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Japan’s trans court ruling may hold silver lining, says rights NGO

Japan’s trans court ruling may hold silver lining, says rights NGO

Takakito Usui (R) with his girlfriend, Miyuki Yamamoto, is fighting forced sterilization of transgender people in Japan.

A recent ruling by Japan’s court over trans rights may have raised awareness about ways the law is failing the trans community, a leading human rights NGO has said.

Two senior members of Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that while the recent case ruled against the trans community, it has helped highlight the ‘serious problems of Japan’s legal gender recognition law’.

Current Japanese law states that trans people ‘permanently lack functioning gonads’ before they can be legally recognized in their gender identity.

This amounts to mandatory sterilization for trans people who wish to have documentation with their actual gender.

In January, Japan’s Supreme Court ruled that requiring the serialization procedure was constitutional following a court case filed by a trans man.

The article calls on Japan’s Justice Ministry to review its laws in accordance with human rights legislation.

‘The serious problems of Japan’s legal gender recognition law’

The statements were made in an article by HRW’s Japan Director, Kanae Doi, and Kyle Knight HRW’s Researcher, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program. 

They refer to the recent case of 43-year-old Takakito Usui who filed a lawsuit in February 2018 that requiring trans people to undergo sterilization before legally changing their gender.

The court ultimately ruled against Usui in January this year.

‘The ruling was a blow to the plaintiff, a trans man who does not want sterilization surgery, as well as all trans people in Japan who view the requirement as a barrier to obtaining equal protection of the law,’ Doi and Knight wrote.

‘But while the Supreme Court said the sterilization requirement was legally valid, two justices on the court, which is not known for being human rights friendly, also addressed the serious problems of Japan’s legal gender recognition law,’ they added.

‘It is now the government’s responsibility to amend the procedure and eliminate its coercive and discriminatory elements.’

The article goes on to describe the practice of sterilization as ‘regressive and harmful’ and is based on ‘an outdated and pejorative notion that transgender identity is a mental health condition’.

‘Two of the justices recognized the urgency of Usui’s case, and the need to reform Japan’s law,’ Doi and Knight continued.

‘It is now up to the Justice Ministry to review and revise the law in accordance with Japan’s human rights obligations, the consensus of the international medical community, and the wishes of many trans people in Japan.’

Much work to be done 

Japan is generally considered progressive for LGBTI rights, particularly when compared to other countries in Aisa.

However, the LGBTI community still lacks full equality, and countless LGBTI people continue to face a number of cultural and legislative hurdles.

Usui’s is not the only high-profile LGBTI legal case to be filed against the government.

Last month, thirteen same-sex couples in four different cities will file lawsuits against Japan’s government for failing to recognize same-sex marriage.

There have been a number of improvements in legal rights and protections for Japan’s LGBTI community in recent years. This includes the partnership oath system and anti-LGBTI discrimination legislation which will be introduced in Tokyo while the city hosts the 2020 Olympics.