By Mari Yamaguchi, AP
Japanese footballer Kumi Yokoyama has said they are transgender.
The revelation has been praised in the US where they play in the National Women’s Soccer League, but Yokoyama’s identity is not legally recognised in Japan.
The 27-year-old forward for the Washington Spirit said they felt more comfortable with their own gender identity while living in the United States, where teammates and friends are more open to gender and sexual diversity.
“I’m coming out now,” Yokoyama said in a video talk on former teammate Yuki Nagasato’s YouTube channel.
“In the future, I want to quit soccer and live as a man.”
To Carl Nassib and Kumi Yokoyama – two prominent, inspiring athletes who came out this week: I’m so proud of your courage. Because of you, countless kids around the world are seeing themselves in a new light today.
— President Biden (@POTUS) June 23, 2021
Yokoyama’s revelation was praised by US president Joe Biden.
He tweeted: “To Carl Nassib and Kumi Yokoyama – two prominent, inspiring athletes who came out this week: I’m so proud of your courage. Because of you, countless kids around the world are seeing themselves in a new light today.”
Las Vegas Raiders star Nassib is the first active NFL player to come out as gay.
Support and awareness of gender and sexual diversity has slowly grown in Japan, but LGBTQ people lack many legal protections and often suffer discrimination, causing many to hide their sexual identities.
An equality law pushed by rights groups was scrapped recently due to opposition from the conservative ruling party.
Transgender people in Japan also must have their reproductive organs removed to have their gender recognised on official documents – a requirement that human rights and medical groups criticise as inhuman and unnecessary.
Yokoyama said they were not enthusiastic about coming out, but it was a choice made while thinking about the future.
“I would not have come out in Japan,” they said.
They thanked their teammates, friends and girlfriend for their support and courage.
Yokoyama played for Japan at the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France and moved from Japanese club AC Nagano Parceiro to the Washington Spirit.
Yokoyama said they felt a strong pressure to conform and remain closeted in Japan, but hoped to live as a man after retiring as a professional soccer player and to help raise awareness for sexual minorities in Japan.
“More people in Japan are becoming familiar with the word LGBTQ and it’s seen more (in the media), but I think awareness won’t grow unless people like myself come out and raise our voices,” Yokoyama said.