TOKYO — Japan’s Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that restricting a transgender woman’s use of toilets at her workplace was “unacceptable,” a decision that may help promote LGBTQ rights in the only Group of Seven nation without legal protection for same-sex unions.
The ruling, the first by Japan’s highest court on the work environment for LGBTQ people, comes in the wake of a series of mostly positive regional court rulings about same-sex marriage and after the passing of a law to promote understanding of the LGBTQ community.
An official at the economy ministry who was assigned male at birth sued because she was only allowed to use women’s toilets several floors away from her office, instead of closer ones. A Tokyo District Court ruled in 2019 that these restrictions were unlawful, but the decision was reversed in 2021 by the Tokyo High Court.
In Japan, transgender people can only legally change their gender on their family register if they have had gender reassignment surgery. The woman in the court case was unable to do so due to health reasons, media said.
“We will carefully examine the ruling and take appropriate measures after consulting with the relevant ministries and agencies,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that it would continue to make efforts to respect the diversity of its staff.
In five local court cases on same-sex marriage in Japan over the last two years, the most recent a month ago, four courts ruled that not allowing it was either unconstitutional or nearly so. One said not allowing it was in line with the constitution.
On June 16, Japan enacted a law meant to promote understanding of the LGBTQ community that critics say provides no human rights guarantees, though some lawmakers said it was too permissive.
Though the law was watered down before being passed due to demands from conservative lawmakers, it still set off an anti-transgender backlash. Some lawmakers formed a group to guarantee the safety of women in toilets and public baths or hot springs.