Koyuki Higashi is slim, articulate and intelligent, things that make a would-be wife attractive to many in Japan. But Higashi knows she will probably never marry because she is a lesbian.
Despite the increasing tolerance of gay marriage in much of the developed world, especially in Europe, and a gradual acceptance of the issue in more liberal states in the US, the subject is not on the radar in Japan or in many parts of Asia.
But when Barack Obama gingerly put his head above the election year parapet, announcing he was in favour of same-sex marriage, it lit a spark of hope on the other side of the Pacific in conservative Japan.
"Seeing the US president expressing his support for same-sex couples was like being told it was ok to be who we are," said Higashi, 27.
"Everyone now knows Obama supports same-sex marriage. The impact is so big, it's incomparable."
Her partner, 34-year-old Hiroko, who uses only one name, agreed.
"I was really happy to see Obama use his starpower in that way," she said.
Obama's pronouncement was preceded by a global campaign aimed at encouraging a stronger voice for gay rights.
His administration dispatched Mark Bromley, chair of advocacy group Council for Global Equality, to Japan in June -- gay pride month -- where he told reporters equality for same sex couples was an important tenet of human rights.
"(Hillary) Clinton was very elegant in saying that minorities can never fully protect themselves; minorities need majorities to find full protection and full acceptance," said Bromley, who has a 2-year-old daughter with his husband.
"That requires laws and political support, and social space."
Homosexuals in Japan welcomed the gesture, but, warned gay expat David Wagner, it was likely to disappear into the void.
"I doubt it will have much impact on other nations such as Japan where the will of the people rarely takes priority," said Wagner, who has lived in Japan for 25 years.
"Japan is clearly more tolerant than many places," he said, adding gays and lesbians in Japan are unlikely to encounter outright hostility, something he puts down less to acceptance than to a people who "are agnostic and tend to mix religions."
But "tolerance has limits in Japan," he said.
A week after Obama became the first sitting US president to back gay marriage, Higashi scored a little victory for the lesbian, gay and bisexual community in Japan when she confirmed with Tokyo Disneyland that same-sex couples could hold their wedding ceremonies at the theme park.
But the park warned that celebrations would have no legal standing because Japanese law does not recognise same-sex partnerships.
Nor does it recognise or give the same rights to any number of other family arrangements long considered acceptable in some countries.
Under rules that have changed little since World War II, married couples must use the same surname and women are barred from remarrying within six months of their divorce.
Any baby born within 300 days of a divorce is automatically the former husband's and children born out of wedlock have far fewer rights to inherit than their legitimate siblings.
Women can marry at 16; men must wait until they are 18; one divorcing parent must completely give up custody of their child, a rule that usually means an estranged father all but disappears.
The nation's divorce rate began climbing in the 1960s, after decades in which about 70,000 couples terminated their marriage each year.
In 2011, nearly 236,000 couples separated, according to welfare ministry statistics. Around 660,000 couples tied the knot in that year.
Shuhei Ninomiya, professor of law at Ritsumeikan University, said the imported debate over gay marriage may help, in the long run, to provoke discussion over how the family as an idea can adapt to the needs of 21st century Japan.
"The law is not designed for divorcing parents to communicate and share child custody after they separate," he said. "Under the law, marital diversity is largely denied.
"Discrimination against children born out of wedlock, stigmatising them because of their parents' marital status, has been justified to protect legitimate marriage."
"We need to hear Obama's support for same-sex couples as a broader message that forms of marriage can be colourful and different for each couple."
Hiroko said the gay marriage debate was an important one for everyone in Japan, where the pressure to conform to social norms is high.
"Both majority and minority groups should join hands, otherwise we cannot hope to see a change in the law," she said.
The Rev. Brian Ellison, pastor of the Parkville Presbyterian Church, recently revealed to his congregation that he is gay and in a commited relationship. July 15 was Ellison's last Sunday at the church. He starts a new job Wednesday as executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians.
Brian Ellison isn’t a pastor anymore.
The 39-year-old former minister of Parkville Presbyterian Church delivered sermons and spoke at funerals. He visited the sick and baptized babies. Once he dressed up in a plaid jacket and gaudy tie and pretended to be a game show host for children at vacation Bible school. He had been with the church for 13 years. It was his first church out of seminary.
So he hesitated for a moment in June before he handed over a box of letters at the Riverside post office. In the letters, Ellison told the members of his congregation that he would be leaving them in a month to take a new job.
A paragraph later, he told them that he was gay and had been in a committed relationship for nine years.
“I wanted to be finished with being ambiguous, less than transparent. I wanted to be honest and straightforward as much as possible,” Ellison says.
On Aug. 1, Ellison will start his new job as executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, a nonprofit advocacy group devoted to the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered members of the denomination.
The organization is host to regional conferences to discuss issues facing gays and lesbians in the church, including ordination and gay marriage. This month, the Presbyterian Church rejected a proposal to amend its constitutional definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.
On a recent day, Ellison sips coffee at Parkville Coffeehouse while friends from the community and members of his former congregation stop by to say hello. “He’s an excellent pastor,” one says.
His last day at the church was July 15, and Ellison describes his last month there after sending the letter as “surreal.”
“This was the end of a long period of discernment,” Ellison says, indicating the letter. “By the time I got to this, I was so clearly doing the right thing, there wasn’t any question left in my mind.”
His self-discovery began when Ellison was still an undergraduate at Harvard, working on the campus newspaper “The Crimson.” Ellison realized that the time he was spending at the paper wasn’t as fulfilling as the time he spent leading freshman Bible study and teaching Scripture to fourth-graders.
After graduating, he headed to Princeton Theological Seminary to begin the process of becoming an ordained minister.
In 1997, the Presbyterian Church adopted a constitutional provision that forbade the ordination of gays and lesbians. The Covenant Network was founded that year to oppose the provision, and it was eliminated last year.
Ellison, who was still in seminary at the time, didn’t think any of this applied to him.
“It just didn’t add up, that the things I knew about myself meant I was gay,” Ellison says. “I really believed that I would either be single my whole life or I would meet the right woman and everything would change.”
He left seminary in 1999 and began the process of finding his first church. Ellison thought he wanted somewhere on the east or west coast; Parkville thought they wanted someone with experience. Despite this, the denomination headquarters found them to be a good match for each other, and the congregation eventually called Ellison to be its pastor.
“We got Brian who was at the very beginning of his preaching career, and we felt very lucky for that reason,” says Joyce Schrimsher, a 45-year member of Parkville Presbyterian, which has about 350 members.
It wasn’t until a couple years into his stretch at Parkville that Ellison finally started being honest with himself about his sexuality. In 2003, he started dating Troy Lillebo from Columbia. A year later Troy moved to Kansas City, and he is now an associate vice chancellor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He and Ellison have been living together in the Parkville area since 2005.
“At first I worried a lot about being caught … not because I felt like I was doing something wrong, but I was afraid it would come back to hurt the church,” Ellison says.
He knows that over the years, there were probably people who figured it out — probably saw Lillebo’s car parked in Ellison’s driveway or saw them at restaurants together. But he didn’t talk about it at church.
“He was very careful not to lie about it,” Lillebo says. He’s attended the Parkville services off and on since meeting Ellison, and even was in the church’s handbell choir. “I think I saw him more and more feeling like there needed to be some type of resolution to this conflict in side him, not being able to fully share who he was.”
Lillebo says Ellison just kept that part of his life to himself — if members of the congregation talked about where they were having Thanksgiving dinner, Ellison would politely excuse himself from the conversation.
Ellison: “Once I accepted that this is actually who I am, then I had to move on to making that choice of what that would mean for my continuing self.”
Lillebo attended every Sunday service since Ellison made the announcement.
“They’ve been very kind in welcoming me into their congregation,” he says. “They’ve been really wonderful.”
Ellison and Lillebo are now faced with finding a new church. Both agree that they want to find a church just like Parkville.
Joyce Schrimsher has seen three pastors come and go from Parkville since she joined.
“His preaching is just phenomenal,” she says of Ellison. She remembers the way he handled funeral services, her father-in-law’s included — how he would sit with the grieving and tell stories expressing “the very essence of the person who had died.” She also says that Ellison was very good at facilitating small-group discussions among church members, often bringing together people of opposing views.
And Parkville does have some opposing views about Ellison’s decision.
He knows that a handful of members were unhappy with his decision to be openly gay. Hours after the congregation received his letter, it was leaked to a conservative Presbyterian website, layman.org.
A few members question why Ellison didn’t tell them years earlier, says Cheryl Keimig, the head layperson at Parkville.
Ellison tried to respond to that in his letter: “It did not seem right to cause division and conflict in the church over something that was not ‘part of the deal’ when you called me … if I have failed you by being less than fully open about who I am, I truly and humbly apologize.”
But overall, Ellison says he’s overjoyed with the reaction he got from his congregation. Keimig says the congregation set up a website where members could post goodbye notes to Ellison and eventually had those notes bound in a book. An artist in the congregation, Kelly Yarbrough, did a painting representing Ellison’s favorite verse, Micah 6:8.
Meg McLaughlin, a member of the Covenant board that hired Ellison and an associate pastor at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, says Ellison quickly jumped to the top of their list of more than 30 applicants because of his knowledge of the larger Presbyterian Church and his skill in dealing with people whose views are different from his.
“He’s an advocate,” she says, but he still respects that some in the church oppose including gay individuals.
As executive director, Ellison will oversee all aspects of the Covenant Network and attend its 12 regional conferences across the country.
Yet Ellison doesn’t see himself as an activist. He recognizes that there will always be ways to make the church more inclusive and understanding. His job, he says, is to help the church strive to be better, to help it transition smoothly into the modern era.
“I think the church doesn’t have to see the inclusion of LGBT people as a radical alternative idea. I see it as the church doing what its always done, which is proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and God’s love for everybody,” Ellison says. “So, if that makes me an activist, so be it.”
David Krumholtz and Michael Urie in "Partners" (Matt Kennedy/CBS)
CBS‘ new sitcom “Partners,” which premieres Sept. 24, has a great pedigree in creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan (“Will & Grace”)and in fellow executive producer James Burrows (“Cheers,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and almost any sitcom you think is great, except “Bleep My Dad Says.”), not to mention Michael Urie and David Krumholtz in the lead roles.
Now let’s work on creating better chemistry between the leads, which is to say, sharper writing, guys.
I love both of these actors and it’s especially nice that Urie has landed another series after his great turn in “Ugly Betty.” But as I listened to Mutchnick and Kohan talk about their own work partnership at this morning’s CBS session at the Television Critics Association, I couldn’t help thinking that the partnership between Urie and Krumholtz’s characters on the show doesn’t quite have that same chemistry.
Of course, Kohan and Mutchnick have had years to develop real-life chemistry — they met as high school students. When Mutchnick came out, the first person he told was his straight best friend Kohan. As Mutchnick just put it, “Every gay man should have a straight man in his life.”
Urie and Krumholtz play “Odd Couple” partners in an architecture firm. Urie is kind of a gay Oscar Madison, in terms of impulsiveness, while Krumholtz plays the Felix role.
The two actors were asked this morning if they’re ever tempted to just play the showrunners in “Partners,” and that’s not a terrible idea. More to the point, it wouldn’t hurt the show at all if more of the relationship between Kohan and Mutchnick, gentle sparring and all, was reflected in the lead characters of “Partners.”
I’ll give the show a chance. I want it to succeed. The concept is promising.
Very soon, Michael Phelps will become the most accomplished Olympian of all-time. He will almost certainly win at least four medals and move above every gymnast and runner and swimmer and anyone else who ever competed on the world’s biggest stage.
The endorsement checks will keep coming in, and after that Phelps will live the life of a 27-year-old retired millionaire. Sweet gig, if you can get it.
Right now, though, he is none of those things. Right now, he’s just another great swimmer in a meet full of great swimmers, and this is the first wowza moment of these Summer Olympics.
“Just a crappy race,” is how he described his no-medal-for-you fourth-place swim in the 400 meter individual medley.
Ryan Lochte won the race in 4 minutes, 5.18 seconds, while Phelps finished in 4:09.28.
Phelps’ coach went a step more, calling Phelps’ performance “horrible.”
Phelps shot the equivalent of an air-ball in what was supposed to be the first major showdown between the world’s two best swimmers, who happened to not only be Americans, but suitemates and spades partners.
Instead, Phelps took a beatdown. Instead, Phelps gave us a lesson in the power of focus and motivation, and that’s not meant as a criticism — it’s meant as understanding.
Don’t let anyone tell you this is about Phelps growing old. He’s a year younger than Lochte, and six months older than silver medalist Thiago Pereira.
This is about one of the most dominant athletes in Olympics history losing his edge, even for just one day, even if he wins six more medals starting in the 400 frestyle relay today. The aura is gone, killed by human nature.
Phelps owned this event, or at least he used to, setting the world record back in 2004 and then setting a record with another gold-medal swim in 2008. Phelps openly talked of retiring from the event after both previous golds, and maybe that’s what should’ve happened.
The 400 IM is a difficult mix, one that rewards obsessive training more than once-in-a-generation talent. Phelps once had both, which made him a historical force of nature. He won gold in a ridiculous 14 consecutive Olympic races, including eight world records. The last time he didn’t medal in an Olympic race, he was 15 years old and couldn’t legally drive.
Phelps was more than great. He was the kind of freak who affects the minds of the merely great. Like Mike Tyson before Buster Douglas, Michael Jordan before the Wizards, Tiger Woods before his wife grabbed a golf club.
That all changed on Saturday. Lochte doesn’t have Phelps’ talent, but for the last four years he had Phelps’ drive.
“I’ve said this before,” Lochte says. “This is my year, because I’ve put in the work.”
Lochte is all class in victory. If this is his ascension to the top of the swimming world, he’s not going out of his way to step on Phelps. Over and over, Lochte called Phelps his friend, and said his friend gave “110 percent.”
But there’s another message in there, too. A message that’s impossible not to hear if you know the story.
Lochte spent his early 20s with inconsistent focus, repeatedly getting hurt doing things that had nothing to do with becoming the world’s best swimmer. He fractured his foot skateboarding, bruised a knee in a scooter crash, sprained his ankle playing with his dog, hurt a knee breakdancing, and fractured a shoulder falling out of a tree (he was playing hide-and-seek).
That was back in the days when Phelps was training like the war on terrorism depended on it. At least 80,000 meters (nearly 50 miles) per week during peak training, twice-a-day sessions plus weightlifting.
Gifted with a disproportionately long torso and arms, as well as abnormally big feet and hands, Phelps was already working with something like the perfect chassis on which to build the world’s fastest swimming machine. Fanatical training just pushed him to a new level.
Phelps became a global icon four years ago in Beijing. Then, he admittedly lost his way. Maybe you remember the picture of him and that bong. Phelps felt tired. Bored. Thought about quitting, more than once.
This is a common reaction to reaching the top. Tyson got lazy. Jordan played minor-league baseball. Tiger played at Perkins.
Who can say how they’d act with a lifetime of financial security and nothing left to prove?
Phelps came back to swimming, of course, but he lost training time. Not enough that he won’t win medals this week — he’s still favored in both butterfly events, should win golds in the relays.
But if a full training schedule wasn’t beneficial, Phelps wouldn’t have done it in the lead-up to Beijing.
Meanwhile, Lochte trained like Phelps — the old Phelps. Cleaned up his diet. Toughened his training. No more moonlighting as a stuntman.
The difference in the two men showed up long before yesterday. Lochte won the two 400 IM world championships since Beijing, for instance. Over and over again, Lochte has told people this would be his year, and he’s always credited a beefed-up training program and focus.
That’s the same kind of focus that gave Phelps the better part of a decade as the king of the swimming world. When Phelps lost that focus, he also lost that title. This is human nature. This is the arc of many legendary athletes.
Phelps dived into the pool on Saturday as one of the greatest swimmers of all-time and climbed out as merely one of the greatest swimmers of this time.
If that’s a disappointment, we should all be so disappointed.
To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.
Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2012/07/28/3729219/phelps-lochte-duel-is-dud-in-the.html#storylink=cpy
U.S. athletes have been off-their-rockers complaining about the no air conditioning status of the Olympic dorms, that is unless you’re from Great Britain, because British athletes are the only ones enjoying air conditioning in their dorms!! USA today reported that the rest of the athletes are forced to bring their own fans, despite temperatures reaching the 80′s.
Lolo Jones Tweeted, ‘No air conditioners. Its HOT in the rooms. No need to practice, just lay in ur bed & sweat. Where r the applications for Winter Olympics??’
I find this hard to believe, Britts are our BFF, but USA Today confirming?
FORGET about the eight gold medals Michael Phelps won in Beijing - try the alleged 12,000 calories found in a diet that included choc-chip pancakes, a kilogram of pasta, ham and cheese sandwiches lathered in mayonnaise and pizza that he used to fuel his surge.
Whether the diet has been exaggerated with telling over the years, the amount of food devoured - or not devoured - at the Olympics can mean the difference between medals.
Weightlifter Damon Kelly tops the scales at 149kg, loading up on eggs and protein shakes and two steaks for dinner every night.
"He could probably eat my arm for breakfast," laughs artistic gymnast Josh Jefferis. "He's a big unit."
Weighing 57kg, Jefferis is almost a third of Kelly's size, yet the 26-year old has to be meticulous with his diet.
He has skinfolds, on seven parts of his body, of only 34mm.
"If I put on one or two kilos, as soon as I get on the rings I can feel it straight away putting stress on my body," he says.
Like Jefferis, diver Matthew Mitcham has to get his intake just right, precariously trying to build muscle strength instead of muscle size to twist and turn off the 10m platform.
When he won gold in Beijing, he tipped the scales at 67kg. After tearing an abdominal muscle last year, he "blew out" by 4kg.
"Four kilos on a small frame is a lot, especially when power-to-weight ratio is so important in a sport like ours.
"You try to limit the amount of junk food you have. My vice is really fattening sweets like cheesecake and banana bread and McDonald's sundaes. Reducing that kind of food that I consume and doing extra cardio into my training. I'm 68kg now."
Those vices are hard to stop. When Jefferis's head hits the pillow he thinks of Tim Tams.
Taekwondo's 58kg powderkeg Safwan Khalil is constantly battling the weight.
His mother's Lebanese food makes it particularly difficult.
Then there is the lure of the Golden Arches.
"If I could eat more I would, but I can't," he laughs.
"Sometimes I hit a wall and I just want to walk away and eat a Big Mac. On other days, its not too bad.
"Sometimes I have relented and had a bit of dark chocolate, and it makes me sick."
McDonald's is free in the Athletes Village, although the athletes report the variety on choice in London is far superior to other games.
"It's much better than Athens and Beijing," Phelps said. Source-