Looking ahead to the 2020 Olympic Games, Tokyo passed an ordinance banning discrimination against LGBTQ people this week.
Enacted on October 5, the new law forbids private citizens, businesses, and government agencies from discriminating against individuals based on the characteristics of sexual orientation and gender identity. It also curbs hate speech by restricting groups that espouse inflammatory anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from using public spaces — like city parks — for their events.
Lawmakers in Tokyo further pledged to “conduct measures needed to make sure human rights values are rooted in all corners of the city and diversity is respected in the city.”
Japan’s largest city introduced the law ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games in order to comply with December 2014 guidelines from the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Following the controversial Winter Olympics held the same year in Sochi, the IOC confirmed that all future host cities would be required to institute anti-bias protections during the games.
Although Russia vowed that LGBTQ tourists would not be targeted under its then-recent anti-gay “propaganda” laws, President Vladimir Putin sent a decidedly mixed message as to the Kremlin’s agenda. He warned queer and trans travelers to the country to “leave children alone please.”
In accordance with the IOC guidelines, Japan claimed the 2020 Olympics would include a Pride House and gender-neutral restrooms for LGBTQ fans.
Human Rights Watch, an international advocacy group which consulted on the nondiscrimination laws, praised the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly for voting in favor of LGBTQ-inclusive protections.
“The Tokyo metropolitan government has enshrined in law its commitment to hosting inclusive and rights-respecting Olympic games,” claimed HRW Japan Director Kanae Doi in a statement. “The authorities now need to put the policy into action and end anti-LGBTQ discrimination in schools, workplaces, and the wider society.”
But during a debate earlier this week, critics warned the legislation could curtail freedom of speech.
Attorney Masao Niwa, who also serves as co-director of the Japan Network Toward Human Rights Legislation for Non-Japanese Nationals and Ethnic Minorities, claimed the law is well-intentioned but vaguely worded. Before a committee vote on Wednesday, Niwa warned the draft “could create criteria [for discrimination] arbitrarily,” as local news outlets reported.
A representative from the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party claimed there had not “been enough discussion on the ordinance” to vote on the law.
But the nondiscrimination guidelines passed Friday are not the first of its kind in Japan. The city of Osaka became the Asian country’s first major municipality to ban hate speech in July 2016, followed shortly after by Kawasaki and Kyoto.
The once-conservative nation has made significant progress on LGBTQ rights in recent years.
In 2016, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) released a “Guidebook for Teachers” on how to offer resources and support to queer and trans students in schools. Months later, the government agency updated its anti-bullying policies to include protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
While Japan lacks a nationwide nondiscrimination policy or federal relationship recognition for same-sex couples, it has voted twice at the United Nations in favor of resolutions ending anti-LGBTQ harassment and violence.
To date, nine cities in Japan — including Iga, Fukuoka, and Sapporo — offer benefits to domestic partners of the same gender.
Photo by Toshifumi KITAMURA / AFP/Getty Images