Rick Bowmer / AP
TOKYO – Japanese soccer player Kumi Yokoyama said they are transgender, a revelation praised in the United States, where they play in the National Women’s Soccer League, but an identity not legally recognized in Japan.
The 27-year-old Washington Spirit forward said they felt more comfortable with their own gender identity while living in the United States, where their peers and friends are more open to gender and sexual diversity.
“I’m going out now,” Yokoyama said in a video chat on his former teammate Yuki Nagasato’s YouTube channel. “In the future, I want to quit football and live like a man.”
The Yokoyama reveal was praised by President Joe Biden.
“To Carl Nassib and Kumi Yokoyama, two prominent and inspiring athletes who came out this week: I am so proud of your courage. Thanks to you, countless children around the world see themselves in a new light today,” he tweeted Biden. Nassib is the first active NFL player to come out as gay.
The Spirit also expressed the team’s support and pride for Yokoyama. “Thank you for showing the world that it is okay to accept who you are!” the team tweeted, adding that the player uses hers / them pronouns.
Support and awareness for sexual and gender diversity has grown slowly in Japan, but LGBTQ people lack many legal protections and often face discrimination, causing many to hide their sexual identities. An equality law promoted by human rights groups was recently removed due to opposition from the ruling Conservative party.
Transgender people in Japan must also have their reproductive organs in order for their gender to be recognized in official documents, a requirement that medical and human rights groups criticize as inhumane and unnecessary and say it must end.
Yokoyama said they weren’t excited about coming out of the closet, but it was a decision that was made while thinking about the future and that living in the closet would be more difficult. “It would not have been in Japan,” they said.
They thanked their teammates, friends and girlfriend for their support and courage.
Yokoyama played for Japan at the 2019 France Women’s World Cup and moved from Japanese club AC Nagano Parceiro to Washington Spirit.
Yokoyama said they felt strong pressure to conform and remain closed in Japan, but hoped to live like a man after retiring as a professional footballer and help raise awareness about sexual minorities in Japan.
“More people in Japan are becoming familiar with the word LGBTQ and it is seen more (in the media), but I think awareness will not grow unless people like me come out and raise our voices,” Yokoyama said.