Kenji Yoshino Examines “Trans-First” Policies in Iran, Pakistan and Japan at ISGMH’s Inaugural Keynote Lecture


On October 9, ISGMH held its Inaugural Keynote Lecture, featuring Kenji Yoshino, the Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law at the New York University School of Law, and the Director of the Center for Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging. In a talk titled “LGBT or TLGB? Lessons from Trans-First Jurisdictions,” Yoshino challenged general perceptions about LGB-rights preceding transgender rights in civil rights movements, as has been the case in the United States and other countries where transgender individuals continue to be threatened.

Yoshino’s lecture focused on the policies of “trans-first” jurisdictions – Iran, Pakistan, and Japan – that have upended that progression by enacting trans-protective measures without first guaranteeing gender-based or orientation-based equality. For example, in Iran, gender confirmation surgery is legal and subsidized by the government. Earlier this year, Pakistan’s government passed a landmark bill guaranteeing its transgender citizens the right to have their gender identity recognized on official documents, including passports.

Despite seemingly progressive approaches to transgender rights, both Iran and Pakistan criminalize same-sex relationships; in Iran, they are punishable by death. In Japan, gender confirmation surgery is only allowed when accompanied by forced sterilization. LGB communities in Japan have no protections in terms of employment or housing discrimination, and same-sex marriage is not legally recognized.

According to Yoshino, the trans-first approaches in these jurisdictions are based on a strictly binary paradigm where the shift from one identity to the other is constrained and unidirectional. “Individuals are expected to move in heavily prescribed ways between categories,” said Yoshino. “This vision of trans-rights, which is predicated on fixed movement among fixed categories, shores up rather than subverts subordination on the basis of sexual orientation or sex,” he shared.

Following the lecture, attendees were invited to continue the conversation at a reception hosted by ISGMH.

Special thanks to Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law for their collaboration in hosting the Inaugural Keynote Lecture, and to operatic soprano ALEXA GRÆ for their performance at the event.