Written by Jun-ichi Ozaki / Translated by Luca Baici
ASTA is an NPO organization set up to raise awareness of issues surrounding sexual minorities. The support group is based in Aichi prefecture where is has held eighty “LGBTQ+ Visiting Class” lessons aimed at government administration, educational personnel, parents and students. At present it is also actively developing online classes and activities outside of Aichi PrefectureIn addition to “visiting classes”, based on the requests from companies and municipalities, the ASTA organization runs lecture meetings on LGBTQ+ topics, parent meetings for those who have an LGBTQ+ child, coming-of-age ceremonies in order to help people celebrate without the fear of prejudice. ASTA also manages “Nagoya aozora-bu”, an informal chat group of high school and university students.
“We want to add the LGBTQ+ teaching to the educational curriculum”. With this idea ASTA started it first activity in the city of Nagoya four years ago.
The origin of the name ASTA is “asterisk” and in Japanese this word is also called star. In the computer terminology, like excel, it means multiplicate. The name ASTA, thus, is filled with the sense of “multiplicate together all thoughts.”
This time, Voice Up Japan participated to one of ASTA “LGBTQ+ Online Visiting Class”. We asked the associate representative Matsuoka Seiko and the members of ASTA about what the essential things are in an LGBTQ+ education aimed at achieving a diverse society, and what the significance is of being an “ALLY”.
WHAT IS THE ALLYSHIP PROPOSED BY ASTA?
The motive that lay behind 55 years old Mrs. Matsuoka’s drive to launch ASTA was her experience with her son coming out as a gay when he was 20. The LGBTQ+ visiting classes are all about sharing these close experiences.
When Mrs. Matsuoka’s son came out, her first concerns were to the reason behind his declaration. Perhaps someone had said or done something to hurt him, or if he hated something about school.
What he replied shocked her: “You’re the first person who hurt me. Always asking if I’ve finally found a girlfriend. All I wanted is you to ask me if I met someone I like” he replied.
Mrs. Matsuoka had raised a child knowing nothing about LGBTQ+ issues. She had been aware however, that he’d never had any interest in what are commonly accepted conventional masculine interests, that her son was “passionate about pretty and lovely things”, and “had no interest into Super Sentai action figures”. So, as he’d now come out as a gay person, she had to start gathering knowledge about LGBTQ+ from zero.
People who know this process are the many “ALLIES” that are around us. The word brought from the English “Ally” indicates the members of the “LGBTQ+ community” who get close the side of concerned people, while sparing no efforts to help them spread awareness about sexual minorities.
Mrs. Matsuoka states that “being an ASTA ally means that anybody can be everybody’s ally”. This is how the concept of ASTA is explained during the lessons. “A lesbian person can be a transgender person’s ally. LGBT can be an ally for deaf people. Or people who use a wheelchair. It is not the case of giving a hand from above, nor supporting people from below. The ally is the one who stands next to you and walks side by side.”
The LGBTQ+ visiting classes start with a basic knowledge lesson about LGBTQ+ terminology, the proportion of the sexual minorities population (the same thing of inform about the ratio of left-handers or people who has a AB-type blood), and explaining some easy-to-approach facts that are “far more common that the six most popular surnames in Japan as Suzuki, Satō, Tanaka, Takahashi, Itō and Watanabe”, telling that “perhaps, in this class, almost all of the participants that may be your friends or acquaintances have these six surnames.”
Indeed, I too have some friends that have all of those surnames. I instinctively nod when I’ve understood again how close LGBTQ+ people are to me.
Mrs. Matsuoka is also keen to comment on the many voices that claim that “there are no LGBTQ+ people around” saying that: “simply because you don’t see them, it doesn’t mean there are no LGBTQ+ people around you”. She points out that, the reason for this behaviour is that people who are not concerned are moved by the preconceived notion that “they know nothing about LGBTQ+” or “there are no LGBTQ+ people around them”, leading to involuntary conduct, resulting to hurt LGBTQ+ people without even noticing it.
”For this reason people are afraid to not being accepted if they would confide as belonging to LGBTQ+ community. And so, they won’t do coming out. Right now, we’re falling deep into this circle where among LGBTQ+ people, there are some individuals who ‘rather than don’t speak they can’t speak up’ or ‘they don’t speak up because they don’t want to’”.
Thus, all of those parents who do not possess any knowledge about LGBTQ+, when suddenly finding themselves in an coming out situation of their child and in a complete lack any sort of mental preparedness, they reply to their child with the examples that follow:
- It would have been better if you hadn’t been born.
- Stop this nonsense! You’re disgusting!
- I’m sorry I gave birth to you.
- Other families make it a secret.
- Can it be healed?
- If you decide to undergo surgery, then leave this home!
After the shock caused by the suddenness of someone coming out subsides, many have said they’d forgotten they’d said such things.
There are a lot of education personnel in the LGBTQ+ visiting online class I’ve attended. A nursery school teacher who participated gave me this reason for their participation: “I’d like to teach my children to respect the diversity of lifestyles. I think adults tend to (forcibly) instil ideas to children, but I think what children should do is to think at their own comfortable learning way by playing and feeling free to have fun.”
At this point, one of the members of ASTA recounted to the nursery school teacher something they’d once heard from another teacher. “One of their male students was wearing a purple ribbon in their class. Girls in the class were commenting on how strange he looked because of the ribbon. The boy’s mother found out and came to the school. She wanted to know if her son was wrong in wearing the ribbon, or was it the behavior of the girls that was a problem. However, the teacher was not able to provide the mother with an answer.” The ASTA member thought this was a perfect opportunity to teach and learn about diversity. The ASTA member informed the nursery school teacher “regardless of it be wearing pants or ribbons, playing house, woodblock playing, or the jungle gym, it shouldn’t matter. Once we are told that something we like is bad, we start hiding it, and that starts in nursery school. Children should be able to say that they like what they like. And adults must recognise that.” The ASTA member reinforced that this was the society they wanted people to grow up in.
WHAT MEMBERS THINK OF THE ACTIVITIES
We asked to the member who enlisted in the organization: “what’s were their thoughts that are the driving force of their activities?”
- “I’d like to see an increase in the number of allies. I think it will be nice if the society could start accepting themselves, not only the kids but grown-ups too” (Terumama, 59 yo)
- “I’m a former nursing school teacher. Even inside the kindergarten there’s a lot of gender bias and the kids are living being surrounded by those. Firstly, I’d like the teachers to know more about LGBTQ+. Then I wish this knowledge would spread to the kindergarten teachers and parents in order to acknowledge the ‘signs of unsureness [about gender and other issues]’ left by the children.” (Makko, 31 yo)
- “I’m a middle school teacher. I wouldn’t like my children to being afflicted by the same problem I got when I was at their age. I’m participating to the activities with the hope that what we teach today to our children, they will spread this knowledge to others as they grow.” (Yukina, 44 yo)
- “I think what I can do is to be a role model, and increase the number of friends and adults who could straight face the thought of a child calling for help. I wish for a society where one can live safely no matter of one’s sexuality” (Yacchi, 25 yo)
THAT FEEL OF THROWING A PEBBLE INTO A POND
At last, I asked Mrs. Matsuoka how she feels when there are some accomplishments during an activity. She replied:
“When you throw a pebble into a pond, it creates small ripples. That’s how I feel now. I have no doubt that we created those ripples. And I hope for those ripples in the water will grow bigger, little by little”
“Ultimate goal of our activities is to make parents to get a chance to learn, for example, ‘LGBTQ+’ ‘Domestic violence’ ‘Poverty’ ‘Disability’ ‘Discrimination’ at the time of 6-month baby and 3-year-old child medical examination. Because that information is very important while raising a child, ‘I might be facing those situations’, or ‘my child or their friend might be facing one of those cases’. I want the current or future parents to have an opportunity to learn the things I wish I knew when I was raising my children. Most parents with infants undergo a health checkup at a health center. If we can have such a program incorporated into the baby’s medical examination process, that is the time we can finally feel that our activities have played a role.”
As a gay person, because of the current education for kids and young people, I don’t wish for people to have problems or suffer because their true self is considered “strange” or “weird”. For this reason, I earnestly want to tell you this: I will always wish that the day will come soon when people can grow up in a society where diversity is perceived as richness and having a variety of people will be a good thing, where society will say a strong NO to discriminatory speech.
Right now, for the realization of the diversity and inclusion that it is so necessary in Japan, we will really need a “society of allies” as indicated by ASTA.
The site of the ASTA NPO organization: https://asta.themedia.jp/