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Editorial: Women's university takes major step to broaden sexual minorities' rights

Ochanomizu University in Tokyo has announced that it will start accepting transgender students whose biological sex is male but who identify themselves as female from April 2020, becoming the first women's university to do so in Japan.

The university had previously only allowed those identified as female on their family registers to apply to take its entrance examinations. In accordance with this policy, the university denied at least one transgender applicant enrollment about two years ago. However, the university had been reviewing this policy on the grounds that social recognition was spreading that the public must protect the rights of those whose biological gender is male but who identify themselves as female.

The university is set to revise its entry qualifications to include "people who identify themselves as female" as well as those registered as women on their family register, and establish a panel to consider how to recognize whether those who claim to be transgender are qualified to apply for the institution.

Women's universities were founded during the Meiji era (1868-1912) with the aim of expanding opportunities for the education of women. The latest decision by Ochanomizu University is of great significance in broadening the definition of women.

Universities have lagged behind elementary, junior high and high schools in responding to transgender people.

In 2015, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry asked boards of education across the country to give consideration to students with gender identity disorders (GID). Specifically, the ministry encouraged the boards to set up support teams for students with GID at each school, allow students to wear school uniforms that match their gender identity and use restrooms for school staff. The following year, the ministry compiled a handbook for teachers on how to respond to students with such disorders.

The Science Council of Japan, which is comprised mainly of university researchers, has pointed out that if students whose biological sex is male but who identify themselves as female are not allowed to study at women's universities, it constitutes an infringement of their rights to learn. This has been a hurdle that women's universities need to eventually overcome.

Multiple women's universities in the United States admit transgender students, while Japan Women's University and Nara Women's University are considering accepting such students. A growing number of women's universities in Japan will enroll transgender students.

Needless to say, consideration should be given to transgender students' relations with other students, and restrooms, changing rooms and other facilities should be improved to make them easier for such students to use. At the same time, how to allow these students to participate in club activities or how to secure dormitories for them will pose a challenge. Women's universities should consider ways so as not to place any unnecessary burden on transgender students.

Support for sexual minorities including transgender people is spreading in Japanese society.

Waseda University has set up an office dedicated to responding to such students and provides counseling. Multiple local bodies, including Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, have enforced ordinances recognizing same-sex couples. A growing number of companies are setting up counseling offices and a leave system for medical treatment for transgender individuals.

The accumulation of these efforts will expand support for sexual minorities.

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