Japan: Pass Equality Act Before Olympics

Click to expand Image

 Participants march during the Tokyo Rainbow Parade, April 2015.
© 2015 Reuters/Thomas Peter

(Tokyo) – Japan’s government should pass the Equality Act ahead of next year’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, Human Rights Watch, Athlete Ally, and Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation (J-ALL) said today. The groups will launch #EqualityActJapan on July 23, 2020 in support of the proposed law, which would protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The groups involved in the campaign worked with Japanese and international athletes to highlight the need for the Equality Act and an end to discrimination in sport.

“LGBT people in Japan are entitled to equal protection under the law,” said Yuri Igarashi, co-representative director of J-ALL, an umbrella organization of 100 LGBT organizations in Japan. “Postponing the Olympic Games to 2021 has given the government time to introduce and pass historic protections to benefit everyone in Japan.”

Everyone, not just athletes, can take part in the campaign, which will feature a series of online and in-person opportunities for action throughout 2020 and 2021 to demonstrate the widespread support for the Equality Act and protection from sexual orientation and gender identity-based discrimination in Japan.

Tokyo was slated to host the 2020 Olympics this summer, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Japanese government postponed the games for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The postponed games are scheduled to begin on July 23, 2021.

The Olympic Charter bans “discrimination of any kind,” including on the grounds of sexual orientation.

IOC President Thomas Bach has met with LGBT rights advocates and led reforms to the Olympic Charter and as part of Olympic Agenda 2020. “The IOC is an organization firmly opposed to all forms of discrimination in sport,” he wrote to Human Rights Watch in 2015.

In line with the IOC’s commitment, the Tokyo metropolitan government in October 2018 adopted a landmark ordinance that protects LGBT people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, in line with the Olympic Charter. In doing so, the city not only demonstrated its commitment to equal rights for all, but also to making the Tokyo Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games a springboard for human rights in Japan and beyond.

Tokyo’s action was important, but several Olympic competitions, including the marathon, golf, fencing, race walking, and surfing, have since been announced to take place outside of Tokyo, in Hokkaido, Saitama, Chiba, Shizuoka, Kanagawa, Miyagi, and Fukushima prefectures. LGBT fans, athletes, and visitors in these prefectures will not be protected under Tokyo’s anti-discrimination ordinance.

Japan has also ratified core international human rights treaties that obligate the government to protect its citizens against discrimination, including the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

The Tokyo Olympics are advertised as celebrating “unity in diversity” and “passing on a legacy for the future.” In March 2015, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe publicly proclaimed Japan’s intention to “stamp out discrimination and respect human rights” and made clear at the National Diet that “discrimination or prejudice against sexual minorities is not allowed in any aspect of society.”

“The Olympics is an important moment for athletes and fans to speak out for what they believe in,” said Hudson Taylor, founder and executive director of Athlete Ally. “Now is the time for the global sporting community to stand in solidarity with the LGBT community in Japan and urge the passage of the Equality Act.”

Japan has increasingly taken a leadership role at the United Nations by voting for both the 2011 and 2014 Human Rights Council resolutions calling for an end to violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But LGBT people in Japan continue to face intense social pressure and fewer legal protections than other Japanese.

“Japan has an opportunity to be a true global LGBT rights leader by protecting against discrimination at home,” said Kanae Doi, Japan director at Human Rights Watch. “The Tokyo metropolitan government has shown solidarity with the LGBT community by passing its historic Olympic LGBT nondiscrimination law, and the national government should urgently follow suit.”