Last fall, ABA Section of International Law's (SIL) Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Network (GIN) invited SOGI Director Skip Harsch to speak on an Ally Toolkit panel in Tokyo for the Section of International Law’s fall Conference. What was originally supposed to be CLE on the SOGI toolkit for the Conference but, trip and the experience became so much more and was truly amazing.
Japan is on the cusp of LGBT change. An extremely homogeneous society, or at least perceived to be, Japan has been slow to advance the rights of LGBT persons. Much in part due to there being so few ‘out’ people in the professional environment. However, this seems to be changing. Last year lawyers from top-tier domestic and international firms created the LGBT Lawyers and Allies Network (“LLAN”). A first of its kind legal group in Japan. ABA staff from the Rule of Law Initiative (ROLI) introduced GIN leadership to LLAN leaders which in turn led to my introduction. Two members from LLAN were also invited to speak on the Ally Toolkit panel. Through working with these individuals in preparing for the panel I was offered another speaking opportunity. One that would present the SOGI Ally Toolkit to attorneys, HR staff, and others from top Tokyo law firms and corporations.
The night of my arrival was LLAN’s first ever Equality Gala. In attendance were both ABA President Kline and Immediate Past President Brown, Betsy Anderson from ROLI, the Hon. Justice Kirby (former Justice of the High Court of Australia), ABA SIL Chair Sara Sandford, and past ABA GIN leaders Kirstin Dodge and Joseph Smallhoover. It was like watching history unfold. For the first time LGBT Japanese professionals were discussing and celebrating being out in the work place. But it also was sobering. I realized that Japan has a long way to go. Many attendees were quick to point out that they were not members of LLAN.
The day after the Gala was the presentation of the SOGI Ally toolkit to more than 50 attorneys, HR staff, and others. The event was hosted by Nishimura & Asahi. Again, this was a first of its kind for Tokyo and Japan. While many corporations and firms have done internal diversity training, this was the first time individuals were gathered together to learn about LGBT Ally training. Our panel did a fantastic job relating the aspects of the toolkit in to Japanese culture. Additionally, many of our materials were translated in to Japanese. Possibly a good start to the International Ally toolkit. Again, I learned much from this presentation. Many of the ideas and exercises were new to the attendees. And some they may just not be ready for.
Friday was the SIL conference panel. It was a wonderful opportunity to present the SOGI Ally toolkit and SOGI’s work on Model rule 8.4. But what was truly enlightening was to hear from three Japanese professionals about the state of LGBT rights in the professional context and as it relates to marriage equality. Speaking of which, LLAN also prepared and published a Foreign Law Report on Equal Marriage. The report included a letter from Immediate Past President Brown as well as information on all of the LGBT policies and resolutions passed by the ABA.
It is my hope that SOGI can build upon these events and opportunities and continue to be a valuable resource for LLAN and the LGBT people of Japan moving forward. With the help of ROGI and other potential external organizations we are poised to be able to help Japan’s LGBT individuals in a very positive way.