The Japanese government has taken some positive steps to improve the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. But the country’s legal gender recognition procedure – the law that allows transgender people to be recognized according to their gender identity – remains a stain on Japan’s record.
In Japan, transgender people who seek legal gender change must appeal to a family court under Law 111 of 2003 that, when passed, represented a watershed moment in Japan, opening up public discussion on sexual and gender minority issues.
However, the procedure is discriminatory, requiring applicants to be single and without children under 20, undergo a psychiatric evaluation to receive a diagnosis of “Gender Identity Disorder” (GID), and be sterilized.
The law requires applicants to “permanently lack functioning gonads” before they can be legally recognized, which amounts to forced sterilization, a practise condemned by health and rights bodies across the globe, including the United Nations World Health Organization. In 2013, the UN special rapporteur on torture noted that transgender people being “required to undergo often unwanted sterilization surgeries as a prerequisite to enjoy legal recognition of their preferred gender” was a human rights violation, and called on governments to prohibit the practise.
In 2016, a bipartisan group of members of the Diet, Japan’s parliament, planned to consider revisions to Law 111 to relax the requirements for legal gender recognition – but the discussion never took place. That same year, in response to a letter from the UN special rapporteurs on health and on torture about Law 111, Japan’s Ministry of Health wrote that it was proud of the country’s progress on LGBT rights. But the government defended the medical model and hid behind its stated need for “objectivity and certainty” in determining whether people were actually transgender – and therefore deserving of legal recognition or not.
Forcing people to undergo unwanted surgeries to obtain documentation is contrary both to Japan’s human rights obligations and its reputation as a champion of LGBT rights. The government should urgently revise Law 111 to end forced sterilization.