Tokyo ward assemblyman under fire over remarks against LGBT rights

Kyodo News

Posted at Oct 06 2020 03:55 PM

Kento Hoshi, the founder of JobRainbow, a website that offers career resources and empowerment to Japan's LGBT community, in Tokyo, Aug. 24, 2017. His company, like many in Japan, recently extended family benefits to employees’ same-sex partners, and said it would allow its gay customers to name their partners as beneficiaries of its life insurance plans. Kazuhiro Yokozeki, The New York Times/File

TOKYO - A local politician of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has come under fire for claiming last month that his north Tokyo municipality would "cease to exist" if the rights of sexual minorities are protected by law.

"This is impossible, but if all Japanese women were lesbian or all Japanese men were gay, then do you think the next generation of people will be born?" Masateru Shiraishi asked on Sept. 25 at an assembly session of Tokyo's Adachi Ward, in comments that appeared to blame sexual minorities for Japan's falling number of births.

The 78-year-old assemblyman made the remark when asking local government officials about the ward's total fertility rate -- the average number of children a woman will bear in her lifetime.

Same-sex marriage is not legally recognized in Japan, but pressure from members of LGBT communities and their allies for marriage equality has resulted in some changes at the local level, with more than 50 municipalities across the country including Tokyo's Shibuya Ward issuing "partnership certificates" to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender couples.

"I do not intend to intervene in the life of someone who is lesbian or gay," the 11th-term assembly member said. But he added, "Getting married, having children and raising them in a normal way is very important for people," arguing it is crucial to teach such views to students at schools.

Shiraishi's remarks sparked a public backlash from Twitter users and members of empowerment groups for sexual minorities.

"I feel strong resentment toward the reality that a person with such discriminatory ideas can serve as a politician," Soshi Matsuoka, the head of Fair, an organization advocating the rights of sexual minorities, said in an opinion piece published online by Yahoo Japan.

"I would like Shiraishi to correct his remark which was based on discrimination and prejudice as LGBT people are not responsible for Japan's decreasing birth rate," said Takeru Shimodaira, a member of Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation, which seeks a law banning discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

In 2018, LDP House of Representatives member Mio Sugita faced criticism for saying in a magazine article that the government should not support same-sex couples because they cannot produce offspring and thus are not "productive."

In 2019, Japan's total fertility rate stood at 1.36 with a record-low 865,234 babies born in the country.