National / Social Issues

Officials pull plug on teacher survey about LGBT students

by Mami Maruko

Staff Writer

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Education Bureau has halted an independent survey of how junior high and high schools cater to sexual minorities, citing problems with some of the questions.

The organizers, a group calling itself Respect Life: White Ribbon Campaign, mailed questionnaires to staff at 877 schools in Tokyo in January, asking them to reply anonymously.

The schools included public junior high and high schools, as well as special-needs establishments and academies specializing in six-year secondary education.

The staff asked to answer the survey are “nursing teachers,” those who look after sick pupils but also teach health-related classes.

A total of 118 teachers had replied by the time the halt order was issued, and the completed responses were shredded on Feb. 12. The survey was supposed to have run through the end of this week.

“I was shocked to hear about the decision. It’s such a pity,” said Mameta Endo, the group’s co-leader.

He said a lot of work had gone into the survey.

Respect Life: White Ribbon Campaign provides support for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) individuals at risk of suicide, particularly young people, and raises public awareness of the problem as part of a project for suicide prevention subsidized by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Social Welfare and Public Health Bureau.

The survey asked whether the teachers have received any training on how to teach about sexual identity, and whether their school offers students with gender identity disorder special consideration, such as with school uniforms, where to change or which toilets to use.

The group accuses the Education Ministry of falling short in this area.

“The ministry has given no guidelines to schools about what kind of measures they should take, so the education bureau says teachers are unable to answer the questions as individuals,” said Endo.

The group reported online Tuesday that the decision to halt the survey was made Jan. 28 by the Education Bureau. The bureau informed schools by email that day that staff should refrain from answering the questionnaire, the group said.

The bureau said its decision was well founded.

“First of all, posting the questionnaire directly to teachers was inappropriate, as the answers would represent their individual experience and not that of the school as a whole,” said Yumi Sakamoto, coordinator for human rights education at the bureau.

Endo said the bureau’s order left some teachers worried and others confused.

Teachers who contacted the group voiced concerns such as: “Does it mean that we schools shouldn’t teach students anything about LGBT people?” “Let us know what’s happening, as we are not told anything in detail,” and “I’m worried that officers at the Education Bureau might read what I wrote as answers to the survey.”

The Education Bureau stresses it is “aware of the importance of tackling the LGBT issue,” but Endo suggests there is “a bit of a gap in the degree of interest toward sexual minorities between bureaus.”

The Social Welfare and Public Health Bureau seems to be torn two ways. It understands the need to work hand in hand with the Education Bureau, but it also sees the importance of offering maximum support to LGBT people at risk of suicide.

“We believe there was nothing wrong with the content of the questionnaire. However, we regret (both the organizers and this bureau) failed to consult the Education Bureau before carrying out the questionnaire,” said the suicide prevention officer at the Social Welfare and Public Health Bureau.

“We decided to call it quits, however, because we felt that we should not create confusion in the schools,” he said, adding that the two bureaus should have worked together more closely.

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