Tetsuko Kuroyanagi is a renowned Japanese celebrity and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. She is well known around the world both for her charitable work and her talk show “Tetsuko no Heya,” which holds a Guinness World Record for the highest number of broadcasts of a show with the same host. In 1981, she published a children’s book about her unconventional childhood education titled Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window, which became an instant bestseller in Japan. “We’re all the same. Let’s work together.” This is what the headmaster of her school taught her when she was growing up, and to this day she always keeps this in mind as a guiding principle in her life. The school she attended was a special school for all sorts of children, including those with disabilities. But the teachers never told her to give those children a helping hand. Instead they constantly reminded her: “We’re all the same.”
The concept of not discriminating against others and working together is a universal principle for dealing with many of the issues our society faces. These issues include those faced by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. The United States has designated the month of June as LGBT Pride Month to raise awareness about LGBT rights through various events. On June 7, U.S. Ambassador to Japan John V. Roos invited a number of proponents of LGBT rights from various fields to a reception at his official residence. Kuroyanagi was among the guests.
This year’s reception was especially celebratory in light of the significant progress made in promoting LGBT rights over the past few years. At the event, Ambassador Roos stressed that “LGBT rights are human rights,” and that it is vital for governments and citizens to begin dialogues on LGBT rights amid the rapidly changing situation surrounding the LGBT community.
Fashion model Kayo Sato also attended the reception. Sato was born as a male, but began living life as a female from the age of 14. She publicly revealed her gender when she was 21 because it was her dream to become a model as her “true self.” She wanted troubled young people to know about her situation and help them find the courage to go on living. Sato believes that since being an LGBT individual or having a gender identity disorder is just one of the many personal traits that humans possess, they shouldn’t feel like they are different from anyone else. She thinks they should express their individuality and find something to do that is unique. In the near future, Sato wants the world to become a place in which nobody is judged by their gender or personal history, and every single person can be accepted for who they are. She also hopes that words such as “gender identity disorder” and “LGBT” will disappear someday.
At the reception, a toast was proposed by Kanako Otsuji, a member of the House of Councillors* and the first Japanese Diet member to openly admit to being a homosexual. She said that she knew she was a lesbian by the time she was 18, but was unable to accept this reality until she was 23. Based on her own experience, Otsuji feels it is important to support LGBT individuals and not isolate them. She offered words of encouragement to young LGBT people, telling them they are “doing a great job” and saying that society can be changed if every individual changes their way of thinking. She said that her success in becoming a Diet member is one step toward changing society, referring to Harvey Milk, who was elected as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 after openly admitting he was gay. Otsuji said the seeds that were planted in the United States 36 years ago are now taking root in Japan. She also expressed the optimistic view that it will not be long before LGBT issues will be addressed in the political arena in Japan.
“Life is hard when you discriminate against or differentiate between people. You can live anywhere if you have an open mind,” says Kuroyanagi. The message of these three guests at the LGBT Pride Month reception is that we should aim to build a society that accepts difference and acknowledges LGBT people as unique individuals instead of discriminating against them.
*As of the House of Councillors election on June 21, 2013, Kanako Otsuji is no longer a Diet member.