Kumi Yokoyama Says They 'Would Not Have Come Out' as Transgender if Still in Japan

Japanese soccer player Kumi Yokoyama has come out as transgender to much praise and acceptance in the U.S. where they play in the National Women's Soccer League—but their gender identity is not legally recognized in Japan.

Japan's high-pressure culture of conformity means "coming out" as LGBTQ is rare. In sports, it's almost unheard of, which activists say reveals an unfriendly environment for LGBTQ people because of sports' gender specificity.

Yokoyama said they weren't enthusiastic about coming out, but decided it was the best choice while thinking about their future after soccer.

"I would not have come out in Japan," they said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Trans Soccer Player
Kumi Yokoyama #17 of the Washington Spirit dribbles the ball during a game between NJ/NY Gotham City FC and Washington Spirit at Audi Field on April 27, 2021, in Washington, DC. Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images

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 recent video talk on former teammate Yuki Nagasato's YouTube channel. "In the future, I want to quit soccer and live as a man."

Yokoyama's revelation was praised by President Joe Biden.

"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," Biden tweeted. Nassib is the first active NFL player to come out as gay.

The Spirit also expressed the team's support and pride in Yokoyama. "Thank you for showing the world it's ok to embrace who you are!" the team tweeted, adding that the player uses they/them pronouns.

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 recognized on official documents—a requirement that human rights and medical groups criticize as inhuman and unnecessary and say should end.

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.

In this June 27, 2020 photo, Washington Spirit forward Kumi Yokoyama dribbles the ball during the second half of an NWSL Challenge Cup soccer match against the Chicago Red Stars. Yokoyama said they are transgender, a revelation praised in the U.S. where they play in the National Women’s Soccer League but an identity not recognized in Japan. Rick Bowmer, File/AP Photo