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Illegal to Restrict Transgender People’s Bathroom Use, Japan’s Supreme Court Rules

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Japan’s Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal to restrict a transgender person from using certain bathrooms, in its first ruling on LGBTQ people’s rights in the workplace.

The case involved an employee at the country’s trade ministry, who is a transgender woman, according to documents about the ruling released by the Supreme Court of Japan. The plaintiff sought permission to use women’s toilets after identifying as female, but was only allowed to use bathrooms at least two floors away.

She filed a lawsuit against the government in 2015, after her requests to improve the situation were denied by authorities, according to local broadcaster NHK.

Japan has faced scrutiny for its lack of protection for sexual and gender minorities in recent months, while existing protections have come under threat in the U.S. and criticism has emerged over gender-neutral restrooms in the U.K.

Read More: Everything You Need to Know About the Debate Over Transgender People and Bathrooms

In its ruling, Japan’s highest court said that the toilet restrictions put the woman at a disadvantage on a daily basis by forcing her to use men’s restrooms, or women’s restrooms that were further away.

“The relevant ministries will respond appropriately after closely studying the court’s ruling,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters.

Japan last month passed a bill aimed at promoting LGBTQ understanding. The new law, however, discourages only “unfair” discrimination and activist groups have decried it as a set-back for the LGBTQ community. It was nonetheless opposed by some conservatives.

Read More: Courts in Japan Support Same-Sex Marriage, But Lawmakers Are Reluctant to Legalize It. Here’s Why

Matsuno added Wednesday that the government will be putting together a basic plan and guidelines based on the bill, while heeding parliamentary debates and listening to the voices of those concerned.

Over 40% of people who said they identified as transgender said they would like to use gender-neutral restrooms in public places and offices, according to a survey conducted by Japanese housing goods maker Lixil Corp. and others in November.

In the same survey, some 70% of people who said they identified as cisgender said they did not have qualms about transgender people using restrooms that match their gender identity.

—With assistance from Yuki Hagiwara.

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