Tokyo district first to issue same-sex union certificates

  • by Heather Cassell
  • Wednesday November 11, 2015
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Hiroko Masuhara and Koyuki Higashi became Japan's first same-sex couple to receive a "partnership" certificate from the Shibuya ward office in Tokyo.

Higashi, 30, a model and television personality who is an LGBT activist, and her partner of four years, Masuhara, 37, who is also an LGBT activist, smiled widely as Japan's first and only couple to receive the certificate.

"I'm so happy," Higashi told CNN November 5. "When they gave us the certificate, I cried. Our friends cried."

"As a first step, I hope this will spread across Japan," Higashi told reporters who crowded around the Shibuya ward office as the couple emerged.

The couple registered their partnership in Tokyo's trendy district that is home to embassies, international businesses, and fashion houses, reported the Bangkok Post. CNN noted that a rainbow flag greets commuters entering and exiting the train station at Tokyo's Shibuya crossing.

Shibuya Mayor Ken Hasebe, who has campaigned for LGBT rights in Japan, called the certificate a "landmark step" for the ward. However, he recognized that it was just a small step for Japan's LGBT community, which often describes itself as feeling "invisible," he said.

According to CNN, Setagaya Mayor Nobuto Hosaka said that his ward would start issuing similar certificates that same day.

These two are the only ones out of Tokyo's 23 wards to issue the partnership certificates.

The goal of the certificates is to encourage businesses, hospitals, landlords, and other institutions to provide equal rights to same-sex couples as are provided to married couples.

However, the certificates are only symbolic due to Japan's constitution, which only recognizes marriage as a consensual union between "both sexes" as a "husband and wife as a basis."

Discrimination remains a concern for LGBT people in employment, housing, making medical decisions for partners, and opening joint bank accounts. Businesses, hospitals, landlords, and other institutions legally don't have to recognize same-sex unions and there is no legal recourse, according to media reports.

Prejudice remains. Critics posted homophobic comments on the couple's blog following the publicity of their union.

"We are very privileged to come out publicly," Masuhara said. "But lots of people can't. And they suffer. I hope this will change things."

It does appear that Japan is undergoing a change regarding LGBT rights.

Schools are beginning to talk openly about LGBT issues and pay more attention to the needs of queer students, due to an advisory issued in April. Japan's new education minister, Hiroshi Hase, supports the changes.

Companies are changing their policies to recognize same-sex couples by extending benefits. As recently as November 4, Lifenet Insurance announced it expanded its policies to recognize same-sex partners as beneficiaries of life insurance. That news followed announcements from mobile phone carriers KDDI, NTT DoCoMo, and SoftBank that extended family discount plans to cover same-sex partners and people with shared addresses regardless of their genders, reported the Post.


LGBT rights low on UK travelers' consideration of destinations

Fun in the sun and partying late into the night are Brits' priorities when selecting a vacation destination, according to a YouGov survey released November 6.

The survey found that just 7 percent of 1,595 British travelers rated human rights, especially LGBT rights, as important when choosing where to go on vacation. Fifty-seven percent stated that cost was a factor and 42 percent stated the quality of the accommodations were important.

Furthermore, the survey found that 96 percent of United Kingdom vacationers didn't know how many countries criminalize homosexuality and 97 percent didn't know that more than half of the countries were Commonwealths of the UK.

There are 54 Commonwealth countries. Currently 41 of those countries have anti-gay laws on the books and 60 percent of all people living with HIV live in the Commonwealth countries, according to the release.

The findings were in stark contrast to a similar report published in September by Open For Business, a coalition of UK and U.S. companies and organizations working on LGBT rights globally.

The coalition found that 51 percent of travelers stated they would be "unlikely" to go on vacation to a country that criminalizes LGBT people.

The International HIV/AIDS Alliance, which commissioned the YouGov survey and is part of the business coalition.

"LGBT people are disproportionately affected by HIV and, in countries where LGBT people are criminalized, they are often driven away from HIV services fearing persecution," said Karen Johnson, global campaign co-coordinator at the alliance.

"It is important that we raise public awareness of the scale of the problem, not only because it is a moral imperative, but also because of the impact that criminalization has on people's access to HIV services," she continued.

Uganda, a Commonwealth of the UK, is one example of the effects of anti-gay laws. While the so-called Jail the Gays bill was struck down by the Constitutional Court in 2014, LGBT people still face up to 13 years in prison. Furthermore, LGBT Ugandans continue to live in fear of police brutality, arbitrary arrest, and mob attacks on LGBT communities and the potential reintroduction of the anti-gay bill, according to the release.

A 32-year-old gay hotel worker, identified only as Sam, told the alliance about abuse at his job. He was ultimately terminated once a co-worker discovered he was gay.

"They still hunt us," said Sam. "A person refusing to report or to give information about someone suspected to be gay, or even trying to defend such a person, can be prosecuted."

Alliance partners in Uganda have reportedly been providing medical support and relocation to eight LGBT people who were attacked by mobs and beaten in public within recent weeks, according to the release.

"It will be impossible to end AIDS until all people �" regardless of their identity or sexuality �" can get access to health services and treatment," Johnson said.

The alliance plans to present the petition to leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting later this month in Malta.

To sign the petition, visit


Hong Kong holds Pride parade

An estimated 1,000 marchers took to the streets of downtown Hong Kong November 7 for the city's annual Pride parade.

Pridegoers expressed their dismay that Hong Kong appears to lag behind other Asian governments, such as Taiwan and Japan, when it comes to LGBT rights.

"There's still a lot of room to improve, compared to Taiwan and even to Japan," Carol Yung, a 40-year-old marketing officer in the music industry, told Agence France-Presse.

Hong Kong is now a part of China but still remains somewhat autonomous under special rights when it left British rule in 1997. It allows for demonstrations that wouldn't be seen on the mainland.

LGBT activists are anxiously awaiting this month's judgment in a case regarding a British lesbian who challenged the government's refusal to grant her a visa to live in the territory with her partner. The woman, identified in the media as QT, has been in a civil partnership with her girlfriend since 2011 when they both moved from Britain to Hong Kong.

Mark Green, a 54-year-old man who works in Hong Kong's fashion industry, told AFP during the Pride march that he believed the city was making "enormous" progress. However, he agreed with the LGBT demonstrators. The media outlet didn't identify his sexual orientation.

"The government is really a little bit behind the times when it comes to recognizing LGBT rights," he said.




TGEU celebrates 10th anniversary

Transgender Europe, the area's first transgender council, celebrated its 10-year anniversary November 6.

On November 6, 2005, a group of transgender European activists met in Vienna, Austria to discuss common issues, TGEU Co-Chairs Arja Voipio and Alecs Recher wrote in a newsletter commemorating the organization's anniversary. That meeting led to the first-ever transgender council that eventually evolved into TGEU.

During the past decade, TGEU has advocated throughout Europe and globally for transgender rights through its network of 20 organizations and 80 activists around the world. The organization has worked with 25 researchers to provide groundbreaking information about transgender people, including the Trans Murder Monitoring report and Legal and Social Mapping among other innovative work with governments advocating for transgender rights.


Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at 00+1-415-517-7239, Skype: heather.cassell, or [email protected].