Japanese transgender couple… Japan LGBT community

Japanese transgender couple promise and reality of country’s LGBT community

Step by seemingly immeasurable step, Japan is beginning to acknowledge its country’s sexual minorities, an act at once both radical and surprisingly belated. And no one seems to represent those conflicted cultural strains more emblematically than 26-year-old Kazuki Osawa and his partner Shoi Osawa, a childhood friend. What makes this relationship so different is that Kazuki was born a girl and given the birth name Yumiko Higuchi.

“As a teenager, it gradually dawned on me that I was not normal. And the idea that I would have to live the rest of my life pretending to be the person I’m not, in conformity with others, tore me apart,” said Osawa.

But in a country known for its relative stability, any act of non-conformity is considered subversive. And nothing appears quite as subversive as declaring oneself a member of the LGBT community. So much so that TV shows routinely humiliate the LGBT community by depicting men as swishy eccentrics and lesbians and tool-toting, hyper-aggressive women. It’s a message that goes unchallenged in a nation unaccustomed to challenging well-established societal boundaries. And to drive that point home, the message is pervasive, not only in the lack of any meaningful civil protections for the LGBT community but that fact that bullying and intimidation are understood to be a consequence for going against the grain.

“In Japan, once you’re branded abnormal, it’s almost impossible to start over again,” he said, noting the nation’s conformist culture often makes sexual minorities balk at coming out for fear of discrimination.

But things are changing. According to JapanTimes.co.jp, an increasing number of companies and municipalities are open to greater diversity and [becoming] more tolerant toward members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population. Thursday, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo (which has one of the highest concentrations of Japanese LGBT members), unveiled its as yet unapproved proposal to issue certificates declaring relationships of its same-sex couples being “equivalent to marriage,” an unprecedented move that, if realized, is expected to make life significantly easier for LGBT ward residents. (Many believe it will be approved. No vocal opposition has been mounted or is expected.)

But while this may seem like a historic first step, the realities are far less encouraging, the paper notes: “Equality Forum, a Philadelphia-based nongovernmental organization seeking to enhance the civil rights of LGBT ranks, reported in 2012 that a record 484, or 96.8 percent, of the top 500 companies ranked by Fortune magazine included sexual orientation in their employment nondiscrimination policies. In contrast, a 2014 survey on corporate social responsibility conducted by Japanese business magazine Toyo Keizai showed that 114, or just 18.7 out of 607 major listed companies in Japan, make efforts to protect their LGBT employees.”

Meanwhile, Kazuki and Shoi are taking the route many same-sex couples take who cannot have their relationships recognized by the state. They are adopting a child. As a result, they can register with the koseki family registry unit. This allows them to be treated as immediate family if one of them should be hospitalized. (The koseki family registry is required by Japanese law. All households are legally bound to report births, acknowledgements of paternity, adoptions, disruptions of adoptions, deaths, marriages and divorces of Japanese citizens to their local authority.)

“Some people dismiss same-sex marriage as meaningless because we wouldn’t be able to make babies,” Shoi said. “But a lot of opposite-sex couples in Japan opt not to have kids and are still allowed to marry. It’s unfair that we’re not.”

Short URL: http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=56466

Top UK department store goes gender neutral

Selfridges, one of the U.K.’s top department stores in London’s Oxford Street is going gender neutral the Huffington Post reports.

The high-end store is removing its separate men and women’s departments and will instead have three floors of unisex clothing, according to The Daily Mail. Some of the brands featured will include KTZ, Trapstar and Hood By Air.

According to Selfridges management the move comes in response to the large number of women buying men’s clothing.

Selfridges isn’t stopping at clothing. The store will also say farewell to its current mannequins and revamp its beauty products and accessories.

“We want to take our customers on a journey where they can shop and dress without limitations or stereotypes,” Selfridges told The Times Of London. “A space where clothing is no longer imbued with directive gender values, enabling fashion to exist as a purer expression of ‘self.”’

Chinese face first ever gay workplace discrimination lawsuit

In what is believed to be the first of its kind, ChinaPost.com.tw is reporting that a man, known pseudonymously as Mu Yi, has filed a 50,000 yuan (US$8,000) gay discrimination lawsuit against a former employer after a video he was in went viral revealing his sexual orientation. “We’re very optimistic,” Liu Xiaohu, a lawyer for the plaintiff, told Agency France Presse (AFP), adding that the case “will definitely have an impact” on views of gay rights in China.

Mu, who is gay, was filmed by police in October arguing with another gay man on a Shenzhen street. The video went viral soon after it was posted online, with some users making their own videos playing on a speech made by the other participant in the dispute, who was wearing a “little red hat.” A week later, Mu was fired from his job as a designer.

Currently, there are no workplace protections for the Chinese LGBT community. Furthermore, despite growing acceptance in the larger metropolitan cities, this still deeply conservative nation frowns upon homosexuality.

For their part, the employer, who was not identified in the report, maintains that Mu’s firing was not linked to his sexual orientation, and says it dismissed him for reasons including his “poor service attitude” and improper attire.

In a study in 2010 by Tom Mountford entitled, “China: The Legal Position and Status of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People in the People’s Republic of China,” he noted that: “the Chinese government has remained largely silent on the issue of homosexuality. That silence has had two main effects. First, it has stalled any further developments in removing legal discrimination against LGBT people in China. Secondly, it means that the legal status and position of LGBT people is unclear, with varying official treatment across different parts of China.”

The ‘Little Red Hat’ case is expected to be decided in the next three months and could have enormous repercussions.

In post-revolutionary Ukraine, homophobia and oppression deepen

It wasn’t supposed to begin like this. But exactly 14 months to the day after the Euromaidan protests, the Ukraine, unburdened by the heavy-handed influence of Russia, has seen a rise in homophobia and a willingness by the country’s relatively liberal gay community to squash equally revolutionary tactics for wider acceptance.

In a thought-provoking piece on ForeignPolicy.com, Dimiter Kenarov retraces the steps leading up to a cultural, political and economic war against the Ukrainian LGBT community that was supposed to be anything but.

As the narrative goes, the Ukraine, in a bloody, often times lopsided military campaign, unshackled itself from the wizened Cold War grip of once-mother-country Russia. The plan was for the Ukraine to turn to the West, not only to gain acceptance in the European Union, but to prove that the country was an economically viable country to do business with.

But even the pessimists among the LGBT community could not have anticipated the levels of hate that rose from the ashes of a new Ukraine. There was the grenade bombing of Kiev’s Zhovten (October) theater, the oldest in the city where Les Nuits d’Été (Summer Nights) was playing as part of Ukraine’s annual Molodist film festival, which included a selection of queer-themed features, and many in the audience — about a hundred people in all — belonged to Kiev’s LGBT community. The ensuing fire destroyed the roof of this iconic theater and rendered it useless. No one was injured.

Two days after, a dozen or so men branding the insignia of the ultranationalistic group Right Sector attempted to shut down a screening of another gay film. It was, in their world view, “amoral.” But according to the article, “[When] asked at the recent Eurocities Conference how he would support human rights after the Zhovten homophobic attacks, Maidan’s hero and current Kiev mayor Vitali Klitschko said he considered human rights a good thing, but would “not stand up for gays and lesbians.”


But is it really surprising in a fundamentally conservative society that we should see a rise in nationalistic sentiment? Kenarov reports: Although it was decriminalized after Ukraine became independent in 1991, negative social attitudes persist to this day. According to a 2013 poll conducted by GfK Group, almost 80 percent of Ukrainians say they oppose any sexual relations between people of the same sex. In another poll, by the Ukrainian Gay Alliance and Ukrainian State Sociological Institute, 63 percent labeled homosexuality “a perversion” and “a mental disease.” That same year, a survey within the LGBT community carried out by Nash Mir Center found that 65 percent of respondents faced infringements of their rights due to sexual discrimination. The list included verbal abuse, intimidation and loss of employment or direct physical violence. Few of these cases (about 15 percent) ever get reported to the police authorities because of the victims’ fear of further reprisals and humiliation. There have been other cases of arson, too, long before the one at the Zhovten theater: In 2009, the Kiev art gallery Ya was set on fire after the presentation of a gay literary anthology.

Worse, after liberal and conservatives fought bravely together to push back at Russia’s own geopolitical land grabs, the LGBT community acquiesced to calls for restraint in public demonstrations, realizing fully that in the current political climate, displays of rainbow flags or public displays of same-sex affection were “huge liabilities.”

As it stands now, certain parts of eastern Ukraine have criminalized homosexuality, using Vladimir Putin’s own directives against LGBT ‘propaganda’ as both a legal and moral template. In the Crimea, newly installed Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov has bluntly stated that they “do not need such people.”

And, for right now, Ukraine’s push westward is a blessing and a curse, a time of new beginnings masking a fearful nation undergoing profound social and economic change. And caught in the middle of the storm? An LGBT community equally frightened but for an entirely different set of reasons.

Short URL: http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=55549

Russia to introduce harsher rules to crack down on LGBT films

Russia is set to introduce new rules for film screenings which could impact the showing of LGBT movies.

The new rules for obtaining exhibition licenses impose harsh new regulations, making it harder for exhibitors to obtain licenses, reports PinkNews. Under the new rules films that ” defile the national culture or pose a threat to national unity or undermine the foundations of the constitutional order” could be refused licenses.

Director Andrei Proshkin told Interfax: “Who is going to decide that the culture has been besmeared? The ministry? The public? A court? And on the basis of what?

“How do you determine legally that the culture has been besmeared? And what can besmear a culture more in the 21st century than such laws?”

The legislation is currently going through the government’s review process.

Short URL: http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=55512

England’s first ever Top 50 LGBT executives in business announced

Marking a huge British milestone, Square Peg Media, the U.K.’s leading diversity and inclusion events company, has, in partnership with The Telegraph, compiled the Out at Work & Telegraph Top 50 LGBT Executives in Business list. “This celebrates individuals who are actively making a difference for LGBT people in business, paving the way for future generations by proving that being out at work doesn’t mean staying hidden or staying put,” declares Eilidh MacLeod in England’s The Telegraph.

The list hopes to establish a benchmark in England for years to come but makes pains to eschew the kind of publicity-driven announcement that, say, Tim Cook created when he came out as Apple’s new CEO. “It is fantastic that a chief executive of a major worldwide brand such as Apple intends to use his new-found role as an LGBT figure to challenge future inequality. But he is not the first openly gay business leader, and unless he works tirelessly for the next 20 years he certainly won’t be the one who has made the most impact,” writes Macleod.

What sets this list apart from the myriad Top-50 lists that recognize workplace diversity is that it was open to anyone from the business community, regardless of their station. Thousands of entrants submitted their names. Founding partners, Barclays, Google and Société Générale, were carefully chosen for the part they have played in contributing to workplace equality by supporting LGBT events, companies, employee groups and rights.

According to The Telegraph: “Each nominee was considered against select criteria and narrowed down to a shortlist of 50 executives. This was then presented to a judging advisory board of nine leading figures from the worlds of politics and business. Chairing the board was Linda Riley, member of the board of directors at Glaad, patron of the Albert Kennedy Trust and founder of the European Diversity Awards and Out with the Family. The list includes CEOs, CFOs, Senior HRs and a multitude of titles and companies including Nike, BSkyB and KPMG.

Short URL: http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=55491

Flight MH17 might also harm LGBT Ukrainians

The devastating loss of noted Dutch AIDS researcher, Joep Lange, who died in the recent downing of a Malaysia Airlines flight in the skies over Ukraine may turn out to be just one of multiple tragedies surrounding the air disaster that have special relevance to LGBT people and our allies.

The horrifying downing of a passenger airliner, whether by negligence, malice or both, is steadily galvanizing European and American support for Ukraine in its efforts to extricate itself from Russian domination. As a result, there may be less need for Ukraine’s leaders in Kiev to respond to western pressure to make life safer and more equal for lesbian, gay, bi and transgender people in the country.

As cynical as it may sound, more outrage and sympathy on a macro level could mean less leverage on a “micro” level; not that there’s anything small about the need to secure human rights for LGBT Ukrainians nor about the mission to differentiate the “new Ukraine” from Russia with its draconian anti-gay law.

I and one of my editors were struck by a particular quote in a story I filed recently. The story was about the cancellation of an LGBT Pride march that had been scheduled to occur earlier this month in Kiev. The Pride march had to be canceled because government officials said they could not protect participants and that, as Kiev’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko put it, “this is not the right time for a celebration.”

No one would say that times of armed conflict are good times to “celebrate” LGBT Pride or any other cause. However, grown-up democratic nations should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Put less cavalierly, democracies should be able to allow minorities to safely demonstrate for better treatment by majorities even while difficult national circumstances are at hand.

But the quote we found so striking was not that of Mayor Vitali Klitschko. Rather, it was a quote within a formal statement issued by Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights First in reaction to the cancellation of Kiev Pride 2014. While profoundly germane to the “lost Pride” story in Kiev and the tough situation LGBT Ukrainians face moreover, the quote had an overarching relevance to the very nature of democracy.

“For all of its talk about sharing European values the new Ukrainian government has failed a major human rights test today,” said Human Rights First’s (HRF) Brian Dooly. “The U.S. government should make clear publicly to the Ukrainian authorities that peaceful freedom of assembly should be respected for all.”

Dooly is director of HRF’s Human Rights Defenders program. His quote about Ukraine’s failure to ensure that the Kiev Pride march could be safely conducted even while a de facto war with Russian separatists to the east continued (and still continues) to escalate was an answer to an unasked, yet perennial question: Can fixtures of the democratic ideal such as freedom of expression and the right to protest be rightfully suspended or otherwise dispensed with in times of crisis by nations that claim to be democracies?

Because there is no aim of democracy more fundamental than that of protecting basic human rights, and because there are no tools more requisite to ensuring basic human rights than freedom of expression and the right to peaceably assemble, the answer must be a full-throated “no.” The right to peaceably assemble cannot be compromised if democracy is to flourish – much less take hold.

Some might point to periods during the American Civil War or even the years immediately following the 911 attacks when, respectively, Presidents Abraham Lincoln and George W. Bush tampered with and hampered fundamental freedoms and rights, including as habeas corpus and the right to peaceably assemble as evidence that extraordinary measures can be taken in times of war without a democracy’s long-term survival being threatened.

But is that really so? Was democracy not imperiled when Lincoln suspended habeas corpus? Essentially the right to face one’s accuser in court, habeas corpus (guaranteed by Article 1, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution), is one of the most fundamental distinctions that separate truly free nations from those with some of the window dressings of democracy but none of the fixtures and furnishings.

Was democracy not threatened when intelligence officials targeted the weekly meeting of a central California group that was described by Dahlia Lithwick in a 2004 New York Times op-ed as “cookie-wielding pacifists?”

Although it appears to have pretty much survived for now, of course democracy in America was threatened by those breeches of basic democratic rights and freedoms.

What is striking about Dooly’s statement is how instantly and completely it obliterates doubt. Dooly eliminates both the benefit of the doubt one might subconsciously want to afford the government in Kiev as it writhes under the boot of its behemoth neighbor to the north, as well as any doubt that denying people the right to peaceably assemble is by definition a cancellation of basic liberty.

If an erstwhile democratic nation cannot endure peaceable assembly, in this case taking the form of an LGBT Pride parade in Kiev, Ukraine, then that nation is in fact not worthy of claiming democracy as its form of government. Democracies have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Democracies have to be able to fight wars and protect free speech at the same time.

As the guilty party in the surface-to-air missile downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 appears to be the Russian-supported separatist rebels to the east versus the supposedly western values-aspiring government in Kiev, the U.S. and the European Union will likely ramp up support for the government of new Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko without exerting much if any new pressure to protect sexual and gender minorities in the country.

Even toothier support from Washington and Brussels in favor of Kiev is likely to emerge if it turns out the missile that downed the Boeing 777 was launched from inside Russia itself. The onus to keep the pressure on Ukraine to respect and protect the rights of LGBT Ukrainians now falls upon LGBT-rights activists as well as equality-minded politicians, business leaders, diplomats and even journalists.

If we don’t show up, stand up and speak out loudly in defense of our LGBT brothers and sisters in Ukraine, leaders in Kiev have proven they will do as little as possible – or worse – to protect and respect their rights.

As Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the original drafters of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights said on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the signing of the declaration in her remarks about places where small assemblages of oppressed people gather, “… Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

Gay rights bubbling up as issue in Trans-Pacific Partnership talks

As negotiations on a global trade pact among 12 Pacific Rim nations heat up, a number of opponents are raising alarm bells over human rights. Known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), critics argue that the failure to address member nation Brunei’s barbaric laws against homosexuality is yet another reason to halt, if not downright derail, what has become a centerpiece of President Obama’s economic agenda for 2015.

“A country that has laws that are anathema to American values doesn’t deserve to be in our trade negotiations,” California Democratic Rep. John Garamendi said in an interview. “We need to send a clear message.” Brunei, a tiny, oil-rich nation on the northwest coast of Borneo recently made headlines when Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah authorized legislation that permits the stoning to death of gay people.

Critics, like Jerame Davis, executive director of Pride at Work – a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender labor organization affiliated with the AFL-CIO labor union – said Obama had “set a clear precedent” for using trade to advance gay rights in Gambia and should do the same in Brunei. “Brunei’s law is actually worse because it imposes the death penalty, whereas Gambia ONLY imposes life in prison – as if that’s an ONLY,” he said. “And let’s be clear: Brunei enacted this law while they were in TPP negotiations.”

But others are taking a different tack, counter-arguing that engagement is always better than isolation. “This is always difficult territory for trade people, none of whom want to be accused of being opposed to human rights,” said Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, a pro-trade group. He said the best way to get Brunei officials to change their law was to engage with them and integrate the country into the Western trading system, not to isolate them. “Our experience has been that sticks don’t work very well, while carrots sometimes succeed,” Reinsch said. “Kicking them out of TPP might make us feel better, but it will diminish the trade agreement and also not achieve the objective of changing their anti-gay policy. In other words, it’s lose-lose.”

The pact also has its fair share of environmental, labor and intellectual opponents who argue that, like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), TPP would weaken intellectual property laws, depress wages in a race to the bottom, and gut progress on climate change. Furthermore, Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin noted that it’s appropriate for the executive branch and Congress to mix trade and human rights. “Let me just remind you that it was U.S. leadership in trade that helped change the apartheid government of South Africa,” Cardin said.

Participating nations include the United States, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Vietnam, Brunei, Japan, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia.

Short URL: http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=55976

LiMandri email: DeMaio promised, LGBT not a priority

San Diego CityBeat reported yesterday that it had received a copy of an email in which a prominent supporter of City Councilman Carl DeMaio’s mayoral campaign says DeMaio “ … specifically promised me, as a condition of my support, that he would not push the gay agenda issues (including same-sex marriage) as did Mayor Sanders. Rather, he was emphatic with me that he did not believe that the mayor should concern himself with these issues as they are not his responsibility.”

Charles LiMandri, the purported author of the email, is an infamous figure in San Diego’s LGBT, progressive and allied communities. He was the attorney who brought the case against the San Diego Fire Department for “forcing” firefighters to march in the LGBT Pride parade. More importantly to many, LiMandri was the attorney for the anti-LGBT, National Organization for Marriage during the Proposition 8 fight.

San Diego LGBT Weekly has been reporting for several months about the fact that DeMaio has garnered and boasted of endorsements from numerous anti-LGBT equality activists and major financial backers of 2008’s Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage in California.

The list of donors and endorsers includes powerful right-wingers, such as local storage-industry multi-millionaire, Brian Caster, and former San Diego mayor and talk-radio host, Roger Hedgecock, as well as former judge Larry Stirling.

The LiMandri email was sent to anti-LGBT activist and “ex-gay,” Jim Hartline. In what may be the ultimate irony, Hartline turned over the email exchange to CityBeat because he felt LiMandri was undermining the conservative agenda by supporting DeMaio.

San Diego LGBT Weekly publisher, Stampp Corbin postulated in his Message from our Publisher entitled “Carl DeMaio: Selling his Soul in the Mayoral Race,” (March 15, Issue 69) that DeMaio sold out the LGBT community to get donations and endorsements from anti-LGBT advocates. Corbin believes this latest news confirms his earlier assertion.

“Is this what our community expects from our potential LGBT mayor?” Corbin asks. “Our issues will not be a part of his administration because it is not the responsibility of a mayor? New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome, former District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty and our current mayor in San Diego would disagree. Each of them advanced LGBT rights during their administrations.”

In fact, hundreds of U.S. mayors disagree with DeMaio, having become part of the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry, a group led in part by Mayor Jerry Sanders.

Leaders in the LGBT community, such as Corbin worry that, ironically, electing Carl DeMaio mayor could send the clock backward for local LGBTs.

“As the eighth largest city in America, should San Diego expect the same advocacy from our leader as is enjoyed by cities from Ft. Lauderdale to Tacoma, Washington; Hallowell, Maine to Los Angeles?” asks Corbin. “DeMaio needs to tell our community that LiMandri is a liar or that he made this deal for a $500 donation. Our community deserves answers before primary election day, June 5.”

Neither Charles LiMandri nor Carl DeMaio responded to requests for comment.

Short URL: http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=24819

Pride parade seeks active-duty servicemembers

After making history last year with the first active-duty military contingent in a Pride parade in the U.S., San Diego LGBT Pride is organizing an even bigger contingent for this year’s Pride event. The theme for this first post-DADT Pride is America’s Pride and it will be held July 20-22.

San Diego Pride stated on its Military Contingent: San Diego Pride 2012 Facebook page, “This year we want to support our LGBT servicemembers even more! Our theme this year is America’s Pride because equality is an American value. Honoring our servicemembers and veterans and LGBT military families is an important part of this message.”

America’s Pride main event highlights will be:

Friday, July 20 at 6 p.m.

Spirit of Stonewall Rally: Celebrating the LGBT victories of the last year including the repeal of DADT.

Saturday, July 21 at 11 a.m.

Pride parade: Featuring the active-duty military contingent.

Pride festival: Discounted active-duty tickets available at the festival site for half price.

Discounted travel can be found at sdpride.org/travel.

Participants wanting to walk in the military contingent in uniform can request to do so from their commanding officer.

Register at sdpride.org/military.

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