Will the Japanese government follow the lead of universities on trans rights?
When I was a sophomore student in 2014 at Mount Holyoke College, a college for women in Massachusetts, our college president announced that transgender women could join our student body. I and the other students who had gathered to hear the president speak met this announcement with applause. Finally, our college would open its doors to all women wishing to learn.
Educational institutions around the world are leading the way in trans rights and inclusion – and Japan is no different. But now the government needs to update its laws. The spotlight is currently on Japan due to the staging of the upcoming Olympics, and activists are urging Japan to implement a federal LGBT + non-discrimination law.
In recent years, LGBT + rights have gained political momentum in Japan, but the laws are still lagging behind. Four major universities have already announced that they will allow trans women to participate as women based on a self-report model. There are no specific campus policies for trans men, but Human Rights Watch research found they were in a similar situation. An 18-year-old trans college student in Okinawa said: “I’m happy like this [without surgery]. But I think I might need to do more operations and make a full transition before I apply for a job. “
This is because even students who can enroll on an equal footing face a discriminatory legal environment. Japanese law still requires a mental health diagnosis and sterilization surgery for legal recognition of trans people.
On other LGBT + issues, Japan has made progress.
In 2015, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) issued a directive outlining the accommodations schools should make regarding transgender and other sexual minorities. His guide for teachers on LGBT + students reported an evolving perspective on their rights.
Then, in 2017, Japan updated its national bullying prevention policy to protect students from sexual and gender minorities. Soon after, in 2018, the Tokyo municipal government passed a bill banning discrimination against LGBT + people.
Today, Japanese universities are leading the way in including trans people in higher education. Four universities for women in Japan (Ochanomizu and the universities for women of Nara, Miyagi Gakuin and Japan) have announced that they will start allowing trans women to register.
But these students are not fully protected, because under the Gender Identity Disorder (GID) Special Cases Act, transgender people in Japan must undergo medical intervention and surgical sterilization for the government to legally recognize. their gender.
This protocol harms trans people who are unable or unwilling to undergo irreversible medical procedures such as sterilization. Because the law states that the procedures can only be undertaken once a person is legally of legal age – currently 20 in Japan – it also means that teens entering a university cannot have their gender identity officially recognized. .
That means they could attend a university that respects their gender identity, then graduate and enter a legal system that requires them to undergo surgery.
Japan’s legal recognition procedure is obsolete. Its very name, suggesting that gender identity is a “disorder,” is scientifically obsolete.
The World Health Organization removed the diagnosis of “gender identity disorder” from its diagnostic manual in 2019. In addition, sterilization requirements for legal gender recognition, as in Japan, have been changed. condemned several times by human rights and medical organizations.
In 2019, two Supreme Court justices stressed the need to reform Japanese law, even though the court upheld it.
Until the GID law is reformed, Japan’s Ministry of Education should lead the way in recognizing the self-reported gender of all individuals at its public universities.
By adopting a policy that respects the right to education for trans people, individual universities in Japan and around the world – including my alma mater – recognize that trans women should have the same opportunities to pursue higher education as anyone else. the world.
Just like when I was a student, Japanese universities will benefit from the inclusion of trans students. I know my classmates and enjoyed that our college not only offers us courses on gender and human rights, but also implements policies like this that show us what it means to live in. a diverse society.