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Japan’s Missed Opportunity to Support LGBT Children

At Least 10 More Years of Official Silence on LGBT Lives in Schools

The Japanese government has missed an opportunity to introduce information about sexual and gender minorities to classrooms during a once-in-a-decade review of its national educational curriculum. Instead, the government said in March that including information about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) lives is “difficult” because “the public and guardians have not accepted” this topic yet.

These comics tell the stories of specific individuals Human Rights Watch interviewed, using their own words to describe their experiences. In a few instances the artist added language to provide necessary context. © 2016 Taiji Utagawa

This is patently untrue.

A 2011-2013 survey of nearly 6,000 teachers who taught kindergarten through high school across six municipalities in Japan showed that between 63 and 73 percent of respondents indicated they thought LGBT issues should be included in the curriculum.

Public opinion aside, Japan’s children have a right to accurate and inclusive education – in particular, sex education. Major United Nations agencies, such as UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and UNESCO, recommend LGBT-inclusive approaches to education. Japan’s sex education curriculum falls far short of these standards, and will continue to fail students.

In fact, Japan’s elementary school physical education curriculum instructs teachers to help students understand that “when in puberty…young people develop an interest in the opposite sex.” The curriculum for junior high school also notes “interest in the opposite sex increases along with the maturation of body functions.”

Last year, we interviewed dozens of LGBT students and school staff around Japan and heard a nearly unanimous message: Japan’s youth want to learn facts about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom – not from stereotyped news reports or anti-gay slurs.

A 14-year-old in Okayama said, “It would make an enormous difference to include LGBT issues in the curriculum.” A counselor who works in three public schools in the Tokyo area said, “There’s no foundation for understanding…because it’s not in the curriculum.”

The Ministry of Education has already taken some steps. In its April 2016 “Guidebook for Teachers,” the ministry signaled a promising move toward inclusive education, stating: “It is possible that gender identity and sexual orientation are dealt with as part of human rights education.” The following month, Japan, along with the United States and the Netherlands, led a UNESCO conference on LGBT student bullying. And in March 2017, the ministry announced it had revised the national bullying prevention policy to include LGBT students.

All of these actions affirm that attraction to people of the same-sex and development of gender identity are natural variations of human life. Unfortunately, Japanese students won’t be hearing that in classrooms anytime soon.

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