Taiwan court rules against surgery requirement for legal gender change

Domestic News

LGBTQ+ advocates are celebrating the ruling, but want legislation to secure rights.

Illustration by Derek Zheng

Last Thursday, a high administrative court in Taipei ruled against a law requiring transgender people to provide proof of surgery before changing their legal gender, according to local news reports and LGBTQ+ rights groups. Advocates celebrated the ruling as a major step for transgender rights in Taiwan.

Two years ago, a plaintiff known as Xiao E requested that the Daxi, Taoyuan household administrative affairs office change the gender on her ID card from male to female, but was rejected because she had not provided proof of surgery to remove male organs. She later filed an administrative lawsuit with the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR), the same organization that won a 2017 case which led to Taiwan’s legalization of same-sex marriage in 2019.

The court ruled in favor of Xiao E based on psychiatric evaluations — which are also currently mandatory to legally change one’s gender — purporting that “her gender identity has long been female,” said Victoria Hsu, the attorney who represented Xiao E in the case and the co-founder of TAPCPR. Hsu also pointed to several international human rights conventions, and the court decided that obtaining identification that is in line with one’s gender identity is a personal privacy right.

Hsu called Thursday’s ruling historic, and if the household registration office doesn’t appeal, this will be the first time a transgender person in Taiwan can legally change their gender without surgery. Hsu said TAPCPR is unsure whether an appeal will happen.

The Ministry of the Interior planned to lift the rule in 2014 and replace it with a committee of specialists that would determine whether someone could legally change their registered gender, but these plans were never carried out.

“We hope this will be the beginning to abolish the requirement of compulsory surgery, to protect transgender peoples’ dignity and rights and hopefully help to pass a legislation to regulate the process of gender marker change in the near future,” Hsu said.

She added that TAPCPR is preparing legislation to ban mandatory surgery as well as psychiatric evaluations in order to legally change one’s gender to “set a standard and reasonable requirements and process in relation to gender marker change.” She also believes Taiwan is due for a comprehensive anti-discrimination law.

Taiwan is viewed as Asia’s most progressive society when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights. It was the first — and remains the only place in East Asia — to legalize same-sex marriage. But activists still see several barriers to full equality under laws that limit transnational same-sex marriage and adoption rights.