A Japanese family court has ruled that the country’s requirement that transgender people be surgically sterilized to change their legal gender is unconstitutional. The ruling is the first of its kind in Japan, and comes as the Supreme Court considers a separate case about the same issue.
In 2021, Gen Suzuki, a transgender man, filed a court request to have his legal gender recognized as male without undergoing sterilization surgery as prescribed by national law. This week the Shizuoka Family Court ruled in his favor, with the judge writing: “Surgery to remove the gonads has the serious and irreversible result of loss of reproductive function. I cannot help but question whether being forced to undergo such treatment lacks necessity or rationality, considering the level of social confusion it may cause and from a medical perspective.”
In Japan, transgender people who want to legally change their gender must appeal to a family court. Under the Gender Identity Disorder (GID) Special Cases Act, applicants must undergo a psychiatric evaluation and be surgically sterilized. They also must be single and without children younger than 18.
Momentum is growing in Japan to change the law, as legal, medical, and academic professionals are speaking out against it. United Nations experts and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health have both urged Japan to eliminate the law’s discriminatory elements and to treat trans people, as well as their families, the same as other citizens.
In 2019, Japan’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that stated 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. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a trans government employee using the restrooms in accordance with her gender identity. Her employer had barred her from using the women’s restrooms on her office floor because she had not undergone the surgical procedures and therefore had not changed her legal gender.
The current case before the grand chamber of the Supreme Court asks the justices to eliminate the outdated and abusive sterilization requirement.