Denmark’s lawmakers voted this month to scrap a legal requirement that meant trans people must undergo sterilization before they can complete their official gender change, bringing the world a step closer to ending this barbaric practice.
The new law will allow transgender people over the age of 18 to legally change their gender after a six month “reflection” period without hormone treatment or surgical procedures, but still with medical guidance from a psychologist.
Previously, an applicant would need an official diagnosis and/or surgery that would have forced them to go through procedures that would mean sterilization. The new law, which will come into effect on September 1, 2014, actually means that on this issue Denmark is the most liberal in Europe at this time. Argentina is still world-leading, however, with a law that means trans people can change their gender markers without necessarily needing a doctor’s consent.
It follows a number of other countries which have also recently repealed their forced sterilization requirements, including the Netherlands and Sweden.
Denmark’s Interior Minister Margrethe Vestager said in a comment to the press that this was about dignity and also about protecting trans people from situations that could cause them distress in everyday life if they do not have an ID that reflects their gender presentation: “Today we have dropped the requirement of sterilization when transgendered [sic] people need a new personal identification number as part of a legal sex change. [The new law] will make life easier and more dignified for the individual, for example, when you are asked for ID in shops.”
Amnesty International has hailed the law as a landmark, and is calling on other European and world leaders to follow Denmark’s example and adopt legislation that repeals the sterilization requirement and creates a simple process for gender change.
“This progressive and courageous step made by Danish MPs should set an example to the rest of Europe and beyond,” said Amnesty International Denmark’s Helle Jacobsen. “All states should ensure that transgender people can obtain legal recognition of their gender through a quick, accessible and transparent procedure in accordance with their own sense of their gender identity.”
It’s estimated that around 17 countries (now discounting Denmark) have a forced sterilization component to their gender change laws, while in total 28 countries still force trans people to have surgery before they will recognize gender change, leading to what has been termed coercive sterilization. This is doubly pernicious because it denies trans people the right to have children following their legal transition, and furthermore it may force them to have surgeries that they do not require in order to live their lives gender aligned.
This comes after the World Health Organization, working alongside the United Nations, issued a report in which it slammed sterilization practices as unlawful and morally wrong. “These sterilization requirements run counter to respect for bodily integrity, self-determination and human dignity,” the report said, adding that sterilization “can cause and perpetuate discrimination against transgender and intersex persons.”
WHO has been slow to address the needs of trans people, and though it still pathologizes trans identity, which some say perpetuates stigma against trans people, this is the strongest statement to date that recognizes states are illegally forcing trans people to go through sterilization in order to have their gender change recognized.
The European Court of human rights has ruled on a number of occasions that countries cannot deny the right to gender change. Furthermore, forced sterilization has also been found to violate human rights. As noted, a number of countries still hold that trans people must undergo surgery before their gender change can be recognized. It may be hard to apply pressure to countries like Lithuania that are already in the EU, or even the UK which still adheres to certain medical requirements before official gender change is recognized, but those like Turkey who are looking to join could be encouraged to change their laws before their application is accepted.
Of the U.S. states that do recognize trans people, although some do not such as Tennessee, many still require gender change surgeries before they will allow a person’s gender markers to be changed. States like New York have dropped the “proof of surgery” requirement, but the process is still slow and costly even then.
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