Tokyo Rainbow Pride (Pic: Lauren Anderson)
Japan is finally set to tackle the abuse of sexual and gender minority students in schools through an updated anti-bullying policy.
A Human Rights Watch report last year found that LGBT students in Japanese schools face physical and verbal abuse, harassment, and frequent insults from both peers and staff.
According to the group, “hateful anti-LGBT rhetoric is nearly ubiquitous, driving LGBT students into silence, self-loathing, and in some cases, self-harm”.
The report also said that Japanese teachers were ill-equipped to respond to LGBT-specific bullying and were often uninformed about LGBT issues and unaware of the specific vulnerabilities faced by LGBT children.
The Education Ministry has now released an updated Basic Policy for the Prevention of Bullying. It mandates schools to prevent bullying of students based on their sexual orientation or gender identity by “promoting proper understanding of teachers on…sexual orientation/gender identity as well as mak[ing] sure to inform on the school’s necessary measures regarding this matter.”
“Japan’s new policy on bullying is an important step toward ensuring equal access to education for all Japanese children,” said Kanae Doi, Japan Director at Human Rights Watch. “The government is demonstrating leadership in educating and empowering teachers to protect LGBT students.”
Human Rights Watch believes that the measure will boost Japan’s reputation regionally and internationally on LGBT rights. “By amending the Basic Policy for the Prevention of Bullying to include sexual orientation and gender identity, Japan has taken the crucial step of bringing its own policies in line with its international human rights obligations,” Doi said.
The group, however, further called on the government to amend the Act on Special Treatments for Persons with Gender Identity Disorder, which regulates legal recognition of transgender people.
Under the law, simply attending school can be an ordeal for transgender students in Japan. If they wish to be legally recognised according to their gender identity, they must obtain a mental disorder diagnosis and other medical procedures, including sterilisation.
While Japan is generally seen as being tolerant towards LGBT people there are no national laws barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation of gender identity. Same-sex marriage is not legal and same-sex couples have no legal recognition.