'Rainbow marks' removed from Japan public toilets, following LGBT privacy concerns

People attending the annual Tokyo Rainbow Parade on May 6, 2018, to show support for members of the LGBT community. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Signage at public restrooms in Japan indicating that they are gender neutral have been removed, following outcry from the LGBT community that they were being outed against their will when using such restrooms.

The "rainbow marks" were originally put up in consideration of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. They were widely introduced ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

However, some have been removed because of embarrassment expressed by some LGBT people, saying that using restrooms with the marks may lead to people being outed against their will.

The Hotel Granvia Kyoto, located next to JR Kyoto Station, put up pictographs in October 2015 showing half a man and half a woman drawn together with a rainbow mark, an internationally known symbol for sexual diversity. Its intention was for LGBT people to feel comfortable using the restrooms.

"We considered the opinions of LGBT people, who said they feel hesitant about entering restrooms that are just for either men or women," a hotel official said.

Nijiiro Diversity, an Osaka-based non-profit organisation supporting LGBT people, and LIXIL Corp, a Tokyo-based major housing equipment manufacturer, conducted a survey in 2015 of about 600 LGBT people. About half of the respondents said they had trouble using restrooms in public places.

One respondent said it is also difficult to use multipurpose restrooms meant for people with disabilities or those with children, saying: "I feel uncomfortable when I encounter disabled people and people with children."

Therefore, efforts to display the rainbow marks at multipurpose restrooms began spreading.

The Osaka City government put the marks on public restrooms in Yodogawa Ward in fiscal 2014, before the rest of the city. Last fiscal year, the number of public restrooms with the marks increased to about 240 across the city.

The Takarazuka city government in Hyogo Prefecture installed the marks at about 90 locations in March last year. Similar measures have already been seen in the United States and Europe.

Hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020, during which inbound foreign tourists are expected to increase, has apparently encouraged efforts to install the rainbow marks.

However, the Osaka city government removed them in March this year, and the Takarazuka city government replaced them with stickers saying, "Everybody can use this".

They were prompted by concerns raised at a conference to consider restrooms for LGBT people that was held in Kyoto in February. About 40 LGBT people and other participants spoke about the issue.

One person said: "Entering restrooms with the marks is no different from coming out."

Another said: "I want to use restrooms that match my gender identity."

An Osaka city government official said: "This was outside the scope of our assumptions. What's important is that they can use restrooms without concern, and we decided that we don't need to stick to just using the marks."

The government of Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, has also displayed the rainbow marks at restrooms inside the ward office building since 2015. But the ward government said it is also reconsidering whether the marks are necessary.

LIXIL established a joint study panel on this issue in August last year with universities and other companies. A LIXIL official said: "We want to propose what public restrooms should be like so that everybody can easily use them."

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