Nearly half of Japan’s LGBTQ+ teens have considered suicide sometime in the past year, according to a survey published earlier this week.
Tokyo-based LGBTQ+ non-profit ReBit found that 48.1 percent of queer and trans teens in Japan thought about committing suicide within the past year, and 14 percent made an attempt. These numbers were 3.8 and 4.1 times higher respectively among LGBTQ+ teens compared to teens as a whole. Both proportions are higher than those for queer Japanese people in their 20s and their 30s.
Per the survey’s data, these numbers could potentially be related to a lack of social support. The study found that an overwhelming 91.6 percent of LGBTQ+ teens said they could not talk openly about their sexuality to their parents or guardians. And 93.6 percent of the students surveyed said they could not talk openly about their experiences with their teachers. This further affected their performance in school: LGBTQ+ students in junior and senior high schools are, respectively, 5.4 and 10.6 times more likely to skip classes than their peers.
The survey also found that 70.7 percent of LGBTQ+ students in junior high, senior high and university said they had unpleasant experiences in school, including seeing others mock queer people; 33.6 percent of LGBTQ+ students reported similar negative experiences with school staff and teachers. For respondents under 20 years of age, 56.1 percent experienced psychological distress on par with mood disorders over the previous month.
“Every time my parents asked me, ‘You’re not on that side, are you?’ I suffered pain when I laughed and lied, ‘That’s impossible,’” wrote an 18-year-old survey respondent, referring to “those on that side,” a derogatory way for Japanese people to refer to queerness. “Even at home, I can’t be myself,” they wrote.
Japan’s proportion of LGBTQ+ teens who have considered suicide is slightly higher than that of the U.S., which currently stands at 45 percent, according to LGBTQ2S+ youth non-profit The Trevor Project. These numbers are similar to those of neighbouring countries, such as South Korea (where 45.9 percent of queer female teens and 33.7 percent of queer male teens have considered suicide) and China (where 40 percent of queer students have reported suicidal thoughts).
Despite the hardships experienced by queer Japanese teenagers, there are signs that the country is shifting to be more LGBTQ+-inclusive. Last week, Tokyo started issuing partnership certificates to same-sex couples, joining around 200 other municipalities. The certificate will allow those couples to have the same rights as married couples for certain public services, such as housing, healthcare and welfare, though it is not an equivalent to marriage equality, as it cannot be used for adoption, inheritance and spousal visas. Anyone over 18 who lives or works in Tokyo is eligible to apply, and as of last Friday, 137 applications had already been submitted.
Japan is currently the only G7 country that doesn’t recognize same-sex unions, a ruling that was recently reaffirmed by a district court in Osaka. However, a recent survey conducted by Japan’s public broadcaster suggested that 57 percent of Japanese people are in favour of same-sex marriage.
Same-sex sexual activity in Japan has been legal since 1880, with the same age of consent as for heterosexual sexual activity. It was only criminalized briefly between 1872 and 1880. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is banned in some major cities, including Tokyo, though it is not banned in the entire country.
“LGBTQ+ people need stress-free places where they can talk about their sexuality,” said Mika Yakushi, ReBit’s representative director in an interview with Japan Times. “Schools and local communities need to establish support systems that can respond to troubles facing LGBTQ+ students.”