Last year I got to know about Hirotada Ototake, a disabled man, who has no arms and legs.I learned that his disability is his personality, and that we should respect it. Besides differences in features though, humans also have differences in thoughts and opinions. "We are all different. We should respect our differences as our personalities," is an often heard saying.
Many of you may say, "Of course, I know that," but I wonder how many of you can really regard another person's differences as his personality and accept it. I couldn't at first. Now I will introduce one particular difference to you. So try to answer my question again at the end of my speech; "Can you accept another person's personality though it may be very different from yours?"
"Oh, my goodness! What's that?" A couple of women got on the train which I usually take to go to school. Almost every day I saw them. They held hands, hugged or even kissed each other sometimes. Some people stared, some averted their eyes, others even laughed at them. "Look at them! They're lesbians." "Oh, that's disgusting. What're they doing?" I felt so strange just because both of them were women.
One day in May, I had a chance to listen to a lecture by a lesbian named Kyo Aoki. She was not abnormal as I was expecting, but as cheerful, kind and friendly as any other woman. She said, "Though I am female, I love women. I don't think it is strange and I don't hesitate to say so. For me to love women is just one of my characteristics, as my hobbies are cooking or reading. I can express myself in front of you, but there are many lesbians who shut themselves up and are suffering from discrimination and prejudice." As I had prejudice against lesbians myself, her every word pierced straight through me.
That lecture also reminded me of another incident. Once during a Japanese literature class, we were discussing how the heroine we read about felt. I expressed my opinion as did the other students. All the opinions were written on the blackboard by the teacher. Then she asked us, "Which opinions do you disagree with?" One of my classmates said, "I think Hiroko's wrong because ..." Can you believe what the teacher did then? She erased my opinion from the blackboard! I felt as if I myself were being denied and thrown away.
I wonder if many lesbians in Japan feel like this. Lesbians are not accepted in society because they are a small minority. In Japan, sex-change operations are only partly permitted and same sex marriages are not legal. The most serious problem is our prejudiced attitudes toward lesbians. I remember the cold eyes on the train as if the other passengers had seen something abnormal. How about you? How would you feel if you were on the same train?
I'm sure you've heard the following line in many speeches before: in the 21st century, we should make a barrier-free society where everyone can live peacefully. To truly be barrier-free however, we have to accept different personalities completely and build up the system to accept not only the majority but also the minority: the elderly, disabled people, lesbians ... everybody.
In Vermont, for the first time in the U.S., a same-sex couple was married on July 1st, 2000 and they now have the same rights as a heterosexual couple. Don't you think this is a big step for human beings? The same thing cannot be done in Japan right now, but I suggest that we should at least listen to homosexuals, get the right information about them and accept them in our society. Now I'll ask you again, "Can you accept another person's personality though it may be very different from yours?"
Thank you for listening.