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Are You Familiar with the Term LGBT?

Yuki Higashi
Member of 9.5th Graduating Class, Chuo Graduate School of Strategic Management (MBA)

Are you familiar with the term LGBT?

Human Rights Symposium in Tokyo, held by the Ministry of Justice in November 2016

Diversity and Inclusion Training began at our company from 2013. During the training, I always ask the question posed in the title of this article. Back then, only a few people would raise their hands. However, today, almost all trainees have their hands up. The next question that I ask is “Are you capable of explaining the term LGBT to another person?” Suddenly, everyone’s hands go down. Currently, it seems that most employees at our company don’t understand the term LGBT enough to be able to explain it with confidence. Next, I ask the following question: “Do any of you have an LGBT in your close circle of family or friends?” Even today, almost no one raises their hand in response to this question. How about the readers of this article?

According to several domestic surveys, the LGBT community composes about 5% to 8% of the total population in Japan. In contrast, the percentage of left-handed people in Japan is about 10%. Or, if you were to add up the most common surnames in Japan (Sato, Suzuki, Takahashi, Tanaka, Ito, and Watanabe), the number of people would be equivalent to about 7% of the population. This means that we should be meeting LGBT people at the same rate that we meet left-handed people or people with these common surnames. If so, then why do so many people say that they don’t know anyone from the LGBT community? One possible answer is that while LGBT people really do exist at such a high frequency, the majority of the population has created an environment which makes it impossible for them to express their diversity. In 2011, when I first realized that this situation exists, I decided to become involved in activities to promote understanding of the LGBT culture.

What is LGBT?

LGBT is a term that is commonly used both in Japan and overseas as a general name for people in the sexual minority. The term is an acronym formed from the first letters of the words Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (transgender refers to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex). Forms of sexuality are actually extremely diverse, and there are sexual minorities who do not fit into the four categories composing LGBT. Recently, the term SOGI has been created from the first letters of Sexual Orientation, which indicates the sex of partners whom one finds attractive, and Gender Identity, which indicates one’s sense of personal gender. In this article, I will use the term LGBT as a general term for referring to sexual minorities.

Now, simply being able to accurately explain this complicated and diverse concept of sexuality does not mean that one understands LGBT. Instead, it is important to understand that gender is a diverse concept that is not limited to the duality of men and women. Also, one must realize that sexual orientation and gender identity are characteristics which exist from birth, and that they cannot be changed through one’s own volition. Furthermore, as with other diversity issues, it is essential to consider language and behavior based on misunderstanding and discriminatory feelings.

Conditions surrounding LGBT in Japan

The term LGBT began to gain increased recognition in Japan when the Japanese media reported on the same-sex partner certificates issued by Shibuya City and Setagaya City in Tokyo, as announced in April 2015. In February 2017, the Japan Association of Corporate Executives released the results of a survey on utilizing diverse personnel. According to these results, about 40% of Japanese corporations have implemented some sort of measures for LGBT. In the majority of cases, corporations have clearly defined sexual orientation and gender identity in their human rights provisions. Even still, further steps are required at Japanese corporations who conduct business in Western countries where systems for same-sex partnerships and marriage are being advanced. These corporations need to establish welfare systems that can be used by same-sex partners of foreign employees stationed at the company, and must educate employees to avoid discrimination towards the LGBT community.

Together with the increasing recognition toward LGBT in Japan, more and more people are proclaiming themselves as LGBT in the workplace. However, if other employees display misunderstanding or prejudice due to a lack of correct knowledge in regards to LGBT, the LGBT employee might quit the company. Even if an LGBT individual chooses not to come out, it may be impossible for them to work with a feeling of trust if they witness daily displays of discriminatory language/behavior towards LGBT from their superiors or coworkers. In contrast, LGBT individuals will feel a strong sense of trust and company loyalty in workplaces which are free of prejudice or discrimination, thus making it easier for them to realize their full potential. Ultimately, this prevents the loss of diverse employees and expands the talent pool of outstanding employees that can be hired.

In this way, LGBT measures at corporations are also important from a business perspective. Today, there are even some businesses which target the LGBT market. Hotels, restaurants and wedding halls in Japan advertise themselves as LGBT friendly and provide family services to same-sex partners. Even when unintended, conveying a message that is deemed as discriminatory towards the LGBT community will cause severe damage to the corporate image and lead to business risks such as potential lawsuits. In Western countries, Japanese video game companies were criticized for offering only “Man” or “Woman” as gender selections for players, and the situation escalated to the point where a boycott was held. Last year, during the season of bonenkai (year-end drinking parties) in Japan, a certain company ran a TV commercial in which men were forced to kiss each other on the cheek as punishment for losing a game. The commercial was heavily criticized on SNS and was immediately pulled from the air. It is clear that LGBT issues are now an urgent theme for corporations; however, less than half of all Japanese corporations have actually taken action.

Actions in the fields of law and justice

Numerous cases have been reported of LGBT employees having sued an organization for human rights violations against these people, or due to a company permitting such violations to occur. Unfortunately, Japan lacks laws which specifically prohibit discrimination towards sexual orientation or gender identity. This makes it necessary for corporations to hold independent study sessions and training, working to implement optimal response by sharing policies for best practice. Even so, there is a never-ending series of problems in which consultation from LGBT employees is handled based on lingering prejudice and misunderstanding.

In response, the legal and judicial fields have begun to hold training and seminars to foster correct knowledge that will enable appropriate handling of legal issues related to LGBT. I have had opportunities to provide instruction at major law offices, the Osaka Bar Association, the Legal Training and Research Institute of Japan (a training institute for judges), and the Ministry of Justice. These training sessions have provided extensive content which broadly introduces the current conditions of LGBT in Japan. Trainees study about LGBT from the perspective of human rights, listen to narratives of personal experience from LGBT individuals, and learn about corporate LGBT policies and successful case studies. I hope that lawyers and judges will understand that sexual orientation and gender identity are natural phenomena, not simply matters of preference, and will develop an understanding for current LGBT measures at corporations. By becoming a powerful ally, I expect that these lawyers and judges will create a social basis that brings peace of mind to the LGBT community, as well as to all corporations and municipalities involved with LGBT issues.

Existence of allies who understand and support LGBT

In Japan, it is not possible to teach correct knowledge regarding LGBT in schools. As a result, there are still many people who view LGBT as an abnormality, unhealthy attribute, illness, or simply as a matter of preference. In the media, there are often depictions of LGBT people being teased. This kind of deep-rooted prejudice, misunderstanding and tendency to disregard LGBT spread throughout schools, workplaces and society, ultimately making it impossible for many LGBT to reveal their true identity. Amidst such conditions, I believe that existence of allies is extremely important.

Allies are people who understand and try to support LGBT, derived from the English word of ally. One can be an ally without being a member of the LGBT community. Upon witnessing misunderstandings or discriminatory language/behavior toward the LGBT community, LGBT individuals who are hiding their identity may be forced to swallow their resentment in order to remain unknown. However, allies can objectively correct such misunderstandings or discrimination. At organizations where LGBT employees have not come out, allies can speak for LGBT needs, implementing LGBT training and systems. If the LGBT community composes 8% of the total population, then the remaining 92% of us must dispel prejudice against and deepen understanding of LGBT. By doing so, we can achieve great changes in society and corporations.

Men are attracted to women, and women are attracted to men. A person’s biological gender and emotional gender match. — For the majority of the population, such a state may be viewed as normal and natural. However, what about people who don’t fit this classification of “normal?” If these people feel that they are abnormal or strange, they will not be able to ask for help. Even if they find the courage to ask for help, they are misunderstood, teased, and ostracized. Imagine how they must feel. As long as misunderstanding and prejudice towards LGBT exist among children, during job searches, at workplaces, and in society, LGBT individuals will be forced to deal with such feelings. Companies and societies which enable free expression by LGBT individuals will be comfortable environments for a diverse variety of people. I hope that we can all become allies for each other, and that the number of allies will grow even further. I encourage my readers to consider what they can do today to make a positive change.

Yuki Higashi
Member of 9.5th Graduating Class, Chuo Graduate School of Strategic Management (MBA)
After graduating from the State University of New York, Yuki Higashi worked at a foreign financial information communication company and then entered employment at Lehman Brothers Japan. At Lehman Brothers, she was stationed in the Securities Research Division and was responsible for planning, developing, and marketing research services for institutional investors. From 2008, she obtained a position in the Research Division of Nomura Securities, where she handled the same responsibilities as her previous position. At the same time, as an ally supporting the LGBT community and other sexual minorities, she served as a leader of the LGBT Employee Network. In 2013, she was transferred to the Personnel Development Department and appointed as the Japan Head of Talent Cultivation and Diversity & Inclusion at headquarters. Currently, she holds positions at both the Personnel Development Department and the Human Resources Department, and serves as the Japan Head of Talent Management. Her responsibilities include personnel management and leader development in the Global Business Department, as well as the promotion of diversity and inclusion. She is a member of the 9.5th graduating class of the Chuo Graduate School of Strategic Management (MBA).