Photo/IllutrationRyutaro Nagata, right, who heads the Shibuya ward government’s gender equality and diversity promotion division, presents written requests by LGBT participants of an event at the Shibuya Cultural Center Owada in Tokyo on Nov. 29. (Kenji Tsuji)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Most were strangers to each other, ranging from their teens to the 60s, but they spontaneously began interacting together and talking about each other’s circumstances.

Some 20 people turned up on the afternoon of Nov. 29 in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward for the first in a new series of regular events to allow sexual minorities--collectively known as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people--to meet up and talk with one another.

“LGBT people have few opportunities to talk about their everyday lives,” said Ryutaro Nagata, 41, the head of the ward government’s gender equality and diversity promotion division, who has openly declared that he is gay. “So many opinions (presented at the meeting) called for a venue that would allow people to talk without feeling emotionally pressured, so we will be developing services that will meet those demands.”

Shibuya is the first local government in Japan to officially recognize same-sex couples. The government of the capital’s Shibuya Ward has issued “partnership certificates,” the first of the kind in Japan, to 16 same-sex couples until Dec. 6 since it began recognizing partners living together in November 2015.

The first event was held at Shibuya Gender Equality-Diversity Center, also called “Iris,” in the Sakuragaokacho district of the ward, not far from Shibuya Station.

The occasion was the first in a series of events, which the ward government plans to organize on a monthly basis, of a community space named “#Shibuya ni Kakeru Niji” (#rainbow over Shibuya).

During the inaugural event, Fumino Sugiyama, 35, co-representative of Tokyo Rainbow Pride, a nonprofit organization that is commissioned by the ward government to operate the community space, talked about similar programs being undertaken around the world. He explained, among other things, about a U.S. facility for LGBT people, which has more than 100 million yen ($852,000) in its annual budget, and about the situation in Japan.

His talk was followed by a group session, where the participants exchanged ideas on ideal LGBT meet-up venues.

The participants wrote their thoughts and suggestions on sticky notes, which they posted on whiteboards.

“It would be great if a circle of LGBT people were to expand into a fun circle that allows carefree discussions,” one of the notes said.

“I want there to be a venue for bringing forth ideas, instead of just talking about difficulties of the past and present,” said another.

The meeting lasted for about three hours.

“Attention has been focused on the partnership certificates alone, but there are LGBT people suffering from day to day,” said Sugiyama, who has published a book on his own gender identity disorder. “I think this program has a strength in that it allows requests to be conveyed directly to public officials.”