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Eikei Suzuki, the governor of the Mie prefecture, one of 47 prefectures (or regions) in Japan, signed a new ordinance this week making it illegal for anyone to out someone's sexual orientation or gender identity.
Mie, with a population of nearly 2 million people, is the second prefecture in Japan to make outing a crime after the suburban Tokyo city of Kunitachi in April 2018.
The historic move is largely a cultural response to the second wave of COVID-19 cases in South Korea, which was reportedly linked to the local LGBTQ+ community after a patient was found to have visited several queer bars during the country's contact tracing process. Following this discovery, the government urged people who visited these bars to come forward, thus being forced to come out.
The ordinance had wide support from the public, and while the penalties for perpetrators are still being thought out, Suzuki said in a statement that the act of outing "can destabilize family and working relationships and drive people into isolation by disrupting their friendships and contact with other people. We need to do more to create a society that cares for each other."
The move comes at a time when public outings have become a growing problem in Japan.
As Japan Times reports, over the course of six years from 2012 to 2018, one private support center said it received over 100 calls to its hotline service from LGBTQ+ people upset about being outed. Many of them said they were outed by someone they told in confidence.
In June 2015, a male student at Hitotsubashi University law school died by suicide after being outed to a group of nine friends on a messaging app when a classmate insensitively wrote, "It's impossible for me to hide the fact that you're gay anymore," before ending with a simple "Sorry."
The ordinance is the latest move in a string of pro-LGBTQ+ policies in Japan.
Last year, Ibaraki began issuing partnership certificates for queer couples, the first prefectural-level government in the country to do so. In April 2017, Osaka recognized a same-sex couple as foster parents, the first in Japanese history.
Marriage equality has yet to be implemented in Japan on a federal level, nor does it have a national anti-discrimination law that protects queer people against discrimination in employment and housing.
However, in October 2018, Tokyo passed a law banning "government, citizens, and enterprises" from discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation ahead of the 2020 Olympic games, which have since been postponed to next year due to the pandemic.