National / Social Issues

LGBT groups, educators call for diversity in school uniforms

Kyodo

LGBT groups along with educators have highlighted the need to allow sexual minority students in middle schools and high schools to freely choose uniforms they feel most comfortable wearing.

Nearly all schools in Japan require students to wear uniforms that are strictly dictated by binary notions of gender — black jackets with militaristic stand-up collars or blazers with pants and neckties for boys and sailor suits, pleated skirts and ribbons for girls.

The lack of choice creates an uncomfortable and possibly traumatic situation for students who have female physical traits but identify as male, or vice versa.

Anri Ishizaki, head of Fukuoka Rainbow Educational Networks, told a symposium in the city of Fukuoka on Saturday that the group has heard precisely those kinds of concerns from students and the issue should be discussed.

“School uniforms could consist of blazers (for all students), with a choice between pants and skirts, ribbons and neckties,” proposed the 33-year-old, who was born female but does not clearly identify as male or female.

Fukuoka Girls’ Commercial High School from this school year beginning in April started letting students choose between skirts and pants regardless of gender identity. “We’re careful that (the uniform) doesn’t force our students to come out at school,” the school’s principal, Haruo Shibata, explained at the symposium.

The event was arranged by the Fukuoka Bar Association and attended by some 180 people.

LGBT students would not be the only ones to benefit from more uniform options, according to Takehiko Yoshioka, a philosophy of law professor at Saga University.

“It’s hard to feel like you have to live up to some idea of ‘masculinity’ or ‘femininity.’ There are many students who would have an easier time going to school if they were free to dress as they like,” Yoshioka said.