.

"There's a fear among both foreign and Japanese women that it wouldn't just be taboo but there's a risk of losing your job or of alienating yourself from the so-called straight society," says Moss. Though, an Osaka lawmaker, took a step forward by coming out publicly at last August's gay pride parade in Tokyo, Japanese lesbians have long been lacking public role models.

In 1980, well-known pop singer Naomi Sagara saw her career collapse as she was banished by the public after her former partner announced she was a lesbian.

"I didn't come out until I was 32," says Chu, who is lovingly referred to as Momma and has been helping organize "dyke weekends" (thrice a year get-togethers in Saitama) for over 10 years, as well as hosting food and drinks at Chestnut and Squirrel for four years.

"It's all about repression. I only knew about Naomi Sagara. She was lesbian and it was bad news. But then KD Lang was so cool. When I saw her sing at The Grammys, I thought 'I'm lesbian!' It was finally time for me to consider my sexuality. It must be a visible positive image for women to want to come out."

Chu says lesbian activities hit their peak in 1994, coinciding with the American feminist movement, when leaders of groups in Japan all worked together.

She says since then it has calmed down and because groups have different agendas they have gone their own ways.

Recently Japanese lesbians have been going their own way, with an increasing number choosing the Internet, rather than public places, to meet other women.

"The Net is different from meeting in a bar. I want more. People have lives and experiences, not just parties," says Ayano, who has been meeting Internet friends around Chiba for daytime activities like horseback riding and swan watching since September.

For some, following the personals on the Internet has compromised the strength of lesbian communities.

"Women can lead double-lives and that counteracts what the possibilities can be. It's easy to find a relationship on the Net by speed dating, but you end up closeting yourself and it affects the structure of that minority group. So then we don't fight for visibility because we've disappeared," says Moss.

"We need to encourage a community where women can express themselves. I feel like the foreign community has a moral obligation to care, contribute and support.

"It's time to work toward building self-awareness within our own foreign lesbian community -- and find ways of breaking down any barriers between ourselves and other communities."

But because of language barriers, the transitory nature of foreigners and the lack of same-gender spousal visas, there are different agendas for the foreign and Japanese lesbian communities.

Perhaps one of the challenges is how to respect the different agendas while at the same time building a strong political base.

Until a broader spectrum of visibility exists, public blindness remains and stigmas are continually reinforced by images of lesbianism brought to the mainstream.

"There are still many who believe in that there are virtually no lesbians in the real Japanese society," says Maki Kimura, a staff member of the Kansai Queer Film Festival and partner of Otsuji.

"A market where feminine lesbians are objectified and consumed as objects of sexual desire by heterosexual men, say through pornography, has developed.

"There are also a great number of lesbians who marry men due to economic concerns, partly because wage differences are still large between women and men in Japan.

"Even though we describe it as a community, there is not enough sharing of information with each other. Except for personals on the Internet, it's a big problem that there is virtually no media to link Japanese lesbians," says Kimura.

"I want to cut off the vicious cycle of discrimination and prejudice. The more we become visible, the more a systematic change favorable for us will be fostered."


Japan's first openly gay politician speaks up for nation's silent minorities

[By NORIKO YAHIRO, The Asahi Shimbun 2005/12/21] was dumbfounded one night in late 2003 when a woman friend accused the newly elected assembly-woman of being a dilettante.

"What would you know about human rights and discrimination?" the friend asked of Otsuji, who had just won a seat in the Osaka prefectural assembly on a minority rights platform.

A few days earlier, Otsuji had raised issues facing minority people such as gays during a question period at the assembly.

"You've made it to the assembly in just one try. Your life has been breezing along without a hitch," the friend went on blithely.

Angered, Otsuji let it all out. "I'm a lesbian," she shot back. "That was me. I was talking about myself."

In early 2003 at age 28, Otsuji became the youngest person ever elected to the 110-member assembly. The representative for the city of Sakai, she is just one of seven women members.

Otsuji knew her four-year term was never going to be easy. But since her decision last summer to come out as a lesbian, however, the gossip and silent treatment in the chamber has tested her resolve.

In many other countries, the news that a public official has a different sexual orientation is no longer considered the stuff of bold headlines.

But in Japan, it's still uncharted territory. No other elected official here has ever openly admitted to being gay.

The day before her book, "Jibun rashisa o mitsukeru tabi" (Coming Out: A Journey to Find My True Self), published by Kodansha, hit bookstores on Aug. 13 this year, Otsuji says, newspapers had a field day with sensational headlines like: "Lesbian comes out with tell-all book."

Otsuji says she and her 30-year-old partner bought all the newspapers and pored over the printed reactions to her revelation.

During her 2003 campaign, Otsuji had spoken out in support of minorities, promising better representation for voters ignored by mainstream politicians. Her sexual orientation was not mentioned.

But she knew she eventually wanted to come out. In late 2003, she decided to announce she was a lesbian during question time in the prefectural assembly's end-of-year session.

Circumstances prevented that, however.

Her own office staff opposed the idea, telling her it would generate glaring headlines. "How are we supposed to cope with that?" they asked.

So, she compromised with a declaration that if she couldn't come out, she would at least speak out about minority issues during the question period.

"I want 21st-century Osaka to be a place where everyone can live their own way of life, and everyone can embrace each others' uniqueness," she said in her speech.

It was an emotional moment for her, bringing back memories of her college years at Doshisha University in Kyoto.

She had spent most of her time alone in her apartment, depressed, lonely and feeling different from everyone else.

Raised mostly in Kobe, the athletic Otsuji was on the karate team at high school. After graduation, she studied tae kwon do at Seoul University, hoping to go to the Olympics. When that didn't pan out, she returned to Japan and entered Doshisha.

She was 24 when she ventured to go on her first date with a woman. It was another year before she built up the nerve to tell her close friends and mother that she was a lesbian.

It was another four before she found herself blurting it out during that evening out with a small group of associates her own age, only days after her address to the assembly on minorities.

Otsuji realized then and there that "People won't understand any of this unless I come out about my own life."

She decided to go public and write a book. She signed a deal with Kodansha and her future was forever changed.

In February, when the next question session rolled around, Otsuji held a meeting for her supporters at her Sakai office and told them of her plans.

Intent on prepping them for the expected questions, she distributed reference materials on gay and lesbian issues.

One of the supporters refused to take them. "I'm uncomfortable with the idea of people discussing their private lives in the assembly," he told her.

In fact, most of her supporters were against her decision.

"You can't use a public forum--a place for discussing public policy--for your personal use," another supporter said. Others warned: "You're just going to get bashed by the media."

Months after that meeting, her Shuken Osaka assembly faction traveled to Kanagawa Prefecture on an inspection tour. She told her elected colleagues matter-of-factly, "I am publishing a book. And I will be announcing that I am a lesbian."

An uneasy silence followed, she says. One assembly member at least tried to be diplomatic, "Well, it's nothing new in the West."

Another worried: "What are we going to do if people think we are all (gay)?"

The months following her decision to come out, says Otsuji, were intense. She couldn't eat properly and worried constantly about how her revelation would be received. She also wondered what would happen to her political career. She even hired security to guard her office.

A day after her story broke, reality set in.

On Aug. 14, at a peace memorial service in Osaka, Otsuji expected some response from fellow assembly members, perhaps a few encouraging words or congratulations.

They said nothing.

Some officials, she says, avoided even looking her in the eye. She felt invisible.

Initially, the public response was frigid.

Many calls to her office were along the lines of, "Who cares what goes on in your bedroom?" and "We can't have an abnormal person in public office."

Some people even returned the newsletters her office had mailed out.

"(Otsuji) seemed to be wiped out (by the backlash)," a male prefectural assembly member said later.

"She had to make an effort to even speak to people," he recalled.

Another member described his inability to understand the issue. "I had never set eyes on a lesbian before. I didn't have an inkling what I should say to her," he admitted.

Otsuji had been warned of the potential fallout by Aya Kamikawa, a member of the Setagaya ward assembly in Tokyo.

Kamikawa was the first transsexual in the nation to be elected to public office in April 2003. She offered Otsuji much-needed support.

"(My office) was bombarded with nasty posters and people stormed the place," Kamikawa said.

"But you just have to keep on doing what you have to do. People will come around."

And slowly, people have, says Otsuji. She has received hundreds of e-mail messages, most of them encouraging, many from members of Japan's gay community.

A 22-year-old with a gender- identity disorder wrote: "It's awfully hard not being able to live my life the way I want to, although I've done nothing wrong. Your decision to come out gave me courage. Thank you."

A 26-year-old man wrote: "I want my parents to understand, but I can't take that final step. I feel you've given me the strength to go ahead."

In September, Otsuji had the honor of speaking at the assembly as a representative of her faction--her first such chance since taking office.

She told herself, "I shouldn't make this personal, I am speaking for the group."

But another assembly member, Tatsuya Doi, told her she ought to say more about her sexual orientation. "Your words carry weight as a first-person narrative."

On Oct. 5, Otsuji spoke to the assembly about cases in which same-sex couples were being denied apartments. She says she could feel assembly members stirring in their seats, whispering to each other as she spoke.

But, she says, she took a deep breath and persevered. "Solving the problems faced by minorities is one way to create a kinder society, one where everyone can breathe easier," she said.(IHT/Asahi: December 21,2005)


Assemblywoman puts sex on the agenda

[Lesbian politician talks about gender issues in Japan By MASAKO TSUBUKU, The Japan Times 2005/09/11]

In April 2003, 28-year-old became the youngest person ever elected to the Osaka prefectural assembly when she won the seat for Sakai City. It was a distinction made more special by the fact that there were only six other women in the 110-member assembly at the time. However, another distinction was not known to most of thepeople who voted for her.

Otsuji is a lesbian. Though she did not keep her sexual orientation a secret, the supporters who knew talked her out of revealing this information during the campaign. She was even open about her homosexuality to individual local journalists, but none reported it.

Born in Nara and raised in Kobe, Otsuji was an Asian Junior karate champion while in high school. Later, she dropped out of college and took odd jobs, eventually going to Seoul University to study Korean and tae kwon do in the hope of going to the Sydney Olympics in 2000. She didn't make the national team, though, and later enrolled in Doshisha University in Kyoto, where she became interested in politics. Otsuji interned with a lawmaker in the Kansai region before her successful run as an independent candidate for the Osaka prefectural assembly.

After taking office, Otsuji knew that she wanted to come out. She spent two months writing a memoir, titled "Coming Out," which was accepted by Kodansha. She wanted the publication to coincide with the Tokyo Lesbian and Gay Parade 2005 on Aug. 13, where she planned to come out publicly. However, she felt some sort of obligation to her supporters in Sakai City, and on the day before the parade she held a press conference at which she revealed her sexual orientation.

A section of the Tokyo Lesbian and Gay Parade, in which placards call for a Domestic Partners Law for homosexuals and declare "You're not alone."

On Aug. 30, Otsuji held her first meeting with supporters since coming out. She explained why she made the announcement, as well as the meaning of the term "sexual minorities" -- comprising lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender individuals -- and why she aimed to support them in her political career.

Following the meeting, Otsuji talked to The Japan Times about being an openly gay politician in Japan.

Why did you decide to come out?

Somebody had to. Before people can acknowledge the problems faced by sexual minorities, they have to see them. Otherwise the vicious circle continues.

You said that you became a politician in order to change society. How did you present yourself to voters?

When I ran there were very few women in the Osaka prefectural assembly, and the average age of all the members was about 60. I thought the assembly should represent a wide cross section of people, but it was just old men. So in my campaign I said we needed the voice of a young woman. I also said I didn't belong to any party, so I could promote things I believed in without any strings attached.

As for policies, I had worked on peace and environmental issues, human rights, in particular, women's problems.

I wanted to represent people who didn't have an outlet for their views. I wanted to give them a voice in the assembly.

I had no record of accomplishment as a politician, so I asked voters to give me a chance as a young person who wanted to change things.

Why didn't you reveal your sexual orientation when you ran?

I never hid the fact that I'm gay. I never went out of my way to tell someone I am, but if they asked me I'd tell them. At the beginning of the parade I announced that I was a lesbian, and it was supposed to be a happy occasion. I didn't expect it to be so serious.

I had a hard time until I finally admitted to myself my true sexual orientation [at the age of 23]. Until then I thought I was weird, the only person in the world who felt this way. Then I met people who were in the same situation.

As I explained this at the parade, I just started crying. I was remembering all the pain I had gone through. I hope that in the future when people come out they'll have an easier time of it.

What about your parents?

When I told my family that I was going to come out, they said I would have to prepare myself for hardship. My father told his relatives in Kagoshima and they got very upset. "Don't publish the book! Grandmother will faint!"

My mother acknowledges my homosexuality but she doesn't understand. One of her friends, a teacher, said, "It happens often in girls schools." And another friend simply said, "Wow, your daughter published a book! That's great!" I think she felt better after that.

How about your partner's family?

Her relatives don't understand either. It's very hard because if our families don't accept it, that means they're rejecting us. Mothers tend to think they did something wrong when their daughters say they are lesbians. It's like a mother who gives birth to a handicapped child. Mothers tend to think that society looks down on them, as if they were at fault. That's why we have to educate everyone.

Human rights problems are caused by prejudice, and all prejudice is created out of ignorance. I want to remove this prejudice. I want a society where you can talk about your sexual orientation as casually as you would left-handedness or right-handedness.

It'll probably take at least another 10 years.

In your book, you write that you were bullied in junior high school.

Bullying in school happens to people who are perceived as being different. If someone is even a little away from the mainstream, they're bullied. I was a bit boyish.

You said you were hurt when other students called you a "les," but were also happy when someone mistook you for a boy. Were you having gender identity problems?

People in Japan tend to think of lesbians as being very feminine. The ones I've known are not necessarily transgendered, but they do have doubts about their femaleness. They have lived their whole lives as females, so it's too late to think seriously about changing sex. I wrote that in the book so that people would understand that sexuality is not a black-and-white thing.

You sometimes hear of heterosexuals acknowledging their gayness, or saying that they love someone who "happens" to be the same sex. They understand homosexuality from that point of view. But I have no sexual desire toward men, only women. I would never say that the person I "happen" to be in love with is a woman. I love that woman because she is a woman. It's a very complicated subject.

You say that lesbians are forced to live under special conditions.

Among developed countries, Japan has a very small number of women in positions of power. This fact is reflected in the situation of lesbians.

When a woman acknowledges that she is a lesbian, she loses the option of getting married to a man who will support her. It is difficult for a woman to live by herself in Japan. There are few jobs where she can earn a decent salary. The average woman's salary is about 60 percent that of a man's, so being a woman in this country automatically means being poorer, which means lesbians are poorer, too. That's why some get married anyway.

Do the lesbians you know want to have children?

Some of them are divorced and already have children. I don't know of any lesbian couple in Japan who have had a child together [by means of artificial insemination]. The priority is financial survival.

How do you feel about the way the media treats sexual minorities?

It makes me angry. This morning I saw [comedian] Razor Ramon for the first time. I never watch TV. I'd only heard about him. He's not homosexual. He just uses gayness for his act, to make people laugh. I'm afraid that people will get the idea that gay people are all like that, yelling and pumping their hips.

Are there any groups who complain to the media about discrimination?

Right now there is no organization that monitors the media about such things. In a speech during the Chiba governor's election this year, Kensaku Morita [a former TV actor and LDP DIet member, who ran unsuccessfully as an Independent] said that if Japan maintains its policy of gender-free education, there will be no masculinity or femininity, only "okama" [a derogatory term, similar to "homos"].

We became angry and started a blog to protest his statement. I suppose you could call that a movement.

Sexual minority organizations concentrate on counseling: How can we survive in this society? We haven't reached the stage where we can operate as a political group. We can appeal to heterosexuals with something like this parade, which was held for the first time in three years. We also sent questionnaires to candidates in the Lower House election, asking them about their policies regarding sexual minorities.

We tend to think that the pursuit of happiness includes living with the person you love. In Japan, the smallest unit recognized by the authorities is the family, but the definition of family is very narrow.

The definition of the Japanese family is fixed. In Osaka, you can only live in public housing with your family, which is designated through the family registration system. So you have to prove that you are married with a family register, and -- according to the family register -- marriage is only between a man and a woman.

Whether or not it's good for gay couples to be accepted as a family within this convention is a problem, because then single people will be discriminated against, including single mothers. Actually, gays and lesbians identify more with single people, meaning we want to live in a society that recognizes the basic rights of individuals.

I don't want a society in which families and singles are antagonists. That's why we aren't aggressive about guaranteeing same-sex domestic partners' rights. We were influenced by feminism. Lesbians tend to not like words like "couples" and "marriage."

Personally, I decided a long time ago to never get married.

Do you oppose the institution of marriage?

Yes. Now, the law doesn't even allow married people to have different names.

But as you wrote [in a newspaper article], you want to make laws that broaden the rights of domestic partnerships.

I think domestic partners should have the same rights as married couples. If they did, it would mean the government accepts gays and lesbians as full citizens. The Seisakuken [a policy group that works on women's and sexual minority issues] surveyed gays and lesbians about what they want. The main priority was the right to remain with a seriously ill partner in hospital. If something happens to my partner, I want to be able to talk to the doctor, be there by her side. I want to be part of the decision-making process with regard to her care. Presently, only family members are allowed to do that. The second priority is inheritance.

If you want to change society you have to do it on a national level.

Right. We want to put up at least one sexual minority person for the Upper House as a proportional candidate. That way we will see how many votes we can get and what kind of support we have.

Has any party talked to you so far?

I think they're taking a wait-and-see attitude. There are many gays and lesbians living in places like Shinjuku, and if any of them decided to run for local government I think they could get elected. If an openly gay person ran, then members of sexual minorities who are interested in politics will vote for that person. Wherever I go I try to badger gay people into running for office.

You formed a sexual minority political group -- you, Aya Kamikawa [a transgender member of the assembly of Setagaya Ward, Tokyo] and another person.

Actually, there are more. The only members who have disclosed their names are myself and Kamikawa-san.

Are they politicians from local governments?

Yes. And there are national politicans, too.

Why don't they come out?

They didn't become politicians to work on sexual minority issues. Once you become a politician your job is to get reelected, and that becomes difficult when you come out, especially if you're from a rural district.

In your book, you also worry about children. Lately, sex education has come under fire. Do you think it's acceptable to teach children about sexual orientation?

Right now, home economics textbooks for high school students discuss same-sex couples. Every four years textbooks are revised, so we must try to keep it as it is. The Seisakuken is making a special gender-free program. We'll go to schools and explain about sexual minorities. Teachers will then be compelled to deal with any related questions from their students. It's not something many teachers want to do, so they may ask for help. Once the subject comes out people will want to know more.

We really have to tell people that there's nothing wrong with being gay or lesbian. It's a healthy sexual orientation. We use civil rights as a kind of breakwater. We have to insist that when people make discriminatory statements in school or in the political arena it violates our rights.

Since this concerns individuals' sexual orientation, it's difficult for society to recognize it as a civil rights problem. That's why people don't come out.

Right, but somebody has to.

And that somebody is you . . .

In 1993, Yuko Kakefuda, a writer, came out after she wrote "Being a Lesbian." It was the first time such a book was published in Japan. Then, singer Michiru Sasano, who read Kakefuda's book, wrote her own, and I read it when I was about 20. In 1999, a schoolteacher named Kumiko Ikeda wrote a book titled "I Won't Leave You." She was a lesbian activist using a pseudonym, and in 1997 she came out in her school. I'm an extension of that line.

Sasano suffered from depression after she published her book.

Everyone I know who comes out more or less suffers from depression.

What about you?

I try to fly low, but I can feel the pressure.

Do you feel it directly?

It's more like I'm untouchable. You saw the women at the meeting, the ones in their 60s? They don't have the vocabulary to discuss sexuality. Their image of sex is one of dirty jokes and pornography. They can't talk about sex seriously during the daytime. That's why they don't know how to talk to me since I came out.

Friends and people in my group come up to me, discuss my book, ask me if I'm OK, but everybody else just avoids the topic. They know I came out, but they refuse to acknowledge it. Even the bureaucrats I work with have no idea how to talk to me.

If somebody comes to me and says he read my book or an article about me, then I can believe he or she accepts me for what I am. Everyone knows I came out, but no one talks about it to my face.

I had a such great time at the parade. It was like a dream. Then, the next day, back in Osaka, I returned to earth and realized how difficult real life is. There will be somebody else, somebody who reads my book and comes out, so I'll hand the baton to her. That gives me a sense of purpose. But until that person comes out, I'll accept my role as the front runner.


Japanese Legislator Comes Out At Gay Pride

[by Newscenter Staff 2005/08/13 ]

(Osaka, Japan) A member of the Osaka regional Assembly announced she is a lesbian Saturday during gay pride celebrations in Tokyo. has been in the Osaka Prefectural Assembly since 2003 and represents a district of nearly 9 million people.

Otsuji said she had not come out earlier because she was uncertain she could win election in conservative Japan. She is only one of a handful of openly gay politician in the country.

But, she said Saturday that she decided to become public after hearing stories of the hardships faced by other closeted Japanese.

"I don't want children troubled by being homosexual experiencing the same (hardships)," she told the Kyodo news service.

"Homosexual people have often kept silent for fear of discrimination and prejudice. By declaring I'm homosexual, I would like to highlight the problems and put an end to a vicious circle of discrimination and prejudice," Otsuji said.

Otsuji, 30, is a member of the "Shuken (Sovereignty) Osaka" group of independent assembly members.

About 3,000 people celebrated gay pride Saturday with a march through Tokyo's Shibuya and Harajuku districts - the main shopping and entertainment areas of the city.