Japanese LGBT students victims of “widespread and brutal” bullying


Japanese-LGBT-students-victims-of-brutal-bullyingThe Japanese government has been accused of failing to protect LGBT students from pervasive school bullying.

According to a new Human Rights Watch report, bullying is widespread and brutal in Japan’s schools, yet government policies on bullying do not specifically address LGBT students, who are among the most vulnerable.

Instead, said the group, the national bullying prevention policy promotes social norms and a “climate of harmony” in schools at the expense of basic rights. LGBT students say that teachers have told them that by being openly gay or transgender, they are being selfish and should expect not to succeed in school.

“The Japanese government has made gestures of support to LGBT students in recent years, but national anti-bullying policies remain silent on sexual orientation and gender identity,” commented Kanae Doi, Japan director at Human Rights Watch.

Bullying generally is a notorious problem in Japan. Students often target other students they perceive as different with harassment, threats, and sometimes violence – including by singling out students on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

Human Rights Watch conducted in-depth interviews with dozens of LGBT students, plus young adults who were recently enrolled in various types of schools, in 14 prefectures in Japan.

Some students reported that their teachers told them to avoid future bullying by conforming to social norms. Others said they would never report a case of homophobic bullying because they had heard their teachers make anti-LGBT jokes and slurs.

Kiyoko N., a lesbian student in Tokyo, told Human Rights Watch her junior high school classmates would accuse her of not being “girly enough,” then swarm around her and beat her with a roll of paper. Her teachers witnessed the abuse again and again but did nothing. “It was common knowledge that I was being bullied,” she said. “It was also common knowledge that my teachers would never help me.”

Seventeen-year-old Tadashi I., a student in Nagoya, told Human Rights Watch: “I think if I tried to tell my teachers about the bullying they might try to solve the problem, but they wouldn’t know what to do because they know so little about LGBT people. They would make mistakes because of this, and it could get worse.”

Ai K., a former elementary school teacher who now works as a counsellor for LGBT youth, said: “Even if one teacher is ready to help, the administration is likely not prepared to support that teacher, which can mean the teacher is left alienated in their own compassion.”

According to Human Rights Watch, for transgender students in Japan, simply attending school can be an ordeal. National law mandates people to obtain a mental disorder diagnosis and other medical procedures, including sterilisation, to be legally recognised according to their gender identity.

While the government has stated in recent years that schools may accommodate transgender students without such a diagnosis, Human Rights Watch found that implementation of that recommendation is piecemeal.

Transgender students are sometimes forced to wear school uniforms that do not correspond with their gender identity, denied access to bathrooms for their appropriate gender, and slotted into gender-segregated activities where they are not comfortable.

In meetings with Human Rights Watch, officials in the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology repeatedly stated that they took a “holistic” approach to bullying and suggested that specifically addressing the needs of LGBT and other groups of students would afford special treatment to those students.

“No child’s safety or healthy development should depend on a chance encounter with a compassionate adult,” Doi said. “The government has a responsibility to train teachers to react to cases of bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and to protect LGBT students from harassment and discrimination.”

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