By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)

As activists and lawmakers in Japan are pushing for a new equality law to be enacted before the games are set to begin this summer. Seiko Hashimoto, the head of the Tokyo Olympics took part in Japan’s LGBTQIA+ Pride Week. Hashimoto visited Pride House Tokyo, which is an international initiative to provide LGBTQIA+ people a place to gather and connect during large sporting events, including the Olympic Games, Paralympic Games, Commonwealth Games, Pan-American Games, European Football Championships, and other events. The first Pride House was established for the Vancouver Olympic Games in 2010 and in addition to the Pride House in Tokyo, there is also a Pride House set up in Birmingham for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

While japan is the only country among seven major industrialized nations where marriage equality has not been legalized, last month a Japanese court ruled that marriage equality should be allowed under the constitution, setting the stage for its future legalization. Hashimoto wants to use the games to help promote diversity and equality toward the acceptance of LGBTQIA+ in Japan. According to the Associated Press she stated,

“We need to take action now,” Hashimoto said, adding that she wants people to remember the Tokyo Games as a “turning point in achieving diversity and harmony, including understanding for LGBTQ issues.”

Hashimoto’s participation in the LGBTQIA+ Pride event as well as tour of Pride House Tokyo highlights the history of discrimination against LGBTQIA+ athletes and sports being generally unaccepting of LGBTQIA+ people. But also, how that is changing with increasing representation and participation of LGBTQIA+ athletes at the Olympics and other high-level sports events.

Historically, most LGBTQIA+ athletes have come out at the end of their careers or in retirement to avoid the potential career fall out from coming out. It wasn’t until the 2008 Olympics where 15 openly gay and lesbian athletes participated in the games in various sports, including Matthew Mitcham who won gold in the 10m diving event, making him the first openly gay Olympic champion. Since 2008, the number of openly gay and lesbian participants at the summer and winter Olympics has steadily increased.

In Tokyo, 40 lawmakers and their staff of various governing parties wore matching rainbow face masks and gathered in person and online for a push for the enactment of the LGBTQIA+ equality act. Last month, activists submitted a petition with 106,000 signatures to push for the passage of an equality law before the Tokyo Games are set to begin in late July.

Photo by Nesnad via Wikimedia Commons