Japan: Efforts to support LGBT residents spreading

OKAYAMA — Municipal efforts to support sexual minorities are spreading through the nation, as seen in Okayama Prefecture.

This spring, the Soja city government in the prefecture launched a “partnership system” that officially recognizes same-sex couples for the first time in the Chugoku and Shikoku regions. In Kurashiki, the city’s board of education has created a model for classes that encourage elementary and junior high school students to think about sexual diversity, a measure that has attracted national attention.

“The introduction [of the partnership system] was decided with the aim to reduce the number of citizens who have worries in their daily lives as soon as possible,” Hideki Niiya, chief of the Soja city government’s civic life division, said in Okayama city on May 11 at a gathering on the subject of issues related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people organized by the Okayama Lawyers Association.

The city took steps to establish a relevant ordinance after a regular city assembly session in November last year in which the Soja mayor was asked about the partnership system and promptly expressed his intention to consider it positively.

Under the system that the city introduced in April, partnership certificates are issued to couples aged 20 or over who meet certain conditions such as being residents of the city. The certificates come in the size of business cards and nicknames can be used. LGBT couples with the certificates can receive insurance benefits and family discounts for mobile phone fees.

According to the city government, the certificate had been issued to one couple as of May 20. The city is also looking into deleting a category that specifies gender on application forms for residence certificates and other documents filed with the citizens section.

Growing awareness

Partnership systems drew national attention when two Tokyo wards, Shibuya and Setagaya, introduced it in 2015. According to a survey conducted by Osaka-based nonprofit organization Nijiiro Diversity, the number of municipalities that had launched such a system had risen to 20 as of April 17 and 426 couples had used the system. Read more via Japan News