Japan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday (July 11th) handed down a historic decision in favor of a transgender employee who sued the government to guarantee women’s access to toilets in their workplace. The high court ruled that the banning of this woman in her fifties from accessing the nearest toilets, forcing her to use other toilets located on floors other than her office, “severely lacking in validity”.
This is the first ruling from Japan’s highest court regarding the working conditions of LGBT+ people. Experts say the move could change how the public and private sectors handle sensitive issues around women-only spaces.
Asked about the court ruling, the Prime Minister’s Office said the government “take appropriate action” after studying the verdict. “The government will work resolutely to achieve a society in which diversity is respected”said government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno, without giving further details.
The case began with a complaint from a transgender woman who was told by her employer, the Ministry of Economy and Trade, that she could only use a women’s toilet two floors up from her office. She argued that being barred from the nearest female toilets “deeply hurt” to his dignity and violated a law that protects state employees in the workplace.
The woman was diagnosed with gender dysphoria around 1999, when she was already a civil servant, and she told her supervisor in 2009 that she wanted to dress and work like a woman. The ministry had approved some of her requests, but had insisted that she could only use the women’s restrooms a few floors from her office, citing the lack of “public understanding” towards transgender people.
The decision had been approved by a neutral body for the arbitration of decisions involving civil servants. However, at a hearing last month, the complainant argued that no departmental employee had explicitly expressed her discomfort with toilet sharing.
Japanese law currently requires transgender people to undergo surgery if they want to gain legal recognition of their identity. The plaintiff in this case has not changed sex, but lives as a woman.
In 2019, a Tokyo court agreed with him, finding that the ministry’s treatment “restricted important legal rights”. But a higher court overturned the judgment in 2021 and ruled in favor of the state, acknowledging that it was incumbent on it to take into account “embarrment and anxiety” felt by other people when this woman used the women’s washroom.
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Earlier this year, Japan ped its first law ostensibly aimed at protecting the LGBT+ community from discrimination. However, campaigners have denounced the watered-down wording of the bill, which only opposes “unfair discrimination”.
The World with AFP