The Japanese government has been ordered to pay compensation to a transgender official who was not allowed access to the women’s bathroom at work.
Tokyo district court awarded a payout of 1.32 million yen in damages to the government official and ruled that it was illegal for her superior to tell her to “become a man again”.
"The court also ordered the government to let the official use the women’s bathroom freely, by removing the requirement that she notify female employees she is transgender," a court spokesman told AFP.
The case is understood to be the first of its kind in Japan, involving damages being paid out over the work environment for transgender employees.
The official, who works at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, reportedly started working in women’s clothing in 2010, with the approval of her workplace.
However, some of her female colleagues requested that she use different toilets, meaning that she faced either visiting disabled toilets or restrooms for women located several floors away from her department, according to the Mainichi newspaper.
The official filed a lawsuit in November 2015, with the government subsequently arguing that it had limited her access to the women’s bathroom because it “could not set aside concerns that she could harm female staff”.
The result of the court case marks a landmark victory for the nation’s transgender population, which has long been stigmatised in Japanese soecity, particularly in the context of the nation’s famously conservative corporate workplaces.
As many as 90 per cent of transgender job seekers have experienced problems with the highly-structured recruitment process in Japan, according to a survey published in May by the non-profit organisation ReBit, reflecting the deep rooted gender stereotypes that continue to prevail in many companies.
The concept of transgender is also still widely misunderstood in Japan, with only 57 of people questioned in a survey by Japan LGBT Research Institute Inc, released earlier this month, correctly identifying what it means
However, the government official’s successful court battle is one of a string of legal cases that are increasingly casting the issue of transgender discrimination into the spotlight in Japan.
Earlier this month, a 52-year-old transgender woman filed a lawsuit against the government over a law that prevents parents of minors from changing their sex in the official family registry system.
The woman, who has an eight-year-old daughter, has already relinquished custody of her child and had sex reassignment surgery earlier this year, according to local media reports. However, the law prohibits her from being identified as female in official Japanese family documents.
The case highlights Japan’s stringent transgender laws, with those who wish to legally change their gender currently required to be surgically sterilised, unmarried and have no children under the age of 20.
There are growing international calls for reform of its transgender laws, with both UN experts and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health urging the elimination of discrimination, according to Human Rights watch.
In Japan, however, the reality of daily life for transgender workers remains challenging, as reflected in a television station that was forced to apologise last month after outing and mocking a transgender woman on TV without her consent.
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