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SOCIETY > Human Rights

Rights group seeks LGBT-inclusive curriculum

  • November 3, 2016
  • , Kyodo News , 9:18 a.m.
  • English Press

By Keiji Hirano

TOKYO, Nov. 3, Kyodo — A human rights group is urging the government to give ample consideration to sexual minority students in compiling educational guidelines and teacher training programs, in a proposal to fully protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children from harassment and bullying at school.


Given a lack of an LGBT-inclusive curriculum, students in Japan receive inaccurate and biased information about LGBT people from teachers, Kanae Doi, Japan director of Human Rights Watch, told Kyodo News in a recent interview.


“It is necessary to enable teachers, through comprehensive training, to adequately respond to consultations by LGBT students and make it obligatory to cover LGBT issues in classrooms, rather than leaving it optional, to shed light on the minority children,” she said.


Doi has delivered these messages to lawmakers and education ministry officials during meetings with them, as a once-a-decade revision of official curriculum guidelines is now under way.


The proposal is based on recent research by Human Rights Watch, for which the international rights body interviewed more than 100 people nationwide, including LGBT students who revealed heartbreaking episodes, as well as teachers, government officials and lawyers.


According to the report on the study, the group found Japanese schools focus on keeping school harmony, rather than protecting vulnerable students.


The group was also aware of “pervasive homophobic environments across all types and levels of schools,” while pointing out that strict gender segregation, seen in school uniform polices and gender-segregated activities, makes it difficult for gender nonconforming children to lead desirable school lives.


A man, who came out as gay when he was a high school student, said during an interview that his teachers had told him his admission broke the harmony of the school, according to the report.


A physical education teacher told him other students think what he did was a joke and that “by even standing next to you, people will think I’m gay too,” the report noted.


An 18-year-old lesbian in Nagoya, who has not come out, said she was shocked at the age of 16 when a home economics teacher told female students that their responsibility in life is to get married to a man and have children. “I got really upset during the lesson and I started to panic. I couldn’t breathe. I started crying.”


Meanwhile, a transgender student was told by his teachers his sense of discomfort as a girl is a temporary thing and that he would grow out of it — comments, he said, made him deeply sad because he had “so much respect for the teachers but they knew nothing about me,” the report said.


According to a lawyer interviewed by Human Rights Watch, several schools allow transgender students to wear uniforms and have access to lavatories and school activities in accordance with their gender identity. But “such approaches by schools appear to be the exception rather than the norm,” the group said.


Many transgender students are at odds with their sense of self and hence feel humiliated when they are required to use toilets and lockers that do not correspond to their gender identity.


Since they are forced into compliance, “their rights to receive equal education, including access to toilets and dressing rooms in accordance with their gender identity, are denied,” Doi said.


LGBT teachers must also run the gauntlet.


Interviewees said they remain reluctant to come out at school, not because of fears of losing their jobs but because of concerns of losing the respect of their students and peers, the report said.


“As a result, LGBT students have no adult role models whom they know to be LGBT, increasing their sense of isolation,” it added.


According to a separate survey mentioned in the report of nearly 6,000 teachers in Japan from kindergarten through high school levels, around 70 percent said LGBT issues should be included in the curriculum. However, less than 14 percent have experiences of discussing it in classrooms.


According to the survey, just 8 percent of respondents said they learned about sexuality during their teacher training, and only nine percent about transgender issues, while more than 60 percent said they want to receive sexual diversity training, if it exists.


Given these findings, Doi said, “All teachers need to be trained so they can properly deal with sexual minority students, based on an assumption that there are LGBT students in their classrooms.”


Doi, on the other hand, welcomes some steps initiated by the education ministry, which, for example, created booklets about sexual minority children for teachers and other school employees with the aim of improving the environment for them at school. The booklet noted, “It is possible that gender identity and sexual orientation are touched upon as part of human rights education.”


In keeping with the promising move, “the government should use the current 2016 curriculum revision process as an opportunity to make concrete progress toward protecting all students,” Doi said.


An education ministry official who was contacted for this article, said while the government is aware of HRW’s proposal, it has no comment on the situation at this time.


Human rights issues of sexual minorities have gradually drawn public attention in Japan, with some local governments starting to issue certificates recognizing same-sex partnership as being equivalent to marriage.

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