Excessively Broad Interpretation of Ruling Must be Avoided

Circumstances likely vary among people who feel their gender identity does not correspond with the one they were assigned at birth. The Supreme Court ruling can be said to indicate that the kind of work environment that is needed should be considered on an individual basis, taking into account each person’s situation.

An official in her 50s at the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry with gender identity disorder, who is male according to her family register but lives as a woman, filed a suit against the central government, seeking to remove what she said were unjustified restrictions on using women’s restrooms in the ministry building. The top court ruled that the government’s response is illegal.

The plaintiff was diagnosed with gender identity disorder after joining the ministry and has been working in female attire since 2010. She was required by the ministry to use the women’s restrooms at least two floors away from her workplace for the purpose of “avoiding problems with other female employees.”

The Tokyo District Court acknowledged the illegality of the restrictions on restroom use, but the Tokyo High Court ruled that they were not illegal.

However, the Supreme Court said in its ruling that the possibility of the plaintiff engaging in sexual violence even if she used a women’s restroom was low, and that she so far had not had any trouble with other female employees. The top court probably thought that the ministry gave too much consideration to other employees and instead made light of the disadvantage to the plaintiff.

As a supplementary opinion, one of the top court justices stated that the ruling did not apply to public facilities that are accessed by an unspecified number of people. As the ruling mentioned the plaintiff and her workplace, it is wrong to stretch the interpretation of the ruling to restrooms in department stores, parks and other facilities.

More than a few people feel resistant toward someone of the opposite sex entering restrooms. It is unacceptable for a man with malicious intent to claim that he is a woman and enter a women’s restroom.

If the top court ruling leads to an extreme debate that people should be widely allowed to use restrooms according to their gender identity, it could cause confusion in society.

In the latest Diet session, a law to promote understanding of sexual minorities was enacted without sufficient discussion. Organizations that support women’s rights and other entities are concerned that transgender people’s use of public bathhouses or women’s restrooms may infringe on women’s rights.

In June, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry issued a notice regarding the use of public bathhouses in which the ministry said men and women should be distinguished based on their physical characteristics. If undue emphasis is placed on gender identity, this view of distinguishing between men and women based on their physical characteristics could be denied as unjustifiable discrimination.

Many transgender people live their lives without disclosing their gender identity. In workplace and educational settings, it is important to consider, on a case-by-case basis, solutions that can protect the rights of the individual and those around them, while giving due consideration to privacy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 12, 2023)