The Tokyo Rainbow Parade took place on April 27th, and by all accounts it was a huge success. It is being reported now, for the first time, that the annual event dedicated to the advancement of the LGBT community in Japan had one surprising, special guest. Her name is Akie Abe, wife of conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Japan may seem like a modern place, with all the technology and crazy fashion that comes out from it, but that's where the modernity stops, as Japan is still a mostly conservative country with very traditional values. Gay rights, for example, are virtually nonexistent. It is very difficult for a gay man or woman to be open, especially if he or she belongs to the mainstream or corporate environment. Of course, you may be surrounded by open, liberal people in your life, but that is all case by case. Homosexuality is still shunned, and many still think it's funny or consider it to be not normal. It's like gay people are almost thought of as caricatures of themselves, as if they are a funny stereotype.

Funny coming from a country with a history of homosexuality. Samurai were known to have young, kabuki actors and the like as lovers. It exists just like it does in every culture, but people in Japan just are expected to play certain roles within the society. Homosexuality is mostly thought of as not being normal, but drunk, impetuous homosexual actions are laughed at. It's strange.

So when Akie Abe, wife of conservative Prime Minister Abe showed up at April's Tokyo Rainbow Parade, the participants and people in the crowd took notice. They cheered as she waved from atop a float, in full support of the rights of the LGBT community in Japan. The community is shockingly under-represented, and to have the First Lady proudly show her support, I'm sure means the world to many. "Through my work with UNAIDS and the Lancet Foundation (international AIDS commission), I've met and been supported by so many wonderful people. When they told me about this parade, I wanted to show them my support," she said. "There are so many different types of people, we are all different. If we can all accept and respect our differences, that to me is the ideal kind of society."

A the time, all of this was not reported in Japan. It made the airwaves on French pubic radio RFI and was also picked up by AP and Reuters. The story made it into Japanese media a few days ago.

15,000 partying supporters and members of the Japanese LGBT community, and among them was the First Lady. It's a pretty good start.



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