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article imageJapan: Schools to let transgender students use bathroom of choice

By Megan Hamilton     May 2, 2015 in World
In a landmark move, Japan's education ministry urged local school boards to make certain that schools do more to help transgender children.
This comes at a time of increased sensitivity toward sexual minorities by Japanese society and public officials.
Measures have been introduced encouraging schools to pay heed to students' gender identity as much as possible, by doing things like allowing them to choose whichever bathroom or locker room they wish to use, The Japan Times reports.
Transgender children will also be allowed to wear the uniform of the gender they identify as, something that some schools had already been allowing, and Japan's education ministry will encourage all schools — from elementary level to high school — to allow this.
The document is also encouraging schools to give greater consideration to gay and lesbian students, GayStarNews reports.
"It's a very important step," Mameta Endo, a transgender man who had to deal with discrimination in school, told the Japan Times, per GayStarNews.
He's 28 now, but when he was in school, his teachers forced him to wear skirts and told him watching TV was to blame for his gender dysphoria.
Many of Endo's transgender friends dropped out of school because they were being pressured to conform, and he hopes the measure will reduce the number of students dropping out.
"Ten years ago, when I came out, teachers didn't take it seriously," he said.
The IBTimes reports that as of last summer, there were more than 600 students with gender dysphoria in Japan's school system. Around two-thirds of the students received "special consideration," according to a translation of the Japanese-language Excite News article. Along with letting kids wearing clothing that is best suited for them, the policies also permitted them to use nurses' offices to change before physical education classes.
News of the education ministry's new policies came to light in March, when The Asahi Shimbun reported that the education ministry adopted these measures as an effort to combat bullying and discrimination.
Organizations and authorities working for the rights of sexual minorities have pushed for the ministry to protect the rights of LGBT students, who are frequent targets for bullies.
The report by the ministry urges teachers to "listen to children's problems and anxieties without sticking to technical terms and detailed categories" to define them.
Also required: Schools will need to include assistance measures for LGBT students in year-long human rights education plans, and teacher training programs and meetings to instruct teachers on issues facing LGBT students will also be included, The Asahi Shimbun reports.
Kids with gender identity disorders "tend to have a weaker sense of self-approval," the report stated. Kids who feel pressured to hide their sexual identities sometimes refuse to attend school, injure themselves or become suicidal. It also noted that this tendency is common to all sexual minorities, and the situation facing these minorities varies according to their identities.
This recent move by the education ministry fits in with what some see as growing acceptance of LGBT people in Japan, the IBTimes reports.
Last November, the Fuji Hokuryo High School in Yamanashi prefecture celebrated a "Sex Change Day," in which uniform rules were lifted to allow boys to wear skirts and girls to wear suits. Over 90 percent of the student body participated.
In Tokyo's Shibuya ward last month, the process of recognizing same-sex marriage began after an ordinance was passed that gave couples access to "partnership certificates." These certificates, CNN reported, per The Asahi Shimbun, are due to be issued starting in July, and they allow residents in same-sex relationships to co-sign leases and enjoy hospital visitation rights. "The purpose is to realize a society where everyone can live in hope," Mayor Toshitake Kuwahara said.
In 2012, a document issued by the ministry urged schools to care for transgender kids, but didn't say what measures to take. It also omitted any mention of other sexual minorities.
"I praise the fact that they included (all) sexual minorities for the first time," Endo said, noting that the latest move will provide a more secure environment for them.
More about Japan, transgender students, bathroom of choice, gender identity, Mameta Endo
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