Ministry employee with gender identity disorder to sue over rejected toilet request
November 02, 2015
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
A civil servant diagnosed with gender identity disorder and living as a woman plans to sue the economy ministry for refusing to let her use women’s restrooms at work.
It will be the first time in Japan for a sexual minority to take legal action to demand improvements in workplace conditions, according to lawyers for the employee.
The employee, in her 40s, was born a male but mentally feels like a woman. She was diagnosed as having gender identity disorder around 1998, after she joined the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
Although she has been treated as a woman at the ministry, its guidelines state that she cannot use the toilets for women as long as she is recognized as male on her family register.
But changing genders on registers in Japan requires the applicant to first undergo a genital-removal operation. The employee said such surgery is out of the question in her case because of her skin diseases and other reasons.
She is also taking issue with the ministry’s position that if she wants to use toilets for women, she should make her gender identity disorder public to her new colleagues whenever she is transferred.
The employee said she does not want her privacy violated, so she has refrained from seeking moves to different departments or offices.
Calling the ministry’s stance discriminatory, the civil servant plans to file an administrative lawsuit and a state compensation lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court in the near future.
“I want to be treated the same as other female employees,” she said.
In 2009, the employee asked the ministry to treat her as a woman. She said the reason it took as long as 11 years to make the request was that she waited until she became able to adapt to society as a woman.
During the period, she repeatedly underwent hormone treatments and operations to look like a woman, and in 2011, she changed her name to one for a woman.
The ministry allowed the civil servant to wear women’s clothes and use the lounges for women. Now, people who meet her for the first time assume she is a woman.
But she has still been banned, in principle, from using the toilets for women.
The employee obtained ministry documents based on the information disclosure law to find out why she could not use women’s restrooms at the ministry.
According to the documents, the ministry said the consent of female employees would be necessary, but two of them showed reluctance in allowing the employee to use the women’s toilets.
The ministry decided that as long as the employee is listed as male on the family register, she should use toilets for disabled people.
If she wants to use the toilets for women, she should make her gender identity disorder public and obtain consent from her female colleagues whenever she is moved to a new workplace in a personnel reshuffle, the ministry said in the documents.
The ministry declined to comment on the employee’s grievances.
“We cannot answer questions concerning the privacy of our employees,” a ministry official said.
The employee also said she has received little support about her toilet request from the higher-ups.
“If you cannot have an operation, how about returning to a man?” she quoted a superior as saying in January 2013.
The employee suffered from depression and took a temporary leave of absence of more than one year from February 2013.
She was provisionally given permission to use restrooms for women that are two or more floors away while the toilets for disabled people were being repaired.
The government does not have unified guidelines on how to treat employees with gender identity disorder. Ministries or private companies are asked to come up with their own guidelines.
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN