Japan: Compelled Sterilization of Transgender People

Japan’s government should stop forcing transgender people to be surgically sterilized if they want legal recognition of their gender identity.

A transgender woman is suing the Japanese government over a law that prevents her from having her legal gender officially changed from “male” to “female” – only because she has an 8-year-old child.

In Japan, transgender people who want to legally change their gender must appeal to a family court. Under the law, applicants must undergo a psychiatric evaluation and be surgically sterilized. They also have to be single and without children who are younger than 20.

In this case, the 52-year-old transgender woman has already undergone sex reassignment surgery (a requirement of the Japanese law) and relinquished custody of her child. Still, the burdensome and unfair law remains a barrier to her identity being legally recognized.

Many transgender people are parents. Studies in the United States show that between 25 percent and 50 percent of trans people have children, that trans parents overwhelmingly report positive relationships with their children, and that having a trans parent has no impact on a child’s development.

Fumino Sugiyama, a prominent LGBT rights activist in Tokyo and transgender man, has written that his inability to be legally recognized as male has caused him significant hardship. He also said that “the most painful thing for me to grapple with is that I am not a legal guardian of my infant child. It doesn’t matter how many times I change diapers or feed the baby, I have no legal rights.”

In January 2019, Japan’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that the law did not violate Japan’s constitution. However, two of the justices recognized the need for reform. “The suffering that [transgender people] face in terms of gender is also of concern to society that is supposed to embrace diversity in gender identity,” they wrote.

In 2017, during its Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council, the government of Japan pledged to revise this law. UN experts and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health have both urged Japan to eliminate the discriminatory elements and to treat trans people, as well as their families, the same as other citizens.

Japan’s requirements for transgender legal recognition are onerous, discriminatory, and humiliating. The law is harming not only trans people, but also their children.