TOKYO (Reuters) - Tokyo will open Pride House, Japan's first permanent such centre, next month to raise awareness of LGBTQ rights before and during the rearranged Olympic Games in 2021.
Although there have been similar initiatives before previous Games, organisers said Pride House Tokyo, which will open its doors on International Coming Out Day on October 11, is the first to get official International Olympic Committee backing.
"Pride House Tokyo aims to educate the world and also Japan of the difficulties the LGBTQ community has playing and enjoying sports ... while helping create a safe space for the community too," Pride House Tokyo said in a statement on Monday.
It is traditional for most nations competing at the Olympics to have a hospitality 'house', where they promote their country and hold parties for winning athletes.
Gon Matsunaka, the head of Good Ageing Yells, one of the organisations supporting the project, said Japan lags behind many other developed nations when it comes to LGBTQ rights.
"Many people might think that Japan is a human rights defender, but actually there are no laws to protect LGBTQ people," Matsunaka told Reuters via email.
"Society is filled with prejudice, discrimination and harassment towards LGBTQ community."
"While we have to change the sports arena, we also hope Pride House Legacy can help change society as a whole as well."
Gay marriage is illegal in Japan and although about two dozen cities, towns and wards issue same-sex partnership certificates, they lack legal standing and prejudice persists.
Fumino Sugiyama, a former fencer for the Japanese national team who now identifies as a man, said little had changed in 15 years since retiring from professional sport.
"Even now looking around, there are few LGBTQ athletes that live their lives openly and that is the reality here in Japan," Sugiyama told a news briefing to launch Pride House Tokyo.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Alexander Smith)
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