In a landmark moment for China’s LGBT community, earlier today, a court in Guizhou became the first in the country’s history to hear a case regarding transgender discrimination.
The litigant in the case, a 28-year-old transgender man, identified only as “Mr. C,” in order to protect the privacy of his family and girlfriend, says he was fired after only working seven days at his new job at health inspection firm, Ciming Checkup, because he dressed in men’s clothing for work.
Mr. C alleges that staff at Ciming were satisfied with his work performance as a sales consultant; however, he was told by a human resources manager that he looked “like a lesbian” and therefore ran the risk of harming the company’s reputation, The Washington Post reports.
The firing occurred back in April 2015, Mr. C told local reporters that he had not listed his gender on the application form, but the company was aware of his “special gender situation.”
“My sales job performance was in no way negatively affected by appearance. To fire me for this reason is to discriminate against me,” he said, according to the AP.
At first, Mr. C was unsure of what to do. However, later in the year, he visited a LGBT law seminar in Shenzhen where he was encouraged to take legal action against Ciming. On March 7th, Mr. C and his attorney Hung Sha filed a labor case, asking for a week’s salary in unpaid wages (600 yuan) and a month’s worth in compensation (2,000 yuan), along with a written apology.
“At first I was worried about being insulted by the public,” he said, according to the Washington Post. “But I made the decision to stand up, because somebody needs to speak up for this group.”
The labor arbitration committee accepted the case on March 14. By March 30th, the two parties underwent mediation, with Ciming agreeing to pay the wages and compensation, but refusing to issue an apology to Mr. C.
Therefore, the case went to court and when the Yunyan district labor dispute board opened in Guiyang earlier today, it became the first Chinese court to hear a case on transgender issues. According to the China-based English-language digital paper, Sixth Tone, at the hearing, Ciming confirmed that it “expects female sales consultants to wear skirts and males to wear suits.” The court is expected to render a verdict in late April.
Whatever the verdict, the case promises to bring wider attention to transgender issues in China. The Chinese LGBT community has recently been making slight gains in the courtroom in the past few years. Most notably, electric shock “gay conversion treatments” were ruled against in a 2014 landmark case in Beijing.
That case was brought against a Chongqing counseling center by an ex-client who said the electroshock therapy he was subjected to left him traumatized. Chinese search behemoth Baidu, which accepted online ads promoting “cures for homosexuality” by the counseling center and other similar clinics, was also named as a defendant in the case. The activist, Yangzi Peng, later opened up about his controversial lawsuit against Baidu and the gay conversion clinic in an Al Jazeera documentary.
This year, a court in Changsha also became the first to accept to hear a marriage equality case in China, after a gay couple’s marriage request was denied with one local official saying that “marriage had to be between a man and a woman.” The court will begin hearing that trial on Wednesday.
Still, there is quite a way to go for LGBT advocates in China. Chinese labor law contains an anti-discrimination clause that covers ethnicity, religion and sex — but not gender or sexual identity. China’s new domestic violence does not apply to gay couples and recently Chinese censors have been cracking down on “immoral content,” including depictions of homosexuality in the media.
Mr. C hopes that his case will be able to bring much-needed awareness of transgender issues to mainstream Chinese society. In an article in the medical journal, The Lancet, five surgeons estimated that there are around 400,000 transgender people in China. Despite that high number, less than 800 have actually undergone reassignment surgeries in the last 30 years.
According to Sixth Tone, this is because reassignment surgery in the mainland is very expensive and often not really worth it. “I think it’s a waste of money; the results aren’t that impressive,” Mr. C said. However, the process to change one’s gender on identity documents is long and legally complex, requiring that applicants have undergone the surgery.