OKAYAMA >> Municipal efforts to support sexual minorities are spreading through the nation, and Okayama Prefecture is a good example of the progress being made.
This spring, the Soja city government launched a “partnership system” that officially recognizes same-sex couples for the first time in the Chugoku and Shikoku regions. In Kurashiki, the city’s board of education has created a model for classes that encourage elementary and junior high students to think about sexual diversity, a measure that has attracted national attention.
“The introduction (of the partnership system) was (instituted) with the aim to reduce the number of citizens who have worries in their daily lives,” said Hideki Niiya, chief of the Soja city government’s civic life division.
Under the system, introduced in April, partnership certificates are issued to couples ages 20 and older who meet specific criteria, such as residency. LGBT couples with certificates can receive insurance benefits and family discounts for mobile phones. So far, Soja has issued one certificate.
The city is also considering a change to its application forms for matters such as residence and other categories that requests gender information.
Partnership systems drew national attention when two Tokyo wards, Shibuya and Setagaya, introduced them in 2015. According to a survey conducted by Nijiiro Diversity, an Osaka-based nonprofit, 20 municipalities have launched such a system, with 426 couples participating.
Osaka and Sapporo have made similar moves.
Okayama city, which has yet to introduce a partnership system, has nonetheless revised the language of a gender-equal ordinance from “regardless of sex” to “regardless of sex and other factors,” and “men and women” to “all the people.”
“We’ve reached the stage in which concerned people can finally speak out,” said a city official who works on promoting community support of careerwomen. “First, we want to consistently work on raising awareness to deepen understanding among residents as a whole.”
In the realm of education, individual efforts to support sexual minorities are taking root.
In 2015, for instance, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry issued a notice regarding students with gender identity issues. That led the Kurashiki board of education to hold workshops on nurturing students in support of sexual diversity. During the 2016 and 2017 school years, the board presented classes at a total of 20 elementary and junior high schools.
Based on findings from the classes, the board then created materials that explain the value of nurturing student empathy for the life struggles of LGBT people.
Since then, the “Kurashiki model” has drawn interest from some 70 boards of education across the nation.
In a 2015 survey of LGBT students conducted by Proud Okayama, an LGBT support group, with the help of other organizations, more than 60% of respondents said they thought about suicide because of their sexuality.
“There is still bias against … LGBT people. Young people (often) struggle and have difficulty living,” said Fumiko Suzuki, head of Proud Okayama. “Moves to protect (their) rights have a long way to go. I want local governments to more actively spread proper information about sexual diversity.”