TOKYO (Reuters) - Taiga Ishikawa has an uphill battle in his bid to become Japan’s only openly gay member of parliament, but hopes his campaign for Sunday’s general election will raise awareness in a nation where gay rights hardly get a nod in the mainstream political agenda.
Ishikawa is keen for his candidacy, which has attracted considerable attention on the Internet, to help others in Japan’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community come out of the closet.
“It is said that 3 to 5 percent of the population in Japan is LGBT. I would like to think that these people could use their vote to tell the nation that they exist,” Ishikawa told Reuters in an interview on the campaign trail.
Apart from lesbian Kanako Otsuji, who briefly filled a vacancy in the upper house in 2013 after the incumbent died, Japan has had no openly gay lawmakers at the national level.
Ishikawa, 40, is running in a Tokyo district from the tiny opposition Social Democratic Party in a lower house poll that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition is expected to win hands down. Media projections show the SDP may be obliterated by the ruling bloc landslide.
The author of a popular book, “Where’s My Boyfriend”, that described his feelings of isolation from mainstream society, Ishikawa got his start in politics as an aide to the then-leader of the Social Democratic Party.
Homosexuality is not a crime in Japan but many members of the LGBT community face discrimination in schools, workplace and home and prefer to hide their true identities.
According to an Ipsos poll for Reuters, only 5 percent of Japanese say they know someone who is LGBT, compared to 60 or 70 percent in most Western nations.
“Most (of the LGBT community) are invisible and LGBT issues have never made it into the political discussion,” said LGBT activist Kazuhiro Terada of Equal Marriage Alliance (EMA).
EMA is working to change that and has compiled a list of 20 candidates who have openly expressed support for LGBT rights. Another group, Partnership Law Japan, added an another 10. That was out of more than 1,000 people running in Sunday’s poll.
Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Nick Macfie