February 24, 2017

Japan Takes Action to Stamp Out Bullying



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Last year, we interviewed lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth from across Japan and what we heard was harrowing: harassment and violence were common, prompting some bullied kids to drop out of school. Our report shed light on the plight of this often-silenced minority, and how even well-intentioned teachers were ill-equipped to respond to cases of LGBT bullying.

That may be about to change.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) has added LGBT-specific protections to its revised draft on the national bullying prevention policy, scheduled to be finalized in March.

“In order to prevent bullying toward students based on their gender identity…or sexual orientation/gender identity, schools should promote proper understanding of teachers on…sexual orientation/gender identity as well as make sure to inform on the school’s necessary measures regarding this matter,” the current draft reads.

MEXT has been at the forefront of progress in the area of education-related rights for sexual and gender minority students. The 2015 MEXT directive sent to all school boards titled, “Regarding the Careful Response to Students with Gender Identity Disorder,” describes several accommodations schools should make regarding transgender students and also mentions “sexual orientation.” The 2016 MEXT “Guidebook for Teachers Regarding Careful Response to Students related to Gender Identity Disorder as well as Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” signaled an evolving view on LGBT rights and recommended several protective measures for LGBT students.

By amending the Basic Policy for the Prevention of Bullying to include “sexual orientation and gender identity,” the government is bringing its policies in line with its international human rights obligations and reputation as a regional and international leader. Human Rights Watch’s public submission lauds this development.

Japan supported two recent United Nations Human Rights Council resolutions on ending sexual orientation and gender identity-based violence and discrimination, and also co-chaired the 2016 UNESCO International Ministerial Meeting: Education Sector Responses to Violence based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity/Expression.

Hateful anti-LGBT rhetoric is nearly ubiquitous in Japanese schools, driving students into silence, self-loathing, and self-harm. An anti-bullying policy that addresses the needs and vulnerabilities of LGBT students will change their lives by allowing teachers and school officials access to appropriate training, resources, and information.

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