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Trans footballer Kumi Yokoyama has called out Japan for “lagging behind the rest of the world” on awareness of LGBT+ issues and rights.
Yokoyama came out publicly as a trans man earlier this year, making him the most high-profile athlete in Japan to do so. He played for Japan’s national team in the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2019 and moved to the US to play for the Washington Spirit in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).
After they came out, president Joe Biden praised both Yokoyama and Las Vegas Raiders’ star Carl Nassib for their “courage”.
Yokoyama recalled the moment in an interview with The Japan Times, describing Biden’s message as nothing short of a “miracle” because it broadcast LGBT+ acceptance around the world.
However, he said, he wasn’t surprised that then-prime minister Yoshihide Suga did not issue a similar statement.
Yokoyama said it was “normal” for Suga “to not say anything”, and said they feel Japan country is “lagging behind the rest of the world” on LGBT+ rights.
“I think that a lot of Japanese people became more aware of LGBTQ issues because of what Biden tweeted,” Yokoyama explained. “It did make me feel like Japan is lagging behind the rest of the world … but I’m happy to see Japanese society make progress, however that happens.”
He added that any progress on LGBT+ rights and conversations on issues that impact the queer community “takes a lot of time to get started in any country”.
Japan failed to pass legislation that would protect LGBT+ people from discrimination based on sexual orientation before hosting the Olympics in Tokyo this summer, and in general has been slow to make any progress on LGBT+ issues.
Japan has failed to legalise same-sex marriage, making it the only G7 country that has yet to bring forward marriage equality.
More than 130 local governments in Japan do, however, offer certificates to same-sex couples allowing them some of the legal benefits available to opposite-sex couples. Earlier this month, Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike announced the major Japanese city will legally recognise same-sex partnerships from April next year.
Several activists and human rights organisations have also denounced Japan’s archaic gender laws which require trans people to undergo surgery and be sterilised before they can legally change their gender.
But Yokoyama has remained positive on the future of LGBT+ rights in Japan, saying that even having a “debate is a sign of progress”.
They also shared a beautiful life update with the Japan Times. In November, Yokoyama proposed to their girlfriend, Nami, at the Washington Spirit’s home Audi Field.
The couple married in Virginia shortly after the proposal and the end of the NWSL season. Yokoyama shared pictures of him and his wife on Instagram smiling and holding their marriage certificate.
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Yokoyama told the Japan Times that coming out and being able to live their truth had inspired them to propose.
“If I hadn’t come out, we wouldn’t have been able to get engaged,” Yokoyama shared. “It really felt like I had torn off my shell, and because of that I was able to propose.”
They added they hoped to be able to meet family members and loved ones this winter. It will be the first time that they’ve met since Yokoyama came out publicly.
“Judging from the reaction around me, what my friends and family have said … I need to meet them in person but for me, I feel like coming out was a big step,” Yokoyama said. “I’m glad I did it.”