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Lesbian politico to open closet for homosexuals

world Updated: Jun 23, 2007 14:06 IST
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Kanako Otsuji wants to open the closet for Japan's gay and lesbian community in order to increase their visibility and help them gain their basic rights as citizens.

The nation's first openly lesbian politician is running for a seat in upper house parliamentary elections in July under the banner of the major opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).

"I wanted to change Japan through politics, and to do that we (homosexuals) have to become visible," Otsuji told DPA at her campaign office in Tokyo's Shinjuku Nichome district, known as a hub of the homosexual community.

Otsuji, then a member of the prefectural assembly in the western Japanese province of Osaka, officially announced her sexual orientation at a Tokyo gay pride parade in August 2005 and in a book published on the same day.

Since Japan has no law banning discrimination against homosexuals, many of them fear a backlash and do their best to hide under the blanket of pseudonyms or anonymity.

Many Japanese homosexuals feel more comfortable coming out of the closet with their close friends but resist revealing their sexual orientation to their immediate families or to their professional colleagues, Otsuji said.

After the 32-year-old politician announced her sexual orientation in 2005, her colleagues at the Osaka prefectural assembly began avoiding her.

"They just didn't know how to react and they ignored me," Otsuji said. "I have met many Japanese people who just regarded us as 'weirdos'."

In Japan, violent hate crimes mostly target gay men, Otsuji said, as seen in a murder case about 10 years ago, when a Japanese gay man was robbed and killed.

But lesbians, who tend to be more invisible in society, may just be ignored or, at worst, receive prank calls.

Although Otsuji, a Taekwondo master, has not experienced any violent harassment since she announced her candidacy, her campaign office has dealt with protest calls from voters.

Otsuji thinks the prejudice against gays and lesbians in Japan lies in how people perceive homosexuality only as "something to do with what happens in bed," and not a lifestyle variation.

That generates the feeling of shame. When people criticize, they express sympathy for the parents of homosexuals, who they think must feel ashamed of their offspring.

Otsuji's mother received bouquets of flowers when her daughter won a seat in the assembly, but no congratulatory messages reached her when Otsuji married her partner.

Both women wore white wedding dresses and veils for the wedding earlier this month. The couple received a telegram from DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa and blessings from their families and friends after they exchanged vows and rings at the ceremony held at the Nagoya Lesbian & Gay Revolution 2007 event in the central Japanese city of Nagoya.

"Japan's discrimination against homosexuals is not based on religion but morality," Otsuji said in an interview. "That's why I think the nation can turn 180 degrees as soon as it learns to accept the concept."