Beginning with its revival in 11th grade, I have enjoyed being a part of the LGBTQ+ Human Rights group. Our main mission is to increase awareness of LGBTQ+ issues in our school and take steps to make our community, both local and global, a more tolerant and informed place. I initially wanted to be a part of this group because I felt that it would be a service opportunity in which it would be easy to engage with the community in need (this is also what inspired me to join my other service activity, Van der Poel, as it grants students the opportunity to form relationships with the children in local orphanages). During our first year, most of our accomplishments were limited to within our school community, but we have started to reach out to a local volunteer organization that helps particularly non-Japanese members of the LGBTQ+ community, Stonewall Japan.
At the beginning of the year, we wanted to make YIS a more tolerant school community, because while it is generally very open-minded, it was apparent that the majority of the school was not very informed about local issues to do with LGBTQ+ safety and rights. For example, because of Japan’s generally traditional culture, same-sex marriage is scarcely recognised in the country. Throughout the year, we hosted events for several occasions, including both bisexual and asexual awareness weeks, LGBTQ+ history month and anti-LGBTQ+ bullying awareness day.
During the Food Fair we also had our own stall to spread awareness among the school and local communities. We provided the visitors with informative pamphlets and stickers that we designed and created. The stickers seemed to be quite a successful way of letting people know that our group, though new, existed, as we ran out of the few hundred that we had ordered. A difficulty that we were afraid of having to face was being able to promote a safe environment to the YIS community while still respecting other people’s religious or cultural beliefs. Luckily, this has not been a big issue so far, and we have managed to represent our school in the wider community as well.
Upon finding an Amnesty International petition urging the Chechen government to stop the abduction, torturing and killing of their gay men, we made announcements letting the school know about this issue. We then filled over four pages with signatures from members of the school community for the petition, shedding light on some of the more serious current issues that the LGBTQ+ community faces internationally, and allowing people to make a difference even from a distance.
Finally, to finish up the school year we took part in the Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade, marching on behalf of the school. We painted a banner with the YIS logo and went with a group of students, teachers and parents and really enjoyed marching through Shibuya for about an hour. Our photos were ultimately featured in a few different Japanese newspapers, including Asahi and the Huffington Post, highlighting the impact that our participation had on the recognition of the international LGBTQ+ community in Japan.
So far my experiences in this group have opened my eyes to the power that we possess to make a difference, whether that be simply within a school or on an international level. Our first year gave us the opportunity to test out numerous events and activities and figure out what worked most effectively to achieve our goals. We have already made a noticeable impression on the school, as our group was voted to be involved in the fundraising during the Live Aid concert in spring of 2017. On a personal level, my participation with this group has taught me the power of community and encouraged me to make a conscious effort to be more open-minded, especially toward marginalized groups within the LGBTQ+ community that are often overlooked. I think that this experience helped me to become a more mature learner that recognizes the magnitude of both the struggles and successes of minority groups in general, and I can definitely say that I am proud of the change inspired by this group, as it not only taught me a lot about myself in the process, but also taught me how to teach others. My newfound interests and passion for social justice has accompanied my personal growth, and I hope to use this to spread positivity in the future. In my experience so far, this group has inspired a personal cycle of curiosity and growth. I hope that I will continue to learn in the future, and I expect that this experience will have affected my approach to conflict resolution and outlook on the world once I leave the community at YIS that I have belonged to for so long. I look forward to continuing to lead the group next year and interacting more closely with organizations outside of YIS.