For Korean trans teens, even using school bathrooms involves questions of safety

Posted on : 2024-03-21 17:29 KST Modified on : 2024-03-21 17:29 KST
A youth LGBTQ+ support center is advocating for measures to be implemented to make schools more inclusive and safe
DDing Dong, a Korean LGBTQ+ youth support organization, hosts a presentation at the Canadian Embassy in Seoul on March 20, 2024, on research for improving laws and institutions for a more accepting school environment. (Oh Se-jin/The Hankyoreh)
DDing Dong, a Korean LGBTQ+ youth support organization, hosts a presentation at the Canadian Embassy in Seoul on March 20, 2024, on research for improving laws and institutions for a more accepting school environment. (Oh Se-jin/The Hankyoreh)

“I tend not to go to the restroom [for fear of my gender identity being revealed]. I’ll just hold it in, and there have been times when it’s been really urgent and I’ve just left early.” — 16-year-old trans girl attending a boys’ school

“I’ve found an out-of-the-way restroom that people rarely use, and I’ll only come out after checking outside the stall to see there’s no one there.” — 16-year-old trans boy attending a co-ed school
 
For most people, school restrooms and similar facilities are ordinary spaces for all school members to use. But with their binary divisions between “girls” and “boys,” school restrooms are an uncomfortable and intimidating space for transgender students whose gender identity is different from their outward physical appearance.

On Wednesday afternoon, the youth LGBTQ+ support center Dding Dong held a presentation at the Canadian Embassy in central Seoul’s Jung District to share research findings on legal and institutional improvements to amend school practices that exclude and discriminate against LGBTQ+ students.

To develop ideas for improvements, Dding Dong conducted a survey of transgender and genderqueer students between Sept. 24 and Oct. 7 of last year. Of the 86 who took part, 59 (69%) replied that they did not feel comfortable using school restrooms.

The surveyed students described not drinking water to avoid having to urinate, waiting until there was no one in the restroom, and only visiting the restroom during class hours rather than break times. These patterns were based on fears of being involuntarily outed while using the facilities.

These students were also found to suffer severe harassment at schools.

In January, the Busan chapter of Asunaro: Action for Youth Rights of Korea published findings from a study of LGBTQ+ students attending elementary, middle, high, and alternative schools in the Busan area. Of the 208 respondents, 39% said that they had suffered mistreatment such as outing, teasing, insults, condemnation and violence in schools because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

As a first step in making schools more inclusive for LGBTQ+ students, Dding Dong advocated the inclusion of rules in the Act on the Safety and Maintenance of Educational Facilities, etc. stating that “facilities should be provided in such a way that [students] do not face discrimination on the basis not only of sex, religion, home region, country, or ethnicity but also of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The center also stressed the importance of amending the enforcement roles for the School Health Act to form a basis for establishing single-occupant “restrooms for everyone” that can be used regardless of gender, age, sexual identity, or ability, as well as amending the School Sports Promotion Act to establish a basis for providing single-person showers, changing rooms, and other athletic facilities along with dormitories suited to gender identity.

Other suggestions were to expand the category of “violence in schools” according to the Act on the Prevention of and Countermeasures against Violence in Schools to include harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and to amend its enforcement decree to include content related to LGBTQ+, multicultural, disabled, and other minority students in surveys on violence in schools.

By Oh Se-jin, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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