By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)
Hailing from Japan, Kumi Yokoyama made history last week when they publicly came out as transgender. The 27 year old forward who plays for the Washington Spirit and uses “they/them” pronouns came out on teammate Yuki Nagasato’s Youtube channel,
“I’m coming out now,” Yokoyama said. “In the future, I want to quit soccer and live as a man.”
Despite their gender identity not being legally recognized in Japan, Yokoyama has received an outpouring of support from teammates, fans, friends and even President Biden. Coming out the same week as Carl Nassib, President Biden took the opportunity to tweet a message of support to both athletes.
“To Carl Nassib and Kumi Yokoyama – two prominent, inspiring athletes who came out this week: I’m so proud of your courage. Because of you, countless kids around the world are seeing themselves in a new light today,” Biden tweeted.
To Carl Nassib and Kumi Yokoyama – two prominent, inspiring athletes who came out this week: I’m so proud of your courage. Because of you, countless kids around the world are seeing themselves in a new light today.
— President Biden (@POTUS) June 23, 2021
Tender 🥺❤️ pic.twitter.com/mwReuUuJQ2
— Washington Spirit (@WashSpirit) June 23, 2021
While public support and acceptance for LGBTQIA+ people in Japan have grown, they still have a long way to go as there is a lack of legal protections for the LGBTQIA+ community. There have been recent attempts to pass a comprehensive equality act in Japan, especially before the Olympic Games are set to take place but have faced resistance from conservative legislatures. Unfortunately, the law was scrapped due to opposition of the conservative party which is the current ruling party.
As it stands, transgender people in Japan must undergo gender affirming surgery before they are able to have their gender recognized on legal documents. This requirement has long been criticized by medical groups and human rights groups as unethical, inhumane, and unnecessary.
Yokoyama stated that they weren’t enthusiastic about coming out, but decided to after reflection about the future, also noting that if they lived in Japan, they would not have come out. Elaborating that they felt a strong pressure to conform and remain closeted, however Yokoyama plans to live as a man upon retiring from professional soccer and use their platform to help raise awareness for LGBTQIA+ people in Japan.
“More people in Japan are becoming familiar with the word LGBTQ and it’s seen more (in the media), but I think awareness won’t grow unless people like myself come out and raise our voices,” Yokoyama said.
Yokoyama played for the Japanese national team at the 2019 World Cup and played for the Japanese club AC Nagano Parceiro before transferring to the Washington Spirit.