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In Session: Disclosing Gender and Sexuality in Japan
We Do Not Live To Be Productive: Rhetoric, Assembly, and the Evolution of LGBT Political Activism in Contemporary Japan
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
University of Pennsylvania, United States
In the summer of 2018, thousands of people gathered in Tokyo to protest an article written by Sugita Mio, a conservative politician in the Lower House of the Diet affiliated with Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party that asserted same-sex couples ‘lacked productivity’ and criticized transgender inclusive educational initiatives. The protests, organized by a loose coalition of activists, journalists and writers over social media in a matter of days, were the largest LGBTQ-centered demonstrations in Japanese history. For many participants, however, the protests signified something larger than an objection to a single article by a politician and marked a radical shift in the political visibility of Japan’s queer community, as embodied by the description of the protests as 'Japan's Stonewall.' In this paper, I analyze the anti-Sugita protests of summer 2018 by examining them in the context of how LGBTQ activism in Japan has evolved and been shaped since the late 1980s. I argue the protests represent a shift in the strategies of mainstream LGBTQ activist groups in Japan, which have emphasized building institutional relationships and encouraging 'proper understanding' (tadashii rikai) of sexual minorities over political confrontation. By framing the protests in expansive terms as an objection to 'eugenicist thought' (yūsei shisō) I argue that protesters were able to successfully incorporate other groups including disability activists and feminists on the basis of shared marginalization, and that this suggests the potential for digital activism to foster new challenges to hegemonic discourses of gender, sex and reproduction in contemporary Japanese political discourse.