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Global Call to Reform Japan’s Law on Transgender People

International Health Group Urges End to Forced Sterilization Requirement

Fumino Sugiyama, a transgender man, holds his Japanese ID card, which reads “female,” at his home in Tokyo. © 2019 Human Rights Watch
A leading international health organization has urged the government of Japan to reform its legal recognition procedure for transgender people.

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), comprised of more than 2,000 global healthcare professionals, wrote to the health and justice ministries in Tokyo last week calling on them to revise a law that requires trans people to be given a diagnosis of “gender identity disorder” and undergo sterilizing surgery if they wish to change their legal gender.

Currently, transgender people who want to do this in Japan must appeal to a family court under the Gender Identity Disorder Act, which was enacted in 2004. The procedure is discriminatory, requiring applicants to be single and without children under age 20, and demands trans people not only undergo a psychiatric evaluation to receive a “gender identity disorder” diagnosis, but that they are sterilized too.

The WPATH letter explains: “Some transgender people want to undergo hormonal treatment, surgical procedures, or other medical interventions as part of their transition. Others do not.” It adds that “mandatory use of medical services as part of the legal recognition process is not recommended on the basis of science or human rights.”

Last month, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) approved a major change to its global manual of diagnoses that reframes “gender identity disorders” as “gender incongruence” and moved it from being listed with “mental disorders” to a chapter on sexual health. It is an important development for transgender people who may soon be able to seek medical care without being deemed “mentally disordered.”

In its letter to Japan, WPATH President Dr. Vin Tangpricha, an endocrinologist, said that eliminating sterilization is the most urgent requirement, adding that: “The 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo will be an important moment for the government of Japan to demonstrate to the world that it respects the rights of all people.”

WPATH is not alone in its conviction that Japanese law needs to change. Last year, Japan told the UN it would move to end discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government even passed its own law against LGBT discrimination. Japan’s health and justice ministries should also be taking swift action.  

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