For LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) individuals in the UK, pretending to have a heterosexual partner to workmates and bosses seems thankfully nonsensical, but in Japan it's a reality many face everyday.
At Lush, We Believe In Love. This isn't just a catchy saying, it's the latest campaign by our team in Japan to promote the celebration of all forms of love in their society and overturn the public prejudice and legal disadvantages that LGBT individuals experience. Chika Maruta, our Charity and Campaign Supervisor in Japan, explains:
What is life like for LGBT individuals living in Japan?
It really depends on each person. Having said that, data shows that one in every 20 people (5.2%) in Japan belong to a sexual minority, but only a few come out of closet at school and work. This can be attributed to the fact that the awareness level and understanding of sexual minorities is relatively low.
Survey data shows that about 70% of sexual minorities have experienced some sort of bullying at school (from 1st grade to 12th grade) and 30% have attempted suicide.
I have heard of many cases where lesbians and gays have to hide their real private lives and pretend that they have a heterosexual partner when asked by colleagues and bosses, which is very stressful.
Recently, one of the major newspapers, Mainichi, conducted a survey on marriage equality, which is very pioneering (for us in Japan). To explain briefly, there were more respondents who responded in support of marriage equality than those who opposed it (44% supported marriage equality, 39% opposed it and 17% declined to answer). The demographics of those who supported marriage equality were women, young people and those who live in larger cities. The majority of those who opposed were men and older generations.
The impetus behind the survey was a historical bill introduced in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo. If the bill is passed, Shibuya will become the first municipality in Japan to issue a "partnership certificate" to same-sex couples.
In what ways are the LGBT community currently legally disadvantaged by the Japanese government?
Legally speaking, as same-sex marriage has not been legalized and there is no municipality that accepts civil partnership, same-sex couples don’t have same rights and cannot receive the same social security services from government, such as tax exemption, succession of property, and custody.
While there are now more services provided for same-sex couples in the private sector than ever before - for example cell phone company’s family discount plans and LGBT-friendly wedding venues and companies - there have been many cases of same-sex couples denied the right to rent a house and denied visitation of their partners at hospitals because they are not legally married.
Please could you tell us about the ‘We Believe In Love Campaign’ you ran. What internal changes did Lush Japan make and what external events happened?
This year’s We Believe In Love campaign focused on LGBT issues/topics in Japan, whereas last year’s campaign was about raising our voice against Russia’s anti-gay law.
At shops, we collected pledges from customers on signboards showing support towards all forms of love. In addition, we collected pledges on Change.org to show support toward LGBT-friendly initiatives implemented by pioneering municipalities across Japan. During 3 weeks of the campaign period, we collected 18,000 pledges and delivered those pledges (and therefore the voices of our customers) to the 7 municipalities.
Internally, Lush Japan has implemented the following three things:
We began implementing Partner Registration, which allows staff in same-sex relationships to benefit from the same incentives and bonuses as heterosexual couples. This includes providing equal treatment to all staff in difficult circumstances and granting compassionate leave.
‘Gender identity’ and ‘Sexual Orientation’ were also added as non-discriminatory clauses of our recruitment policy. The gender section of our job application form was removed and we have added ‘other’ in the gender section of our online member registration form (in the past, there was only ‘man’ and ‘woman’).
Towards the end of the campaign, we invited over 30 media representatives to a press events with our Charity Pot partner, a former politician and transgender figure in Japan.
What was the response from staff and customers like?
We had some fantastic feedback from staff and customers across the business such as:
'First try: a shop staff told us that they run this LGBT campaign, and I just told her “I see...” and my partner was watching this from distance. Second try: I told the shop staff that I am gay and told her thank you for doing this campaign. When I told her that I am from Fukushima, she introduced Lush’s charity program and FunD. I was able to draw a heart-shaped pledge on board successfully this time.'
‘I hope one day same-sex partners can live free from fear and all rights are guaranteed regardless of one’s sexuality. Thank you, Lush!’
‘It felt as if time had stopped for a moment when I found out about this campaign. There are people who take action for us! I want more people to realise that LGBT people are not just on TV. We live in the same apartment as you closely. I hope one day our society will be free from bias and prejudice towards sexual minorities.’
‘We were able to have productive conversations with customers and saw light bulbs went off in their heads with smiles. I have LGBT friends who have gone through a lot and who have fear and anxiety towards society. Being part of this campaign has taught me the important of embracing equal rights to love, and to respect all love because I can only talk to customers about what I really understand and believe. Ultimately, I want all the customers visiting our shops to leave with smiles.’
Do you have a favourite highlight from the campaign?
The highlight was that a lot of shop staff observed that the campaign had an impact on customers. One shop turned into a community space where LGBT people and non-LGBT customers met. Shops located in the cities where we submitted pledges were able to meet with local LGBT groups and members at shops. Also, thanks to Lush and the pledge delivery, local LGBT groups and activists were able to meet with local government officials and develop relationships.
What’s next for Lush Japan in support of LGBT rights?
The above-mentioned Shibuya’s move would be a key. If the bill is passed, local shops might have celebratory week and push other municipalities to follow Shibuya. We are planning to join Tokyo Rainbow Pride at the end of April. After that, it is very likely that staff want to run another LGBT-support campaign next year around Valentine’s Day. I don’t think it would be too early to ask for marriage equality then!
Update (31/03/2015): In a landmark move for Japan, Shibuya ward in Tokyo has become the first locale in the country to recognise same-sex marriage! As of 1st April 2015, the bill will take effect, so it's a celebratory day for all of our Japan team.