National

Universities in Japan taking steps to promote acceptance of LGBT students

Kyodo

The movement to create safe environments for sexual minorities at universities is gaining traction across Japan, with alumni groups and faculty promoting initiatives to deepen understanding and provide support for the LGBT community.

“I want to make my alma mater a place where sexual minorities can study with confidence,” Gon Matsunaka,43, said in a lecture hall at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo in September.

Matsunaka, who is gay, is the president of Pride Bridge, a volunteer group of Hitotsubashi graduates. He also works at a nonprofit organization supporting sexual minorities.

In September, Pride Bridge and the university’s Center for Gender Research and Social Sciences formally agreed to cooperate on creating an environment where sexual minorities can study without discrimination.

In addition to 13 lectures on such topics as same-sex marriage and LGBT employment issues, the agreement also outlined plans to establish a base for LGBT individuals and supporters to gather.

The impetus was an incident in 2015 in which a student at the university took his life after being outed by a classmate in whom he had confided about being gay.

Matsunaka, who hadn’t come out at the time, was shaken by the news. To spark change, he started Pride Bridge with two classmates and opened talks with the university.

On Sept. 25, the group invited two postgraduate students in gender research to speak at its second lecture.

“If someone comes out to you, it is important that you first try to sincerely understand them,” Remi Kodamaya, 23, told an audience of around 500 as he touched on the incident.

“It is important the university conveys the message that it is a place where all minorities can feel safe in their daily lives,” said Kazuki Maenosono, 23, who attended the lecture.

Other universities are taking similar steps. In 2017, the University of Tsukuba in Ibaraki Prefecture set a national precedent by publishing guidelines prohibiting discrimination against sexual minorities.

“As gender identity and sexual orientation has no bearing on abilities the university values, there shall be no discrimination or harassment,” the guidelines say. Students are also instructed to refer to transgender peers by their desired name.

It also established a consultation office for those unsure of what to do if someone confides in them.

In June, staff at the University of Tsukuba spearheaded the University Diversity Alliance, a network of individuals affiliated with institutions of higher education. Members include faculty from the University of Tokyo and Ochanomizu University, a women’s school that decided in July to begin accepting transgender students from 2020.

“I hope to share knowledge accumulated by different universities on ways to support (minorities),” said Yoshiyuki Kawano, an assistant professor at the Faculty of Human Sciences and one of the founders of the alliance.

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