In contrast to the recent LGBT-friendly reforms in Shibuya Ward, Setagaya Ward and Takarazuka (who began issuing same-sex partnership certificates), three local government officials made statements that were offensive to LGBT people. These incidents revealed that there continues to be a situation in Japan where, in spite of large attitude shifts in favor of LGBT rights, there is still a significant segment of the older population who hold discriminatory views of LGBT people.
The first of these offensive statements was made by Masumi Tsuruhashi (71), who is a member of the Ebina city council in Kanagawa prefecture, located south of Tokyo. Around 1 am on November 29, Tsurusashi tweeted that “Recently, the media lacks morality. They will report whatever oddities they find as if they were actual news. Then, they can feel a sense of superiority. One example of this is so-called “same-sex relationships.” I think that they [people in same-sex relationships] are abnormal animals that are changing the foundation of all living creatures. Think of the effect it has to be covered by the media!” He also tweeted a message to the official Twitter account of the major newspaper Asahi Shimbun saying that same-sex relationships are abnormal and that the media should not cover them.
Soon after he tweeted these messages, he was widely criticized. That same day, Tsurusahi deleted the tweet and tweeted an apology. In interviews, Tsurusahi claimed that he was drunk when he wrote his initial tweets, which he composed abruptly and without thorough contemplation.
The tweets can be viewed here: http://www.huffingtonpost.jp/2015/11/28/ebhinashigi-sabetsu_n_8674040.html
On December 3, the city council of Ebina in Kanagawa prefecture passed a resolution demanding the resignation of Tsurusahi. The resolution passed 13 to 1, with six members abstaining. The resolution condemned Tsurusahi for committing a human rights violation by writing these messages on Twitter. It also said he had deeply undermined the trust and dignity of the solemn assembly. Tsurusashi apologized to the council. He will be absent from the council’s meeting in December, and declined his salary for the month of December. However, he will not resign as a member of the council, and the resolution does not have binding legal authority to force him to resign.
On November 29th, following the tweets by Tsurusashi, a Gifu prefecture official in his 30s tweeted: “Same-sex relationships are abnormal, right?” The official’s supervisors in the Gifu prefecture government interviewed him on December 1, where he admitted to tweeting that statement. He deleted the tweet and wrote an apology. Gifu prefecture is currently considering its options for punishing the worker.
The incident was discussed in a plenary session of the Gifu Assembly on December 10. During the proceedings, a member of the assembly, Mamoru Fujimori (74), heckled the speakers using a similar phrase: “Same-sex relationships are abnormal.”
On December 11, Fujimori held a press conference and stated that he wish he had not made the comment. However, he also stated that everyone has an obligation to contribute to society by bearing children and raising them. He added that he still doesn’t think that same-sex relationships are normal, and he feels a sense of crisis about increasing tolerance of same-sex marriage. On the same day, Fujimori resigned from his position as chairman of the Policy Research Council of the Gifu Liberal Democratic Party. However, he has said he will not resign as a member of the assembly.
The series of anti-LGBT comments were reported in the Japanese media as serious incidents of discrimination, and they were roundly criticized by commentators. Some LGBT entertainers also spoke out to object to these comments. For example, a gay entertainer named Chris Matsumura wrote in his blog on November 29 and 30 to criticize Tsurusahi’s comments.
On November 29, Matsumura wrote that “it is scary that offensive comments like these, which lack integrity, are condoned as free speech in Japan.” He also said that the comment could not be justified by claiming to be drunk because if Tsurusahi hadn’t been thinking these things on a regular basis, then he wouldn’t have blurted them out on Twitter. He added that all people should live just as they are, and that fact will not change for hundreds years to come. Each individual’s situation is unique, and it does not always have to be so tragic.
On December 6, the live TV debate program Sunday Japon (broadcasted by TBS on channel 6) covered the incident. All the commentators agreed that these comments were discriminatory and unreasonable. A vice chairman of San No hospital, Testuya Okunaka, referenced a December 6, 2011 speech by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” He also said that the offensive remarks made by local officials were anachronisms.
Another participant in the panel, Dr. Ayako Nishikawa said that she has met lots of wonderful LGBT people, but she added that many elderly people in Japan tend not to have much knowledge of LGBT people or interact with them often. Therefore, ignorance and lack of experience might be the cause of their discriminatory attitudes.
An LGBT entertainer who goes by the name Naja Grandiva said that the LGBT community is trying deal with this incident in a positive way. Some of his friends who work at a gay bar answer the phone by saying “Hello? You’ve reached abnormal animals.” They are using the offensive comments as jokes. The offensive comments revealed that there is still ignorance and discrimination in Japan despite increased awareness of LGBT people. The incidents should be used as an opportunity for local governments to better educate their officials and to alleviate the suffering faced by their LGBT residents, who may face discrimination.