This past month, a couple decided they wanted to have their wedding at Disneyland in Tokyo. Koyuki Higashi and Hiroko Masuhara, two female partners, approached the theme park about holding a symbolic wedding there.
The Global Post reports that the couple were given the green light, but only if one partner dressed as a man and one partner dressed as a woman. Officials feared that the presence of a gay couple in the park could cause other guests discomfort. Furthermore, the couple will not be allowed to marry in the Disneyland chapel because of Christian teachings, but could marry in a strictly symbolic wedding at the park.
After a series of protests and upheaval, the park rescinded its insistence that the two women dress as a man and a woman but they would still not be allowed to marry in the chapel. The couple has yet to set a date for the ceremony, but their story highlights the often limited protections and support the LGBT community has in Japan.
Only last year, one of the only openly gay politicians was elected to public office. Taiga Ishikawa was elected to Tokyo ward assembly in April 2011 and has since remained an advocate for gay rights. LGBTQ Nation quotes him as saying, “I hope my election victory will help our fellows nationwide to have hope for tomorrow, as many of them cannot accept themselves, feel lonely and isolated and even commit suicide.”
Another politician, the openly transgendered Aya Kamikawa, has also held office over the last decade in Japan. While these stories highlight some small strides in advocating for LGBT rights, there is still a long way to go towards true inclusion, awareness and advocacy across the board.
While Higashi and her partner Masuhara can have a ceremony at Disneyland, only heterosexual couples have the legal right to marry in Japan. Many gay and lesbian youths feel terrified to come out. Public officials have been known to say homophobic comments about the LGBT community. CNN World reports that high-profile figures in Japan, such as film director Takeshi Kitano and Shintaro Ishihara, the governor of Tokyo, have both made overtly homophobic comments.
The question remains: is the openness of the Disneyland park to hold a symbolic ceremony for a lesbian couple a true step forward? Will officials actually allow the ceremony to take place once the couple has set a date? For many, it still remains a terrifying prospect to come out to family, co-workers and friends.
Many of the same battles the Japanese LGBT community is fighting in Japan remain relevant in the United States as well. Just this year, a conservative group in Florida flew a banner over the Disney World park warning potential visitors about Gay Days, an annual LGBT-friendly event where gay and lesbian couples come to enjoy the park.
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