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ON SEPTEMBER 21, 2023, the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) of the Judicial Yuan nullified the Kaohsiung High Administrative Court’s ruling on a transgender woman’s legal gender change appeal and ordered a rehearing. With regards to Ministry of Interior executive order #0970066240, which requires people assigned male at birth to surgically remove their penis and testis and people assigned female at birth to remove their breasts, uterus, and ovaries in order to change their legal gender, the SAC’s decision clearly states that this rule “seriously infringes upon bodily rights, medical rights, human dignity, and right of personality” (“嚴重侵害申請人之身體權、健康權、人性尊嚴及人格權”). Multiple transgender rights organizations, such as the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR) and Taiwan Non-binary Queer Sluts, have celebrated the SAC’s ruling.
The SAC decision was made on an administrative appeal case involving a transgender woman who lost her regional-level appeal for changing her legal gender. The plaintiff originally went to the Fongshan District Household Registration Office on November 6th, 2019 to apply for a legal gender change without providing proof of reproductive organ removal surgery. She was summarily denied due to lack of proof of surgery and applied for an administrative appeal. Her appeal eventually made its way to the Kaohsiung High Administrative Court in 2020, which ruled against her. The plaintiff then appealed her case once again to the SAC.
Since the Constitutional Court of the Judicial Yuan refused to move forward with a constitutional interpretation of Lisbeth Wu’s case earlier this February, it seems that the current legal strategy for abolishing the surgery requirement for changing one’s legal gender is to continue pushing administrative appeal cases in order to put pressure on the Ministry of Interior to change its compulsory surgery rule. For instance, on August 2nd of this year, a transgender man represented by TAPCPR had his second hearing before the Taipei High Administrative Court regarding his appeal to forgo the surgery requirement to change his legal gender. The Taipei High Administrative Court requested the Ministry of Interior attend this second hearing, which the Ministry of Interior obliged by sending a representative who defended compulsory surgery by citing public use of restrooms and gender-segregated nude hot springs.
Presumably in response to the SAC’s decision, the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) made a transphobic Facebook post yesterday accusing attempts to abolish compulsory surgery of “sneaking into” (“偷偷來”) the public agenda, and urging citizens to reject these attempts lest the country fall into social chaos (“否則將天下大亂”). In response, the Intersex, Transgender, and Transsexual People Care Association (ISTS), one of the first organizations in Taiwan to publicly push for abolishing the compulsory surgery requirement over ten years ago, held a small press conference in response to the TSU’s fearmongering in front of their Taipei headquarters this afternoon at 3 PM.
Yesterday’s SAC decision comes as a notable step forward for transgender rights in Taiwan, as it adds to the favorable legal precedence within the administrative courts for abolishing compulsory surgery. There are currently multiple transgender plaintiffs who are pushing forward administrative appeals across Taiwan against the compulsory surgery requirement for changing one’s legal gender. Any administrative court in Taiwan that rules in favor of compulsory surgery for these and future cases will now need to make a convincing case contradicting the SAC’s unambiguous condemnation. In yesterday’s decision, the SAC further stated that the stability of a person’s gender identity is not inextricably linked to whether they have had their reproductive organs surgically removed. It remains to be seen how long it will take for the general public to catch up with the growing legal consensus against compulsory surgery.