Japan’s lawmakers recently abandoned the plan to submit a bill to promote citizens’ understanding of LGBT people (“LGBT Bill”) to the current Diet session. The decision came after members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party voiced their opposition against the bill, objecting to its basic principle that “discrimination must not be tolerated” and, according to reports, one member even going as far as saying that “[being LGBT] goes against the preservation of the species.”
The report LGBTQ+ Survey 2020, published in April 2021 by Dentsu, says that one in eleven people in Japan (8.9%) belongs to a sexual minority. This number translates to as many as three pupils in a typical elementary-school class in Japan. It is not hard to imagine the hurt and anger the astonishing comments of politicians caused to these people –– both children and adults –– whom the bill was intended to protect. A person should never be judged on the basis of the preservation of the species. The government should simply accept the diversity of the people living in the country and aim to create a society where everyone can live without worry or fear.
Many businesses are already taking steps without waiting for the government’s lead; not only do these companies provide an inclusive work environment that accommodates a diverse range of people, they are also embarking on diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives that play to their strengths. The term to describe sexual minorities itself has evolved, from LGBT to LGBTQ+ and LGBTQIA+*, to include a broader range of sexual diversity, and many companies have adopted this change as their understanding of diversity grow.
- * LGBTQIA+: a term that covers a wider range of sexual minority groups in addition to the previously common term “LGBT” (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender).
- Q = questioning (people who are unsure or questioning of their gender identity or sexual orientation)
- I = intersex (people who are born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that is not typically male or female in terms of function, form or development; also called disorders of sex development or DSD)
- A = asexual (people who do not feel a sexual attraction to others)
There are many issues in our society that are not immediately obvious unless you are a sexual minority yourself. One such issue commonly faced by LGBTQIA+ people is toilet access. For example, transgender people who are biologically female but feel male often find it awkward to use either female or male public toilets. Universal-access multifunctional toilets can be an answer, but the provision is still patchy. A study by the Study Group on All-Gender Use of Office Toilets (in Japanese) found that around 40% of transgender people are unable to use the public toilets they prefer.
LIXIL, a manufacturer of sanitary equipment such as toilets and baths as well as building materials such as windows and doors, is tackling this issue by coming up with a new concept for gender-neutral public toilets, which the company has installed at their head office. The entrance to the space has a display indicating available cubicles with a sign that says “please choose the cubicle that suits you,” allowing any user to use any of the multiple cubicles within the space. One of the key features is that the space is deliberately designed to make it hard to see who is using which cubicle. The space’s public central corridor is flanked by universal-access multifunctional toilets, and gendered toilet cubicles and hand washing areas are further back and around the corners, so hidden from the entrance. This makes it easy to go to a cubicle of choice without worrying about being seen by others. As a water and housing products specialist, the company is working in their own field to solve problems sexual minorities face.
Mastercard offers another example; the company has teamed up with Citibank to offer a credit card called True Name, which can be printed with a name that matches the cardholder’s gender identity. Transgender people who have not been able to have their gender reassigned or changed their registered name face obstacles even in day-to-day shopping. When trans people use credit cards that bear a name that does not match their appearance or dress, they sometimes face suspicions and discriminations. Mastercard’s example shows how a business can identify and address day-to-day challenges sexual minorities face as they go about their lives.
Other examples of corporate actions to promote gender diversity and inclusion include Mattel Inc., the toy maker best known for its iconic Barbie doll, launching a line of gender-neutral fashion dolls called Creatable World in 2019, and the Tokyo Disney Resort changing their English-language greeting from the traditional “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls” to “Hello everyone” in March 2021.
By promoting diversity and inclusion through internal programs and work environment, businesses can create a workplace that energizes all employees and enable them to fulfill their potential. Companies can also change people’s lives and drive social change through their products and services that are more inclusive. Even in a country like Japan, where the legal framework and public policies may still be inadequate in meeting the needs of minorities, I hope that the awareness and actions of businesses and people –– every one of us –– can one day transform the whole society.
Momoko Miyahara (Author), Translation by Yuno Dinnie