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Japan’s Transgender Law Revisions Should Be Grounded in Autonomy

Compulsory Sterilization Removed, but Lawmakers Should Reject all Onerous Requirements

Participants at the Tokyo Trans March in Shibuya district of Tokyo, March 31, 2023. © 2023 Yuichi Yamazaki/AFP via Getty Images

Members of Japan’s Diet are revising the law, declared unconstitutional, that allows transgender people to change their legal gender.

Last October, Japan’s Supreme Court ruled the country’s sterilization surgery requirement for transgender people is unconstitutional, and now lawmakers are debating how to amend the legal gender recognition law. Debates have featured some troubling proposals, such as a lengthy waiting period and compulsory hormone treatment.

The world’s leading transgender health organization wrote to the Diet’s bipartisan LGBT caucus that medical requirements have no place in legal gender change procedures. “We urge you to resist the temptation to insert a requirement that transgender people undergo hormone therapy as a requirement,” stated the World Professional Association of Transgender Health (WPATH). “Hormone therapy is an important part of some transgender people’s health care; for other transgender people, it is not desired or necessary.” WPATH noted that requiring hormone therapy “as a prerequisite for legal gender recognition amounts to a form of coercion, similar to the surgery requirement.”

Since 2004, transgender people in Japan who want to legally change gender have had to 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. The law created significant and humiliating barriers for trans people, and violated Japan’s human rights commitments.

Diet members should draft a law removing the five criteria for changing legal gender and replace them with a simple administrative legal gender recognition process based on self-declaration that respects the rights of transgender individuals. In doing so, they would bring Japan in line with other countries, including Germany, which recently enacted a new law. WPATH’s standards of care make it clear that medical and legal processes related to gender transition should be separated, and healthcare services should be available for trans people who want them.

Japan has a unique opportunity to make robust legal protections for trans people a reality in the revision process. The recent statement by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida resonates strongly in this regard: “Gender identity is diverse and different for each person, and no one should ever be denied their own gender identity.”



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