Chinese netizens are celebrating a landmark court ruling regarding employment discrimination against transgender people. Dangdang.com, a Chinese ecommerce platform once seen as an Amazon-equivalent, was ruled to have infringed an employee’s rights after it fired a worker who underwent sex reassignment surgery.
A court in Beijing delivered a 1,000-word final judgment in the case, including a call for an inclusive and tolerant social environment for people who wish to express their gender identity as differently to how others may perceive of it.
The news, announced on Friday July 3, has sparked a heated national debate on transgender people’s rights in the workplace. A large majority of online citizens seemingly support the court decision, with one survey recording that 81.9% of the more than 326,000 surveyed viewed the news positively. The most upvoted comment on that same poll on social media site Weibo reads, “[The defendant] has become a female after the transgender surgery, why can she not go to the female bathrooms?”
While the ruling focuses on transgender equality, its language could potentially imply future expanded rights protection for multiple LGBTQ+ communities in the workplace, as well as in other areas of life.
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Dangdang, which started as an online bookstore in 1999 and has since expanded into general ecommerce, terminated the labor contract with an employee surnamed Gao in 2018 due to “absence of work,” after Gao took an allegedly pre-approved two-month sick leave following male-to-female surgery. The company cited multiple employee emails as it argued that Gao’s surgery had made other workers uncomfortable.
After Gao sued the company for unfair dismissal, a court in Beijing ruled that Dangdang must continue the labor contract with Gao and stated that the company should accept Gao’s new gender identity — including the right to use the female bathrooms.
The original ruling, which was issued in January this year but has only been made widely available in the public in recent days, includes the words, “Only after we become open-minded to an inclusive way of life, we will be able to enjoy a richer cultural concept that could lay a foundation for the rule of law.”
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On the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo, the hashtag #当当网男员工变性以旷工被解雇# (“Dangdang male employee was fired for ‘absence of work’ after he underwent a transgender surgery”) has been viewed 350 million times.
The Global Times, a Chinese state media that usually takes a nationalistic and conservative approach to its reporting, wrote positively of the move, while major Chinese news outlets such as Sina and Tencent’s QQ, have covered the story in a similarly supportive tone.
While there is no written legal protection for LGBTQ+ groups in China, some grassroots organizations within the community have taken a lead in being more outspoken on equal rights. While this significant court decision gives hope to some such communities, whether this will spark a continuing conversation on LGBTQ+ rights nationwide and create real, systemic changes to the current legal framework remains to be seen.
Header image: Sharon McCutcheon via Unsplash
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