Imagine living as an LGBT person in a country of over 120 million people where sexual expression between people of the same gender has essentially never been criminalized, where no conservative Christian political movement exists, and where violent crime is so low that gun ownership is less than one percent that of the United States.
That country is Japan. For the last two years, we have had the honor of being invited to Japan to give public talks, participate in symposiums, and teach classes about the movement for marriage equality in the United States. We have also met with numerous LGBT leaders across the country to share our experiences, compare conditions for LGBT people in our two countries, and to talk about strategies for achieving full equality.
We received the invitation to speak in Japan from a heterosexual Japanese professor of Asian American studies who heard us give a presentation in the United States. This professor has a three year old child and realized that her child could turn out to be LGBT, and that LGBT equality was not just an issue for which she could be an ally, but was her issue, too. She wanted her child to be able to grow up in a world where he could be free to be who he was without hiding and without facing discrimination.
Japanese society’s relative lack of public hostility to LGBT people appears to be a double-edged sword to Japanese LGBT people’s living their lives openly with full equality. Less adversity can reduce the sense of urgency to enact laws to protect LGBT people. Harmony is one of the most important societal values in Japan, and many Japanese LGBT people told us that coming out is particularly difficult in Japan, largely due to pressure to conform and to social expectations. Although Japanese LGBT people benefit greatly from the low risk of physical violence, many appear to fear losing their jobs if they come out.
The issue of marriage equality is particularly complex in Japan. For many, Japan’s marriage law seems to be outdated, not just from its exclusion of LGBT couples, but as it applies to heterosexual couples. For example, Japanese marriage law requires one of the spouses (in practice, nearly always the woman) to change her name and taxes a second spouse’s income so severely that many spouses have no financial incentive to pursue a career. Japanese LGBT activists are developing a partnership law open to all couples that remedies these limitations and serves the needs of modern couples – as they work for marriage equality as well.
Using marriage equality as a barometer of public attitudes on LGBT equality, recent polling revealed that 70 percent of Japanese in their 20s and 30s support marriage equality. Although support among the population as a whole is not as high as in some industrialized nations, 40 percent of Japanese are still undecided on the issue, and those who have made up their mind overwhelmingly support equality. We believe that the future for LGBT people in Japan is bright.
By MEUSA Legal and Policy Director John Lewis and MEUSA Communications Director Stuart Gaffney
Marriage Equality USA believes full civil marriage equality is a key step in fulfilling our vision of "a world that celebrates and protects all families" - a world where we have not just legal equality but “lived" equality as well. Our organizational values demand of us a level of social responsibility to stand up and support full equality in every community we and our partner organizations represent, regardless of whether the issues directly relate to our core goal.
It is for that reason MEUSA has signed on to two key campaigns these last few weeks - the creation of a fully inclusive Michigan Womyn's Music Festival embracing transgender women and to respond to the tragic killing of Michael Brown by standing with the mothers and fathers of young black men and women to demand communities free of fear, harassment and brutality.
"Many individuals and organizations are questioning the purpose of creating exclusionary spaces, like MichFest, where gender is decided by the shape of one's body rather than the essence of one's mind," explained Denise Norris, a transgender advocate and member of the MEUSA Board. "The ongoing attempts to define gender along exclusionary lines - whether at MichFest or in any space - are out of step with the modern progressive equality movement."
"As a black man and father to three beautiful black children, I am outraged by the senseless shooting of Michael Brown, a young black man who could have easily been one of my two sons," said MEUSA Board Member Duane Taylor. "Our society has an obligation to protect our children and we cannot live up to this charge unless we see each other as equals and honor each other as human beings."
"As an organization that believes in full equality, we must stand in solidarity with each other when events like these happen. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said so eloquently, 'injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,'" commented Brian Silva, MEUSA Executive Director. "We will continue to stand alongside those who fight with us for equal marriage rights so they too can realize their full lived equality."
Watching the President sign off on an Executive Order banning federal contractors from discriminating against the LGBTQ community last week, I was struck by how far our community has come. Just a few weeks prior, I was honored to represent MEUSA, our volunteers and members at the White House Pride Reception hosted by the President and the First Lady.Captivated by the historical immensity of the White House, I heard the President speak from the heart and joke with guests. I watched as he welcomed hundreds of LGBT activists. While meeting both the President and the First Lady was an honor, the power in that moment was in reminding me how far our own grassroots, volunteer-driven organization has come in changing the conversation around marriage equality in almost 20 years of work.
When Marriage Equality USA (then Marriage Equality New York) first began in 1996 after the enactment of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), few in our community (LGBTQ or political) would even dare to dream about, much less utter the phrase, "marriage equality." It took years of hard work, grassroots organizing, education and pushing against the establishment to make friends, lawmakers and the public understand that marriage mattered. MEUSA's unique history has allowed us to participate in both grassroots organizing as well as bringing the voices of so many grassroots organizers to more traditional halls of power. Now, as state after state embraces the goal for which so many of us have toiled for so long, we remember that our success stands in honor of those who have been with us from day one — especially those who toiled without ever having felt the joy of full marriage equality in their lifetimes.
For all those whose hard work and dedication to MEUSA made that collective White House moment possible, I humbly say, thank you.
I work at a military installation where traditions run high. Being proud of who we are and what we do to support our warfighters is part of everyday life. I have been a contractor for 27 years at Hill Air Force Base, UT, and never expected our base, located in conservative Utah, to take the lead in standing up for LGBT Pride.
I’ve never been more proud of where I work than when I received an email stating the following: “The Department of Defense (DoD) joins the Nation in celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month during the month of June. We recognize gay, lesbian and bisexual service members and LGBT civilians for their dedicated service to our country. The LGBT community has written a proud chapter in this fundamentally American story by reminding us that integrity and respect remain cornerstones of our military and civilian culture. Let's encourage our DoD personnel to recognize the accomplishments of all members of our workforce, and in doing so, celebrate the significance of diversity in building a brighter future for all citizens.”
The email was soliciting volunteers to head up a Hill Pride Committee. I sat alone in my office, raising my hand to volunteer to no one, as I desperately wanted to be part of this committee. When I approached my boss about getting involved, he said I was cleared to take part as long as the meetings didn’t interfere with my work. I’d also have to participate on my own time and use vacation to attend meetings and events planned. That was minor, as I was already eager to get started.
As it turns out, Hill AFB is the first military installation in the United States to stand up and support LGBT activities during the month of Pride. This couldn’t come at a more important time in our state of Utah either, as the Kitchen v. Herbert case is currently awaiting a decision from the 10th Circuit Court out of Denver.
The word is just starting to get out that Hill AFB is supporting Pride by holding activities on the Base. The Hill Pride Committee has been working on three major activities: 1) an LGBT Information Fair; 2) Pride Night event; and 3) Keynote Luncheon. All three activities will take place after the Utah Pride Festival events unfold the first full weekend in June in Salt Lake City.
The Base is holding an LGBT Information Fair where my wife and I will sponsor a booth representing Marriage Equality USA. Other organizations attending the Info Fair include Restore Our Humanity, Utah Pride Center, Human Rights Campaign, Equality Utah, PFLAG Utah, Volunteers of America, Department of Veterans Affairs LGBT Veterans Program, Family Acceptance Project, Rainbow Law, among several other noteworthy organizations within our community. The LGBT Information Fair is being held on Wednesday, 11 June.
In addition, a Pride Night is also being held on Saturday, 21 June. The evening will feature a variety of performances from people in our LGBT community to include a slam poet and several talented musicians.
The first-ever Hill Pride activities will culminate with a Keynote Luncheon on Tuesday, 24 June, where Kristin Beck, a former decorated Navy Seal and transgender woman will be the keynote speaker. She recently finished a movie called Lady Valor which chronicles her life.
The Hill Pride Committee is working hard to set the bar high and lead the way for other military installations to follow us in the years ahead. Hill AFB intends to celebrate Pride month every June so we want to ensure this first-ever occurrence is successful!
By Colleen Mewing, Local Organizer, Utah Regional Operating Committee, Marriage Equality USA.