By Sonia Elks
LONDON, Jan 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Japanese lesbian couple plan to stage wedding photos in every country around the world where same-sex marriage is legal in a push to increase understanding of LGBT+ communities at home, they said on Wednesday.
Students Misato Kawasaki, 21, and Mayu Otaki, 22, hope to give other LGBT+ people confidence in their identity and raise awareness of issues such as the lack of equal marriage in Japan.
"Through this project, I want to cheer up a lot of people that there is nothing to be ashamed of just because you are a sexual minority," Otaki told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"It is important to speak out but unless many people take an interest, then I do not think society will change."
Japan's laws on LGBT+ issues are relatively liberal compared to many Asian countries, with homosexual sex legal since 1880, but being openly gay remains largely taboo.
Same-sex marriage is not legal, though in some areas gay couples can get a certificate that allows them similar rights to married couples.
Kawasaki had struggled with her feelings for women, initially believing it was the "natural course" to be attracted to boys, she wrote on a fundraising page for the project.
"Even now, it is hard to come out as a lesbian to friends who don't know our project. That is because I am scared to find out what the other person thinks," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"However, once I started coming out, it got better because I no longer had to lie to myself or my friends."
The couple, who are both students at Utsunomiya University, around 75 miles (120 km) north of Tokyo, decided to travel to all 25 countries worldwide with marriage equality in a bid to increase awareness over the lack of equal marriage.
At the end of 2018, 25 nations recognised same-sex marriage, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) data, up from 24 a year ago.
Their "26 times wedding" project will take them to countries including Argentina, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, and Iceland but they will also visit Taiwan for a 26th "ceremony."
The island nation is the scene of a heated debate over marriage equality after the constitutional court ruled in 2017 that gay couples must be given equal rights to wed within two years. (Full Story)
However, more than two-thirds of voters have said marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman in a referendum in November, leading to fears that proposals for equal marriage rights may be watered down.
At each stop the couple will stage mock wedding photos, which will be posted on social media, and carry out interviews with local LGBT+ campaigners and experts.
The couple only has about 1,000 followers on Instagram so far but has been the subject of numerous press stories.
"At the moment, LGBTQ+ people are not familiar to the Japanese. So we would like different people to look at the wedding photos we take and put on Instagram, and then think about the issue," said Kawasaki.
(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; additional reporting by Megan Rowling. Editing by Jason Fields. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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