OPINION: Japan’s transgender law needs to change

Wednesday, 15 January 2020 10:48 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A reveller wears a face mask as he participates in the Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) culture in Tokyo, Japan, May 8, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Mandatory sterilisation should be removed immediately

Michael Kirby is past Justice of the High Court of Australia and co-chair of the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute

The purpose of law is to protect people and organise society according to principles of justice. There is nothing protective or just about Japan’s Gender Identity Disorder Special Cases Act. It needs to be revised urgently as there is no excuse for continuing a regime of forcing sterilisation on people.

As long as it remains on the books, Japan will continue to backslide against its peers.

When Japan instituted its legal gender recognition law in 2004, it was a major turning point in how the government treated issues of gender and sexuality. At that time, major Japanese allies and trade partners such as Germany, the Netherlands and my home country of Australia all required trans people to be sterilised before they were legally recognised.

Each of these governments – and dozens more from Argentina to Nepal – have subsequently passed laws declaring that surgery is not a requirement for legal recognition. Under these new legal regimes, transgender citizens have been able to thrive, and society has benefited from the increased freedom and respect afforded to this minority group.

In recent years, global institutions such as the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, the UN special rapporteurs on health and torture and Human Rights Watch have rightly pointed out that the Japanese government needs to revise its legal gender recognition procedure. The World Health Organization supports this position—that no one should be forced or coerced into sterilization by law. Japanese transgender activists such as Fumino Sugiyama, a co-chair of Tokyo Rainbow Pride and former athlete, have pointed out how the Tokyo Olympics next summer will spotlight Japan’s human rights record, and this law remains a blight.

A few years back I attended a UN consultation in Hong Kong about the law and transgender people. The organisers did something unusual. They arranged for a top surgeon from Belgium to come to the meeting of lawmakers and human rights specialists. He came, as surgeons do, with his slides of photos of ‘’correctional surgery”.

The photographs also showed how invasive trans surgery is. And how totally disproportionate imposing it on unwilling people is when all they generally want is a new passport or identity document.

As a result, the legislation then before the Hong Kong legislators was withdrawn. More people who propose compulsory reassignment surgery for the unwilling should be required to see those medical slides and to consider what they are demanding of a fellow human being who knows who they are and does not feel the need of invasive surgery to prove it.

Indeed, societies thrive when more people are acknowledged, included and protected. Requiring anyone to undergo invasive and irreversible surgery as a precondition for the basic rights of citizenship is both insulting to the individual and unbecoming of the society.

It teaches young people, LGBT+ or not, that there is something so different about transgender people that it needs to be medically “fixed” before they can be afforded their basic rights.

In 2017, during its Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council, Japan accepted New Zealand’s recommendation to “Take steps to address discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, including revising the Gender Identity Disorder Law”.

It’s time to turn that pledge into action.

Some transgender people want surgery, others do not. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure that this major undertaking is their choice – not forced upon them by law. It’s time for Japan to join its peers and put forced sterilisation of transgender people in the past.

This piece was originally published in IRONNA, a Japanese newspaper.