TOKYO: A Japanese women’s university said Tuesday it will admit transgender students who were born male but identify as female, a rare move in a country where LGBT rights lag behind other developed nations.
An official at the education ministry told AFP the move by Ochanomizu University in Tokyo was “likely unprecedented”, though he could not confirm if it was a national first, and praised the decision.
“It is desirable that many universities take steps in the direction of understanding the needs of sexual minorities, though making such a decision is up to each university,” he said.
A university spokesperson said the policy would come into force from fiscal year 2020, and would apply to would-be students who were born male but identify as female.
The move by the university, which was Japan’s first institution of higher education for women and opened in 1875, comes as many local private universities are reportedly weighing a similar policy, following in the footstep of American schools.
Ochanomizu University will hold a press conference ‘soon’ to explain the background and details of the decision, the university spokesperson said.
Japan has gradually been moving to accommodate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) children and students.
In 2015, the education ministry issued instructions to municipalities to address the needs of LGBT students, including efforts to prevent bullying and addressing issues linked to changing rooms and school uniforms.
About one in 13 people in Japan is estimated to belong to the LGBT community, according to private company research.
But despite a relatively tolerant environment, only 13% are open with friends about their sexual orientation or gender identity, with just over 10% coming out to their family and less than five percent to their colleagues, according to the Japan LGBT Research Institute.
Japan has no national legislation recognising same-sex partnership, though some local governments have policies recognising same-sex civil unions.
And transgender Japanese face serious hurdles to changing their birth gender on legal documents.
Akane Tsunashima, acting secretary general of rights group Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation, welcomed the move as “a positive step towards an environment where all universities take measures to accept sexual minorities as they are.”
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