MORE and more Japanese schools are rolling out unisex uniforms or flexible uniform policies in order to support students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).
According to The Japan Times, Kashiwanoha Junior High School in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture allows its students to elect whether they want to wear pants or skirts, or ties or ribbons with their blazers, regardless of their gender.
Traditionally male students have worn blazers and slacks, while female students were required to wear sailor-like outfits with bows and skirts.
“We thought it would be better to let students wear something they feel comfortable in if they have to struggle to come to school because of uniforms,” said Koshin Taki, the vice principal of Kashiwanoha Junior High, as quoted by the
“We chose a subdued colour and check patterns so the uniform would be suitable for any student.”
Japan currently has no national anti-discrimination legislation when it comes to employment, housing or other civil matters for LGBT community members. Nevertheless, the education department and individual schools have worked to eradicate discrimination against LGBT students.
A Human Rights Watch report from 2016 found that LGBT students in Japan’s schools faced harassment, abuse and insults from both peers and teachers, and the organisation welcomed the 2017 reforms.
“Some students are embarrassed and cannot concentrate on their studies because of uniforms. In some cases, they stop going to school,” Anri Ishizaki, the head of LGBT non-profit FRENS, told The Japan Times.
“Although uniforms are not the only factors tormenting them, it is a significant element as they are required to wear them all the time.”
In March last year, rights groups applauded the Japanese education department’s updating of its bullying prevention policy to protect sexual and gender minority students.
The policy followed a directive regarding transgender students issued by the government in 2015 and a 2016 guidebook for teachers about LGBT students.
“Japan’s new policy on bullying is an important step toward ensuring equal access to education for all Japanese children,” said Kanae Doi, Japan director at HRW in 2017. “The government is demonstrating leadership in educating and empowering teachers to protect LGBT students.”