A report of the situation of LGBT people with disabilities in Japan
OUYANG Shanshan (欧陽 珊珊)
Doctoral Program of Sociology,Graduate School of Core Ethics and Frontier Sciences
Research Fellow for young Scientists(DC)of JSPS.
This report is an attempt to better understanding the situation of LGBT people with disabilities in Japan. I explore what problems LGBT people with disabilities individually experienced though their publications, videos, and verbal expressions on SNS. Then, I examine how the LGBT communities were built by searching SNS sites, and medias. Based on the problems, risks, challenges that communities face, I suggest a possible direction of research for the future.
Japan is recognized as having effective policy frameworks that protect the rights of people with disabilities such as Basic Act for Persons with Disabilities 1), Act for Eliminating Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities 2). The following is Article 4 included in Basic Act for Persons with Disabilities
”No person may commit an act of discrimination or any other act which violates interests or rights against a person with a disability on the basis of the disability. When a person with a disability currently requires the removal of a social barrier and if the burden associated with said implementation is not excessive, necessary and reasonable accommodation must be given to implementing the removal of the social barrier so as not to be in violation of the provisions of the preceding paragraph by denial to do so.”(Article 4, Act No.84)
While these policies are conducive to public services for them in society, these have no space for a legal discussion on issues about sexual orientation and gender identities (SOGI). In other words, it has no detailed legislation to protect the rights of people who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), with disabilities or not.
According to the Annual Report on Government Measures for Persons with Disabilities in 2021 from the Cabinet Office Japan 3), the number of persons with disabilities in Japan are around 9.647 million (persons with physical disabilities 4.36, intellectual disabilities 1.094, and mental disabilities 4.193), or around 7.6 percent of the total population. But it has no information about SOGI issues of people with disabilities officially. On the other hand, the first population-based surveys in Japan with SOGI questions in Osaka City Residents (2019) showed that, there are 0.7 percent people are more likely to identify as gay/lesbian, 1.4 percent as bisexual, 0.8 percent as asexual. It also shows that there are 5.2 percent people selected “don’t want to decide, haven’t decided” about their sexual orientation and are more likely to be classified as transgender. There has been a lamentable lack of “disability” data in this survey, so the exact figure of LGBT people with disabilities is unknown, but it does not mean that the LGBT people with disabilities do not exist in Japan, and the percentage seems to be just un-visualized.
The Everyday Experience of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) People Living with Disability (2018) shows that compared with people with disability and LGBTI people without disability, LGBTI people with disability have higher rates of discrimination and reduced service access, and greater restrictions on freedom of sexual expression. Some research also suggests that LGBT persons with disabilities had experienced “compounded disadvantage” and “multiple discrimination” (Molloy et al, 2003; McCann et al, 2015; Sinecka, 2008). On the other hand, in 2016, the UN Human Rights Council created the mandate of Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in their program also note the discrimination based on dis/ability. The CRPD Committee has also developed an approach of mentioning SOGIE in General Comment 4)and the Yogyakarta Principles 5). Considering the problem, this report is an attempt to better understanding the situation of LGBT people with disabilities in Japan.
Hanada Minoru, a gay man with cerebral palsy, stated a possible danger stereotyped in heterosexism at the 18th meeting of the Kanto Division of the Society for Disability Studies in 2001:
”People with disabilities have not gained opportunities for love and marriage as inappropriate for heterosexual norms. In contrast, they argued that love and marriage are those two should be deserving experiences for a human being. The argument is reasonable in a sense. However, the problem lies in the fact that we have focused only on this because the focus is merely limited to the argument about how those with disabilities can receive heterosexism as a right. Not such a unidirectional or one-sided viewpoint, they should explore how they can choose their life as they really want, not trapped in a range of heterosexism.” (Hanada, 2001 – my translation)
Hanada also shows that some still suffers from the enforcement of heterosexual framework. If the diverse sexualities of people with disabilities remain ignored, the problematic orientation can lead a dangerous situation to exclude those who do not follow heteronormativity from the community. Hanada states a homophobic discrimination in Love and Sex of People with Intellectual Disabilities, published by the Study Group on the Lifestyles and Sexuality of People with disabilities:
”When I lived in a dormitory of vocational training school for people with disabilities for one year, female residents treated me with disgust. They walked away from me, yelling in a hallway. Moreover, when one took such an action, the others would follow her.” (Hanada, 1996 – my translation)
Hanada pointed out that while the sexual needs of people with disabilities are suppressed by the society, they are unaware of being influenced by heterosexual norm. As a result, they try to categorize themselves into the compulsory heterosexual value. On the other hand, in his 2003 book Hentai Introduction to Queer, Fushimi Tomoaki addresses the diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity. It contains his conversations with many different people who are lesbian, gay, transgender, intersex or cross-dressing, including Hanada (Fushimi 2003):
”H: …When I came out as having disabilities at the section of looking for friends on a gay magazine, no one would write to me. when I disclosed my disabilities after I received their replies, some became furious or gave me discriminatory and biased replies.” (Fushimi, 2003: 231- my translation)
Hanada’s experience reveal that the discrimination against people with disabilities exists even in the gay community. At the same time, heterosexual people with disabilities have some negative attitudes towards homosexuality. Regretfully, Hanada, who brought up the issue of gays with disabilities, suddenly died in 2002. After his death, the issue of sexual minorities with disabilities have been undiscussed.
While Japanese academic literature has overlooked the intersection of disability and sexuality, there have been a few mass media pieces on LGBTQ people with disabilities. Japan’s national Broadcasting Corporation NHK produced a television program to support people with disabilities, which presented a discussion on LGBT people with disabilities twice in 2010 and 2012. One of the guests Hiroko, who is a MTF (male to female transgender) person with cerebral palsy, shared her experience at both programs. Though Hiroko was born as a male, the biological sex did not match her gender identity. She thought she must be a female. She finally decided to change sex in her 50s by seeking medical assistance. On the program, Hiroko said, “living as a man for over 50 years, I could not stop suicidal thoughts. When male care helpers supported me with bathing, I did not want to show my naked body to them. But now, I have different troubles with receiving supports from male helpers.” She also conveyed a message to the audience where she wishes disabled youths could live their lives in their own way “I could only blaze a path, but I wish the path I broke will make a next step for younger generations.” (my translation). In 2019, Hiroko also confesses her life story as “LGBT with Disabilities: Even Double Minorities Should Not Give Up” in Magazine of Brother [Sister] in Faith, published by The Board of Publications the United Church of Christ in Japan.
She noted relationships between disability, gender identity and religion. Because of her disability, when she came out as a transgender, “my psychiatrist didn’t believe that, and I did not gain an understanding of people around me. My family rejected me, telling not to dress like a woman ” (Takuchi 2019:66- my translation). She could not get any support or approval from them. Then she moved to a different city and found a Church that welcomed her. After Hiroko’s physician gave her diagnoses as “Person with Gender Identity Disorder”, she was allowed to get gender reassignment surgery. Although the surgery was highly risky for her because of the disabilities, she decided to undergo it so she could be baptized as a woman:
”The church should be the last shelter where no one has rejected me. I believe that it is a sin against God to exclude those who are different. I also hope that the church is open to anyone who can feel free to come, even with disabilities or identified as LGBT, just like me…I felt liberated after I was baptized as a woman. The grace of God who accepted me as I am, is given everyone.” (Takuchi 2019:67- my translation)
Two problems are raised in Hiroko’s memoir. The first is that the same-sex caring system needs to pay attention to gender identity. The second is, there are necessary to know more about how religions influence LGBT people with disabilities.
Furthermore, these days, it is easier for the younger generation to obtain information and communicate with others through the Internet. For examples, Endo, an activist for the LGBTQ community, shared his experience on the blog as a transgender individual with developmental disorders. When he requested the surgery to treat Endo’s Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, the doctor persuaded him to have an alternative medication because the surgery might made incapable of pregnancy in the future. Even though Endo firmly refused the doctor’s suggestion many times, as Endo’s gender identity is male and he did not want to be pregnant, the doctor contradicted it. Eventually Endo could not help but come out to the doctor as the only solution. He assumes that younger generations must suffer from similar cases, and it motivated him to share his personal information on the internet. YouTube has also become an important tool to share their voices including Uekichi’s channel “Sekumai shōgaisya Uekichi” (Uekichi, a Sexual minority with disabilities) 6).
Since governmental and social welfare support are insufficient, it has been the most important for the LGBTQ people to build community. In 2012, Masumi Yutaka, who identified himself as gay and was depressed due to his partner’s death, has difficulties with finding a comfortable community to talk about his problems. When he tried to join the self-help group about metal health issues, he noticed a problem of sexuality.
”People who gathered there were naturally thought to be straight. Thus their topics in common were always about marriage and childcare. In such an atmosphere, I never felt like saying “I was in a relationship with a same-sex partner, and I had depression after his death.”(my translation)7)
Then Masumi started sharing information by using social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter. He received requests from some followers to set up a “shaberiba”(a place to talk), where they could meet offline. In response, Masumi organized an event “Nijinokokoro (rainbow heart) Café” to chat with each other started where people in sexual minorities and with mental health issues can openly talk. Subsequently the event developed a self help group “Niji no kokoro”(the heart of rainbow) 8), which welcomes people in sexual minorities and with mental developmental disabilities, addicts and HIV positives. There is “Ironana”, a different group of people in sexual minorities to discussing disabilities and diseases. During 2014, the group organized several meetings 9),which included the activities of lobbying Diet members and the government in order to have them consider better treatment for the LGBTQ people in the government’s depression countermeasure, and also of supporting those who remained “hikikomori”(social withdrawal).Then Ironana changed the group name to “Nijiiro Ajisai no Kai”(The Group of Rainbow-colored Hydrangea), to support the LGBT people who suffer from disability, poverty and hikikomori. Likewise in the new group, “ibasyo” (shelter/safe place) is provided to those people, as they all note that the SOGI issues have been ignored in medical care and welfare services. Their concern resulted in the holding of the Conference of Sexual Minority, Medical Welfare and Education in 2013 and 2014.10)
In these two conferences, the deaf LGBTQ people shared their activities, including one of the activists Yamamoto Fuyumi who founded a group named “Deaf LGBTQ Center” 11)in Osaka to support deaf LGBTQ people in 2014. Yamomot introduced the center’s activities for the deaf LGBTQ people: developing education materials, organizing workshops, providing training courses, and building a network of deaf LGBTQ people throughout Asia, which would output their impact internationally. In the same year, “Tokyo Deaf LGBTQ Bond” 12)was founded. The group provides basic knowledge of the LGBTQ people, LGBTQ-releated lectures, sign language instruction, counseling for deaf people and temporary service of sign language interpreters. The group also supports the Tokyo Rainbow Pride, and the group’s participation raised awareness of reasonable accommodation for the disabled at the celebration.
For The Future
Iwakuma Miho pointed that Japan has experienced critical events concerning disability and people with disabilities since the 1960s. Thanks to people with disabilities’ hard work on disability movements, the disability rights movement and Japanese disability studies have developed, then more people with or without disabilities have joined the barrier-free movement (Iwakuma, 2011). The attitude toward disabled people in Japanese society has changed and became more positive. This development was performed on an American director Ping Chong’s documentary theater project, “Undesirable Elements – Difficult lives”. The six performers with different kinds of disabilities were recruited from Japan. They showed their real-life experience about challenges they faced in society and how they overcame the difficulties. The theme is “disability”, but it also shows sexual diversity. One of the performers named Iwamoto has class-tow schizophrenia and gender dysphoria. Iwamoto was bullied at school and was forced to drop out. Iwamoto locked himself at home, but also need facing the difficulties that his family cannot understand his gender trouble. Because of the double pressure, Iwamoto had to get psychiatric treatments and visit a gender clinic. Then after receiving treatment and joining LGBT self-help groups, Iwamoto found a way to live as a painter. This theater project is a chance to let people know how society has marginalized the “others”. At the same time, it has sent us a message that “the society of the able-bodies, which is the majority, need to be more empathetic and more understanding, and it should recognize that in fact everyone sooner or later could have a disability.”13)
In 2020 and 2021, Conference of Sexual Minority, Medical Welfare and Education were held online 14). In the programs, “intersectionality” was a major topic. Fujii Hiromi in nursing care studies, emphasized consideration of sexual orientation in both the fields and study of nursing care through her long-term research on lesbian patients. Izawa Yasuki, reported a research result of multidimensional identity and mental disorders by interviewing life histories of “Zainichi Koreans” (Koreans in Japan). He noted that the multidimensional identity will take on complex marginality. As an example, transgender people, who are“half” (born to Japanese and Koreans parents) with mental disorder, feel uncomfortable with any community of Zainichi Koreans or transgender or mental health communities (Izawa 2017). In the 2020 conference, the Deaf LGBTQ Center set up a zoom meeting with a Korean deaf LGBT group by using sign language. The audience who does not know sign language cannot understand the discussion. The meeting without sign language interpretation and subtitles provided the incommunicable situation to the people with hearing abilities, which they usually had made done. The situation gave a good opportunity to advocate reasonable accommodation and link disability issues to LGBT communities.
However, as those“voices” in my report show that LGBTQ people with disabilities (or without disabilities) are still marginalized in Japanese society with the low awareness of sexual diversity. There are still urgent tasks of more discussion and research about the the intersection of disability and sexuality, including sexual orientation and gender identity, multiple identities, sexual discrimination, social activities and education issues. Moreover, a variety of individual cases exist among the different disability categories and different types of sexuality. Therefore, their voices should not be abbreviated but be carefully listened to.
This work was supported by JSPS KAKENHI (20J21315).
1) Basic Act for Persons with Disabilities, Act No. 84 of 1970, Amendment of Act No. 90 of 2011. http://www.japaneselawtranslation.go.jp/law/detail/?id=2436&vm=04&re=02
2) Act for Eliminating Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities, Act No. 65 of June 26, 2013. http://www.japaneselawtranslation.go.jp/law/detail/?id=3052&vm=04&re=02&new=1
3) Cabinet Office Japan.(2021).the Annual Report on Government Measures for Persons with Disabilities. https://www8.cao.go.jp/shougai/whitepaper/r03hakusho/zenbun/pdf/ref2.pdf
4) Comment General Comment No. 3 (2016), General comment No. 4 (2016)
5) The Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. http://www.yogyakartaprinciples.org.
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8) Nijinokokoro homepages https://lgbtnijinokokoro.wixsite.com/nijinokokoro
13) Ping Chong, “Undesirable Elements–‘Difficult lives’,” The Nippon Foundation DIVERSITY IN THE ARTS, November 8, 2018. http://dita-pa.jp/lp/20181108/
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＃If you have any comment or relevant information not already included here, please let me know. Thank you very much.
Nagase Osamu (Ritsumeikan University)
Thank you very much for your report on the sensitive and relevant issues.
LBGT and SOGIE have been one of the controversial international issues as many countries have legal prohibition on homosexuality. It is simply illegal to be gay in many countries, for instance. Often religious factors are involved and your reference to a church, therefore, in your report is important.
I have one request and one question as follows.
1. Please kindly share examples where the CRPD Committee mentioning the Yogyakarta Principles as you mention that “The CRPD Committee has also developed an approach of mentioning SOGIE in General Comment 4)and the Yogyakarta Principles 5). “
2. How do you see the link between the Act for Eliminating Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities, as mentioned in your paper, and the proposal for the new act on LGBT and SOGI? The latter has not materialized but the former, enacted in 2013, having led to the passage of the Act to Promote Elimination of Buraku Discrimination in 2016, has opened a path for a national legal framework for prohibition on discrimination based on LGBT and SOGI.
Answers from OUYANG Shanshan
Thank you, Professor Nagase. I appreciate your comment! In response to the questions,
The CRPD stressed the problem of multiple discrimination experienced by the person with disabilities including SOGI. For example:
① General comment No. 3 (2016), Article 6: Women and girls with disabilities, 4-C.
“Multiple discrimination is a situation where a person can experience discrimination on two or several grounds, in the sense that discrimination is compounded or aggravated. Intersectional discrimination refers to a situation where several grounds operate and interact with each other at the same time in such a way that they are inseparable. Grounds for discrimination include, but are not limited to: age, disability, ethnic, indigenous, national or social origin, gender identity, political or other opinions, race, refugee, migrant or asylum status, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.”
② General comment No. 4 (2016), Article 24: Right to inclusive education, 13.
“…Persons with disabilities can experience intersectional discrimination based on disability, gender, religion, legal status, ethnic origin, age, sexual orientation or language…”
I think my statement here is not clear and can be easily misunderstood. I would like to mention that the Yogyakarta Principles also addressed “Everyone is entitled to enjoy all human rights without discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity” in principle 2.
I think one of the key points could be “reasonable accommodation”, such as Article 5 in the Act for Eliminating Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities. Furthermore, if you’re interested, here is a paper about how to link the ADA with LGBTQ discrimination.
Rodríguez-Roldán (2020), “The Intersection Between Disability and LGBT Discrimination and Marginalization” American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law, 28(3):429-39 (https://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1785&context=jgspl)