A new report on conditions for LGBTQ people in Japanese workplaces found many in the community are struggling – and that the pandemic only made things worse.
Japan-based LGBTQ rights organization Nijiiro (Rainbow) Diversity recently released the results of their 2022 survey. This survey asked members of the LGBTQ community to rate and describe their experiences in the workplace. Conducted annually since 2014, it attracted nearly 3000 responses throughout May and June 2022.
Nijiiro Diversity leader Muraki Maki and researchers from Hosei and Osaka Universities designed the 2022 survey. It focused on workplace harassment, changing government policies, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Japan’s LGBTQ population.
2022 survey respondents ranged in age from 15 to 70. 70% of respondents identified as female, 28% as male and around 2% as nonbinary or other. Most lived in the Kanto region, although responses did come from all four of Japan’s islands and over 20 different prefectures.
Lesbians and gay men combined were the largest group represented, followed by heterosexuals, bisexuals, pansexuals, and asexuals in that order. There was a large variation in income, family size, and number of children. Finally, the majority of respondents worked full-time jobs. However, some individuals who worked part-time did participate in the survey.
Responses to COVID-19 Related Questions Varied Greatly
Many questions in the survey addressed how respondents felt their lives had changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Results indicated a large gap in how the pandemic affected cisgender versus transgender individuals in Japan.
Many cisgender respondents, especially those who were both cisgender and heterosexual, felt that their relationships had improved, their salaries had not changed, and they were feeling less stressed at work due to being able to work remotely more often. When asked about freedom at work, cisgender respondents felt that they had more. They had more freedom of dress and more time to focus on studying and improving skills.
Responses from transgender individuals were almost exactly the opposite. Many reported that they had lost their jobs during the pandemic. They were working fewer hours and making less money overall when compared to pre-COVID times. Transgender respondents also felt that their workplace stress had increased. They had less freedom and less time to improve skills.
Fewer transgender individuals had been able to find remote work. As a result, they were still very worried about how to dress and present in the office.
Among transgender respondents, relationships with romantic partners, friends, and online acquaintances improved. On the other hand, relationships with family members, coworkers, and bosses had all gotten worse.
Why Did This Variation Occur?
Nijiiro Diversity posited several theories to explain the wide gap in responses. They hypothesized that more transgender individuals had worked non-contract, part-time or otherwise non-regular jobs prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. This is why more lost their jobs or could not switch to remote work compared to cisgender people.
With regards to relationships, the organization theorized that many LGBTQ individuals had struggled with coming out. They felt “stuck” with family during COVID-19 related lockdowns. Some had been motivated by the stress and high death toll of the pandemic to live as their authentic selves. Many chose to not hold on to toxic friendships or family relationships.
Overall, in Japan, LGBTQ individuals in general and transgender individuals in specific reported that their lives, both at work and at home, were greatly disrupted due to COVID-19, while cisgender heterosexual people experienced far fewer changes.
LGBTQ Rights In The Workplace Have A Long Way To Go
Questions in the second half of the survey, which focused on respondents’ thoughts about their day-to-day work life, painted a grim picture of the state of LGBTQ rights in the workplace in Japan.
A higher percentage of respondents than in previous surveys expressed that they had been able to successfully come out to bosses, coworkers, and subordinates. However, there was a wide variety of responses to the question “do you feel safe at work?”. Many responded with “No,” “Unsure,” or “Unwilling to answer this question.”
Most LGBTQ individuals felt that their workplace did not have enough protective measures in place. When asked “what measures has your workplace implemented to support and protect LGBTQ workers,” most answered “None at all.”
Perhaps tellingly, respondents who identified as both cisgender and heterosexual responded more optimistically. They said that some progress had been made regarding the implementation of e-Learning and other training about minorities in the workplace.
However, almost none of the respondents, regardless of gender and sexual identity, felt that their workplace offered concrete, codified support for LGBTQ individuals, especially transgender people.
When asked what changes they would like to see, the response was overwhelming. Over 60% of respondents chose “Spousal benefits for same-sex partners,” with “Written anti-discrimination policies” a distant second.
Currently, Japan remains one of the few first-world countries not to recognize same-sex marriages, partnerships, or civil unions in any way. While some individual prefectures and cities have begun claiming to support and recognize these partnerships, in this case, actions speak louder than words, and LGBTQ workers in Japan do not feel that their partners are treated fairly and equally.
As of this writing, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio is working to pass an LGBT Understanding Bill. The move comes after he fired his own secretary for blatantly discriminatory comments. However, the bill does not include marriage rights for same-sex couples. Furthermore, right-wing members of his own party strongly oppose it.
Mental Health Concerns For LGBTQ Individuals
Unsurprisingly, the lack of support in the workplace led to many respondents feeling that their mental health was negatively affected by their work environment. Many who answered the survey used words like “a sense of alienation” or “I feel like a lesser member of society.” Reports of regular harassment from bosses and coworkers were also frequent.
Several had been diagnosed with and continue to suffer from depression. They feel that they have no one to turn to besides online friends and online LGBTQ-centric communities.
Additionally, many people self-reported that they scored poorly on the K6, which is a test that measures psychological distress. Those who experienced workplace harassment or worked in places with no LGBTQ protection measures had particularly low K6 scores. 
Nijiiro Diversity pledged to use the information revealed by survey respondents to increase awareness of poor treatment of LGBTQ people in the workplace. The organization concluded that the reversal of Japan’s same-sex marriage ban was a major priority, as LGBTQ individuals felt alienated and stressed by their relationships lacking rights and acknowledgment. They praised the efforts of some city and prefectural governments in advancing the rights of LGBTQ citizens, but criticized Japan’s central government.
Nijiiro Diversity will continue to promote and fight for the rights of LGBTQ citizens in Japan through activities such as this survey. Currently, the organization plans to conduct the survey again in 2023, continuing it as an annual tradition.
 Nijiiro Diversity 2022 Survey on LGBTQ in the Workplace. https://nijibridge.jp/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/nijiVOICE2022_report.pdf