July 30, 2007 / 1:08 AM / 12 years ago

Japanese gay woman loses bid for parliament seat

TOKYO (Reuters) - The first openly gay candidate in Japanese national politics failed to win a seat in upper house elections on Monday, but vowed to continue her fight for minority rights.

Kanako Otsuji, 32, backed by the main opposition Democratic Party, had campaigned in front of rainbow-colored flags, with loudspeakers declaring to passers-by she was a lesbian.

“I hope to continue until I see the day that we look back and say, ‘This is a historic day in the history of sexual minorities,’” Otsuji told supporters. “We will remember this day because it is the day we grew stronger.”

She appeared to be holding back tears at her election headquarters in the heart of Tokyo’s gay community early on Monday morning.

Supporters wept as she walked around thanking them in her cramped headquarters after they had waited until dawn for the final results.

“This is only the beginning,” said one elderly supporter wearing a T-shirt with her campaign slogan “We’re Okay!” printed on the back.

Otsuji, who served as a local legislator in the western city of Osaka for four years until April, has said her decision to become a politician was inspired by the pain and isolation of the five years it took her to accept that she was a lesbian.

She revealed her sexual orientation in 2005, and she made headlines in Japan in June when she married her long-time partner Maki Kimura in a non-legal commitment ceremony attended by friends, family and much of the national Japanese media.

She had vowed to promote a more diverse society and seek laws to prohibit discrimination, including against sexual minorities, and had planned to introduce a bill legalizing same-sex marriage.

Japanese media have increased coverage of sexual minority issues, but social acceptance remains limited and gays are still often shown as comic relief.

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