Outing by teachers puts LGBT students at risk in Japan

Source:  Angie Harms

Source: Angie Harms

TOKYO - Incidents of "outing" of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students by teachers in Japan have been on the rise, discouraging other LGBT students from coming forward due to concerns about discrimination and confidentiality.

Teachers who may simply wish to show consideration to LGBT students by informing parents or other classmates about their situations may in fact be causing irrevocable harm, experts say.

While the issue of disclosing the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBT students without their voluntary consent has become a controversial debate in the United States, Japan still lacks a framework for even understanding the issue in the education system.

Minako "Minata" Hara, representative director of Kyosei Net, or All Japan Sexual Minorities Support Network, says there has been a rise in the number of LGBT students seeking consultations at the nonprofit organization after being outed at school.

Outing is the action of disclosing a person's gender identity or sexual orientation when such information has not previously been made public. Hara recently had a student seek consultation over such a disclosure.

"Although the LGBT student only consulted with the teacher in charge, the parents found out immediately," said Hara, adding that some parents have difficulty accepting the LGBT status of their children and may scold or rebuke them. She says parents often blame themselves for "a problem with the child's upbringing."

In one case, a student with gender identity disorder who was registered male at birth told a supervising teacher of wanting to be included in the female group for a school trip. But before the student realized it, the teacher had told the classmates of the situation. A number of the classmates' parents later complained to the school.

Kyosei Net has seen a rise in consultations related to outing and more incidents reported each year. "Most of the teachers are just acting because they want people around them to be aware. But since they lack a common understanding, there are cases where they are just playing it by ear," said Hara.

A 2013 survey by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports Science and Technology found that 606 students had consulted their school administration because they felt uncomfortable with their sex registry from birth. But it is believed there are a considerable number who simply did not wish to come forward, meaning it is only the tip of the iceberg.

In recent years, the government has started working to provide schools with proper knowledge about the LGBT community in an effort to prevent more incidents of outing.

Last year for the first time, the education ministry compiled and distributed a pamphlet nationwide on how teachers can support students who are sexual minorities.

Given the lack of an LGBT-inclusive curriculum, teacher training has started in Tokyo's Bunkyo Ward, Kashiwa in Chiba Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo, and other places around the country.

"First of all, we have to make sure teachers aren't the ones who are harming (LGBT) students," said the person in charge of training in Kashiwa.

But according to one elementary school teacher from the Tohoku region with experience teaching a pupil who possibly indentified as LGBT, there is still a long way to go.

"There is still a huge awareness gap among teachers. The issue on how to deal with this is close at hand. We have to firmly grasp the knowledge and have support measures in place." There is also a fear that a delay in action is causing harm from a medical perspective.

The Japanese Society of Gender Identity Disorder and the Japanese Society of Psychiatry and Neurology both made requests in July to the education ministry to warn teachers that outing LGBT students could lead to depression and in some cases suicide.

Junichiro Ota, who heads JSPN's panel on gender identity disorder, said the wishes of LGBT students should always be respected first and foremost. Students should also be taught about understanding sexual diversity, he said.

"The wishes of the persons involved must be respected and (teachers) must proceed cautiously in explaining to others around them. Regardless if there are LGBT students involved we have to have education that deepens understanding of sexual diversity."