Japanese soccer player Kumi Yokoyama, a forward for the Washington Spirit, has come out as transgender. “I’m coming out now,” Yokoyama said in an interview with former teammate Yuki Nagasato on her YouTube channel. “In the future, I want to quit soccer and live as a man.”
Yokoyama explained in the interview that they were able to open up about their gender identity while living in the U.S. thanks to their teammates and friends being more open to sexual and gender diversity. Yokoyama described feeling like they were under a great deal of pressure to conform and stay in the closet while living in their home country. “I would not have come out in Japan,” they said.
Now they intend to be out and live their truth moving forward, while also helping to raise awareness for queer and trans people back home. “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.
Yokoyama’s coming-out drew praise from President Joe Biden, who tweeted his support. “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 wrote. Nassib, who also came out Monday, made history as the first active NFL player to come out as gay while signed to a team.
Yokoyama also received the support of their teammates, who tweeted, “Thank you for showing the world it’s ok to embrace who you are!”
While support for LGBTQ+ people is growing in Japan, queer people there still lack legal protection and face discrimination, leading many to stay closeted. To be recognized legally in Japan, trans people are required to have their reproductive organs removed, something human rights groups have rebuked as abusive and harmful.
Yokoyama also thanked their girlfriend for encouraging them to come out. “When my girlfriend said there was no reason for me to stay closeted, it really hit me,” they said. “Coming out wasn’t something I was enthusiastic about, but if I think about my life going forward, it would be harder to live closeted, so I found the courage to come out.”
Watch their coming-out video below: