The Supreme Court of Japan ruled on Tuesday that the restriction of transgender women’s use of female bathrooms is unlawful. This landmark decision overturns a 2021 Tokyo High Court ruling and marks the first time the high court has spoken to sexual minorities’ usage of bathrooms.
The five-judge Supreme Court panel found unanimously in favor of the appellant. The court found that the government’s restriction on bathroom usage was unjust and inappropriate.
In this case, the appellant—who chose to remain anonymous—still bears a male gender marker because of being unable to undergo the required surgery, due to health reasons. Under current Japanese law, transgender people in Japan can only alter their gender markers on their family register after undergoing gender reassignment surgery.
The case arose when the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry forced the appellant to use a bathroom several floors below the floor that she worked on because her fellow coworkers were uncomfortable with her using the women’s bathroom on their floor. The appellant was forced to undergo this treatment at work from 2010 through 2013, at which point she asked the National Personnel Authority, under Article 86 of the National Public Service Act, to lift the restriction on her bathroom use. Her request was rejected and she filed suit in 2015.
A district court found in favor of the appellant in 2019. However, that ruling was later overruled by a Tokyo High Court ruling in 2021.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court overruled the 2021 ruling in their Tuesday decision. The court held that the appellant’s workplace should have not only considered the comfort of the appellant’s coworkers in allowing the appellant to use female bathrooms, but also the appellant’s benefit of leading a social life based on her own gender identity. The court accused the government of not doing enough to work towards the realization of an inclusive society that respects diversity, such as that of the appellant.
Toshimasa Yamashita, the legal representative of the appellant, hoped that the legislature will draft new guidelines on bathroom usage by transgender people soon. The Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno responded in a press conference that the government is considering next steps.
Japan is currently the only G7 country which lacks legal protection over sexual minorities’ rights. Yet, four local courts, including the Nagoya and the Fukuoka District Courts, have recently ruled that the lack of legal protection for same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.