【Report】The First BreakTalks – LGBTQ+ – (Guest Speaker: Airi Murakami) on June 15th, 2021.

On June 15th (Tuesday), S.C.P. Japan held the first BreakTalks event. To celebrate Pride Month, we invited a professional rugby player, Airi Murakami, as our guest speaker. She made an official announcement of having a same gender partner in April this year. The theme of the event was “Sexual Orientation, Gender Indentity and Expression (SOGIE) and Sports – Importance of an environment where people can play in their own way and how each of us can contribute to a more inclusive society.”

Currently Murakami is playing for the Yokohama Musashino Artemi Stars, a rugby team in Tokyo, but until 2015, she was a basketball player at the Akita Bank of the East Japan Regional League. In 2019, she competed and represented Japan as a rugby player in an international match of rugby union (a 15-person rugby) game . In April this year, she publicly announced that she has a same gender partner, which was the first time for a national representative elite athlete to do so. She also actively advocates for LGBTQ+ rights on social media, including the legalization of same gender marriage, and positively interacts through online platforms with those who struggle with sexual orientation and gender identity, and stereotypes and prejudices based on gender.

In the first half of the event, Machi Orime, an intern at SCP Japan, interviewed Murakami about her experience, her thoughts on coming out as an athlete and what she thinks about the society we live in as well as the world of sports. 

What made you decide to come out?

Ever since I was a kid, I have been tired of hiding my sexuality and worrying about it. I always wanted to be open about it. When I joined my current rugby team, my coach and teammates accepted me and my sexuality in such a laid-back manner. Also, my current partner is open about her sexuality and she was in favor of me coming out. I have also left the national team due to an injury, so the circumstances are less restrictive for me now. These days it is also easier to make personal statements on social media. I thought this is the time to do it.

I happened to make the decision to come out, but the decision is up to a LGBTQ+ individual as to how or what coming out should be. Why do we even need to come out in the first place? I believe that the ideal society is one where coming out is not necessary, where people can talk about their lovers and partners regardless of their sexuality and gender identity.

What struggles did you face with your sexuality and what messages can you share with others who are doing through a similar process?

When I was in high school, I experienced bullying and rejection by people around me because of my sexuality. My mother and friends at school supported me through these hard times. Also, the coach of my current team is someone who warmly accepts me for who I am, and that positively influences the atmosphere of the team and teammates. It has made me feel that the entire team is accepting and that I am in a safe place. This inspires me to be the person who can do the same for others. When I was being bullied, I had thought that being a LGBTQ+ was my weakness, but now I think it is a part of my unique personality.

If you are worried about your sexuality, we encourage you to talk to other LGBTQ+ individuals. I think that the LGBTQ+ community has grown much larger, and there are more opportunities to connect with others. I didn’t have the opportunity to get counseling when I was having a hard time, so I would like to help children who are in the same position as I was, to receive the counseling. We are currently offering free consultation through social media, so please do get in touch.

In the second half, we had a discussion with Murakami and the participants. The participants brought diverse backgrounds and experiences with them, such as those who were not familiar with the situation and problems surrounding LGBTQ+, those who are not interested in sports, and those who are involved in teaching competitive sports. 

Participants asked various questions, “How can we support LGBTQ+ players?” “ Murakami said she felt warmly welcomed by the team when joining the team, but it is hard for LGBTQ+ athletes to know if a team is going to be LGBTQ+ friendly before joining. Others asked, “ given this circumstance, how can I show that the team I coach is LGBTQ+ friendly and actively welcome LGBTQ+ athletes?”  Other questions included, “what kind of practical consideration should be given when interacting with LGBTQ+ athletes in everyday life?” In response, Murakami shared her experience and opinions. In addition, participants actively exchanged opinions among themselves, and it was a great opportunity for all to think about LGBTQ+ and diversity and to learn what others think about it.

Finally, Murakami introduced the concept of an “LGBTQ+ ally”, someone who is supportive for LGBTQ+ individuals. She thinks that having more “allies” in the society will eliminate the need for people to come out altogether. She also commented, from her own experience of being bullied and rejected, that it is crucial for adults to reach out to children who might be going through a hard time.

Through the BreakTalks events, S.C.P. Japan will continue to welcome diverse guests, introduce interesting initiatives, and provide a place where people from various backgrounds can meet to exchange and work together to achieve a more diverse and inclusive society. We would like to express our sincere gratitude to all twenty participants as well as everyone who helped us make this event happen.

Finally, we would like to thank Murakami who kindly accepted to be the keynote speaker, the volunteer staff, and the sign language interpreters.