Last Sunday, Reisen Park played host to the third annual Kyushu Rainbow LGBTQ+ Pride event and parade.
Buoyed by good weather, there was an atmosphere of excitement in the park. The mood was vibrant but friendly and welcoming. From 10:00, there was a steady stream of people, and by noon the park was full of visitors, many of them fabulously attired, exploring the stalls or watching the entertainment on the big stage. Highlights included a dance number by members of the Fukuoka Ladies’ Rugby Club, and a moving wedding celebration. Although same-sex unions are currently only permitted in a small number of wards and cities, such as Tokyo’s Shibuya and Setagaya wards, the ceremony was a touching promise of progress to come. As well as rainbow flags, transgender and bisexual flags were proudly flying, highlighting the diversity of the community.
Local and foreign residents turned out in force and it was lovely to see groups mixing and getting to know one another. Many conversations were sparked over questions about some of the fantastic outfits on display. Meanwhile, others mingled whilst perusing the stalls, sharing a pizza or bonding during the march itself. The event had a relaxed family atmosphere, and people of all ages turned up to enjoy themselves. There were even some rather flamboyantly dressed dogs milling through the crowd.
A great mix of organisations were there to show support. Some, like Stonewall Japan, promote LGBTQ+ rights, whilst others were representing local LGBTQ+ social groups. The U.S Consulate was on hand to provide information about LGBTQ+ friendly universities in the United States, and show support for the parade from the local U.S community.
It was good to see lots of local companies in attendance, enthusiastically waving their rainbow flags. Staff from the Hilton Fukuoka Sea Hawk hotel, Lifenet Insurance and AIG Insurance all joined in the parade and demonstrated their businesses to be diverse and progressively-minded. There was representation from other LGBTQ+ friendly hotels, both Fukuoka based and from further afield – from sunny Okinawa to the shores of Canada.
It is this participation from all sections of society; individuals, the public and the private sector that will hasten the end of discrimination against people due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The march itself set off at 13:00 and, in true Japanese style, was flawlessly organised, with groups departing at intervals to avoid congestion. The excitement was palpable as the train of people left Reisen Park, spurred on by the usual musical suspects; Chaka Khan, Katy Perry and of course ABBA. Thankfully, friendly drag queens were on hand to keep the crowd moving.
As the parade proceeded through the city towards Tenjin and then back to Reisen Park, morale was high. The array of flags, balloons and banners meant that, for onlookers, a veritable sea of colour was making its way down Fukuoka’s main thoroughfares. It was particularly uplifting to see many people, of all ages and walks of life, waving cheerfully, stopping to take selfies, and occasionally even sneaking in to join the march. At one stage a whole bus full of people stood up to dance along to a Lady Gaga song blaring out of a balloon filled truck.
Positive reactions like these were heartening as they suggest that Fukuoka residents are supportive of the LGBTQ+ community and are proud to be hosting Kyushu Pride. The march was made seamless thanks to the help of the police and enthusiastic volunteers, whose t-shirts were adorned with messages of diversity and inclusion. Stickers with the famous ‘It gets better’ message were being circulated and, given the success of the event, that slogan has a renewed sense of promise for those in attendance.
Ashton, a volunteer from the United States, spoke of the importance of Pride for shining light on LGBTQ+ issues: “Pride is key to getting information out there. This event has drawn people from all nine of Kyushu’s prefectures. LGBTQ+ issues can easily go ignored in Japan, so it’s important to get the concept of Pride out there”. We also spoke with others from Nagasaki and Kumamoto and it was great to see that attendees felt that the event was for all of Kyushu to enjoy.
One American JET program participant, Greg, told us of Pride’s importance when addressing the erasure of LGBTQ+ concerns: “This is only the third year of Kyushu Pride, so it’s fantastic to see many people here, especially young people. Just hosting an event like this is huge progress and it keeps getting bigger every year. This is a big deal as Pride events provide young people struggling with their sexuality with positive role models and hope for the future. It says ‘okay, I can do this and I can be proud of myself’”.
These comments capture the day’s ambition and optimism, resonating with the sense of unity between participants, irrespective of background, nationality or sexual orientation.
Tim, originally from South Africa and currently a student at Japan University of Economics, commented on the importance of Pride events to the LGBTQ+ community: “What a fabulous event Fukuoka Pride is. When so many young LGBTQ+ people continue to face the prospect of rejection from their families because of who they are, it is vital that there are spaces that allow people to feel supported and loved as part of a wider family. I hope Kyushu Pride continues to go from strength to strength.”
Given the popularity of Kyushu Pride 2016, there is every reason to believe that next year’s event will be even more successful.
Photos and text by William Carter and Joe Fell for Fukuoka Now. Written Nov. 2016