TOKYO (AP) – Japanese soccer player Kumi Yokoyama said she was transgender – a revelation praised in the US, where they play in the National Women’s Soccer League, but an identity that is not legally recognized in Japan.
The 27-year-old Washington Spirit striker said he was more comfortable with his own gender identity in the United States, where teammates and friends are more open to gender and sexual diversity.
“I’m coming out now,” said Yokoyama in a video talk on former teammate Yuki Nagasato’s YouTube channel. “I want to stop playing football in the future and live as a man.”
Yokoyama’s unveiling was praised by President Joe Biden.
“To Carl Nassib and Kumi Yokoyama – two celebrity, inspiring athletes who came out this week: I am so proud of your courage. Because of you, countless children around the world see themselves in a new light, “tweeted Biden. Nassib is the first active NFL player to come out gay.
Support and awareness of gender and sexual diversity has slowly grown in Japan, but LGBTQ people have no legal protection and are often discriminated against, resulting in many hiding their sexual identities. An equality law promoted by human rights groups was recently repealed due to opposition from the conservative ruling party.
Transgender people in Japan must also have their reproductive organs removed in order for their gender to be recognized in official documents – a requirement that human rights and medical groups criticize as inhuman and unnecessary and say it should end.
Yokoyama said they weren’t excited about coming out, but that it was a decision she made while pondering the future and that it would be harder to live closed off. “I would not have got out in Japan,” they said.
They thanked their teammates, friends and girlfriend for their support and courage.
Yokoyama played for Japan at the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France and moved from Japanese club AC Nagano Parceiro to Washington Spirit.
Yokoyama said they were feeling strong pressure to adjust and remain closed in Japan, but hoped to live as a man and raise awareness of sexual minorities in Japan after retiring from professional football players.
“The word LGBTQ is becoming more familiar and seen (in the media) in Japan, but I think awareness won’t grow unless people like me come out and speak out,” Yokoyama said.
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