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Tokyo court ruling on transgender toilet use will inspire sexual minorities: plaintiff

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry official who won the lawsuit on her use of women's bathrooms at her workplace holds a press conference in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki district after the ruling was handed down on Dec. 12, 2019. (Mainichi/Kota Yoshida)

TOKYO -- A transgender employee who won a lawsuit against the government after it imposed restrictions on her use of women's toilets has hailed the decision as one that will inspire others.

The plaintiff, an official at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) who was born male but has lived as a woman, filed the lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court in 2015, and was awarded damages in a ruling on Dec. 12.

Speaking to reporters at the Justice Ministry Press Club in Tokyo after the ruling, she commented, "There is diversity among transgender people. My hope is for many workplaces to proactively pursue the task of improving working conditions.

"The court's decision is one that will give courage to others like me," she added. Her supporters, meanwhile, have expressed hope that the ruling will lead to the protection of the human rights of sexual minorities.

The official said she had felt uncomfortable being seen as male since she was young. Around 1998, after she began working at METI, she started undergoing female hormone treatment, and was diagnosed as having gender identity disorder. In 2010, she began working as a woman, and the following year, she changed her legal name. Still, she was prevented from using the women's bathrooms at her workplace.

The plaintiff responded with a lawsuit, but METI refused to work toward making improvements, even during the court proceedings. She said this was proof of the ministry's unwillingness to admit its mistake. Believing that what she was doing was also for the good of other sexual minorities, she fought a 4-year-long court battle, which eventually led to her victory.

"The ruling was an extremely good one that admitted the necessity of flexibly addressing individuals' needs. I am relieved," she said. She sees the decision as one that will inspire others in the same position as her and added, "What is important is dealing with people with an emphasis on human rights. I want to be treated like other women."

Society's awareness of people with gender dysphoria and other sexual minorities has been rising in recent years. Efforts have been made by both the public and private sectors to accommodate them, including Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, which in 2015 instituted a partnership system for same-sex couples.

The results of a survey released in November by the privately run Japan LGBT Research Institute show that transgender people comprise 1.8% of people aged from 20 to 69 nationwide. Furthermore, 91% of people said in the survey that they know the term "LGBT," as compared to 54.4% who said so in the institute's 2016 survey.

However, critics say that awareness has not necessarily led to the development of working environments that are accepting of sexual minorities.

According to Japan LGBT Research Institute chief Takahiko Morinaga, transgender people, who feel an inconsistency between their assigned sex at birth and the gender they identify with, feel stress when it comes to undergoing physical checkups, or using the bathroom or changing rooms at the workplace. Because they can be mistaken for being "peeping toms," in some cases they are forced to explain their sexual orientation and gender identity at work.

IBM Japan Ltd. has installed 24 toilets that can be used by anyone regardless of sex in its 25-story head office building in Tokyo. The company has also set up a consultation office for sexual minorities. However, due to space and funding issues, such efforts are limited to a small number of corporations. In a 2017 survey conducted by the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), many companies sought the development of guidelines on how to deal with sexual minorities.

(Japanese original by Kenji Tatsumi and Akira Hattori, City News Department)

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