Japanese LGBTQ Couple Win Political Asylum in Canada

Japanese LGBTQ Couple Win Political Asylum in Canada

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Pictures: TKM / PIXTA(ピクスタ); Canva
A lesbian couple in Japan say conditions for them were so bad in their home country that Canada has granted them refugee status.

The legal and social situation for LGBTQ couples in Japan is in a strange spot where it’s neither retreating nor advancing. That led one lesbian couple to take the dramatic step of fleeing to Canada and applying for refugee status. Canada granted their request, issuing a damning verdict on the state of LGBTQ rights in Japan.

Discrimination in Japan

Japanese and LGBTQ flag

The couple is a 50yo and 30yo woman named Hana and Eri. Originally, according to Asahi Shimbun, the couple tried to make the most of their lives in Japan. They registered under their local government’s partnership system, which accords LGBTQ couples a few of the rights given to heterosexual married couples. (Japan does not recognize marriage equality at the national level.)

However, the two still weren’t treated as equal under the law. On top of that, they say they suffered workplace discrimination over their sexual identity.

In 2021, the two of them moved to Canada on student visas. When those were set to expire after a year, they said that, since they had “no special skills,” they didn’t see a way to stay in the country except by applying as political refugees.

They submitted 200 pages of documentation backing up the discrimination they had faced. In September of 2023, the two tell Asahi Shimbun, the government of Canada granted them asylum.

One step forward, three steps back

The ruling, which came to light in Asahi’s reporting last week, spotlights the strange and vexing situation in which LGBTQ people find themselves living their daily lives in Japan.

On the one hand, there’s been positive progress in recent years. Over 70% of the country is now covered by partnership systems that recognize same-sex relationships at the local level. Companies here are increasingly improving their workforce programs to educate employees on LGBTQ issues and reduce discrimination.

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However, at the national level, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) refuses to even consider a bill to allow recognition of same-sex marriage. This, despite polls that show overwhelming public support for marriage equality. Top officials – like the LDP’s Sugita Mio, and even Prime Minister Kishida Fumio’s press secretary – have come under fire for bigoted comments against LGBTQ people.

As in other countries recently, transgender people in Japan are increasingly the target of bigotry. Last year, the country passed an “LGBT Understanding Bill” intended to educate people and increase tolerance. However, opposition from the LDP’s far right led to the party stripping language specifically recognizing the rights of its transgender citizens.

Ironically, Japan also admits refugees on the basis of sexual and gender discrimination. In 2023, a court in Osaka overruled the country’s Immigration Services Agency and granted asylum to a lesbian woman from Uganda.

Canada’s damning verdict

LGBTQ immigration
Picture: lightsource / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

According to Asahi, the text of Canada’s verdict cited the legal discrimination the couple faced back in Japan. It also said that moving elsewhere in Japan wouldn’t resolve the social discrimination they faced.

Other Japanese LGBTQ couples have echoed Hana and Eri’s sentiments that, despite the existence of some legal protections, social acceptance can lag behind. Last year, we reported on one lesbian couple who had trouble finding adequate medical care when they planned to have a baby.

Asked for comment, Hana and Eri told Asahi: “There are many LGBTQ couples and women enduring the same pain we did. We wanted to make our frustration known to the Japanese government and people in Japan.”

The couple is one of a couple dozen of Japanese citizens who are granted refugee status in other countries every year. Japan’s government says it doesn’t keep statistics on why its citizens apply for asylum abroad.

What to read next

Sources

日本人の同性カップル、カナダで難民認定 「迫害に根拠ある恐怖」. Asahi Shimbun

日本人女性カップル、カナダ政府が難民認定 「日本国内で迫害」. Livedoor News

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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