Trans Rights in Europe: Where We’re At and Where We Need to Be

Imagine having to be diagnosed with a mental disorder in order to simply live your life, or having to undergo hormone treatments or even be sterilized. That’s the reality many trans people face today in Europe if they want to have their gender identity legally recognized.

A new report issued by Amnesty International, called The state decides who I am: lack of legal recognition for transgender people in Europe, aims to give an insight of gender identity recognition throughout Europe by examining the gender change rules in seven European countries.

They include:

  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Norway
  • Belgium
  • Germany
  • Ireland

The report finds that all seven countries violate the human rights of trans people as they attempt to have their gender identity officially recognized.

While six of those seven do allow for gender change recognition, Ireland violates a trans person’s rights by still having no laws in place to officially recognize a change in state-recorded gender. Fortunately, Ireland announced this year that it will finally remedy this problem in 2015 and draft legislation is being formulated, though Amnesty isn’t entirely happy about the end product because it relies heavily on medical diagnosis and surgical transition.

Genital change surgery isn’t necessary for every trans person to live gender aligned, and yet in countries like Norway, gender reassignment rules mean that trans people must undergo this surgery — which can be incredibly invasive, painful and costly — in order to have their gender transition legally recognized and change their gender markers.

Amnesty International spoke to Luca, a young trans man from Norway, who still can’t change his gender markers despite living as male because he will not put himself through unnecessary genital change surgery. ”I want my legal gender to be male. I can in theory obtain recognition of my gender but only if I am sterilized. This is out of question for me. The treatment is presented as a package solution without consideration for individual wishes.”

Other countries such as Denmark actually force genital change surgery through what essentially amounts to coerced sterilization: in order to have gender change fully recognized, Denmark requires that trans people are no longer be able to have offspring. Around 29 countries in Europe force trans people to choose between having their gender officially recognized and being able to continue to have children.

Johsua, a trans man born in the United States but now living in Denmark with his children and his wife, is forcibly registered as female in Denmark. Quite rightly, Joshua has refused to submit to sterilization and objects to being recorded as mentally ill in order to live his life gender aligned. This causes him difficulties in his day-to-day life: ”Being stuck between two identities is a major obstacle for me,” he told Amnesty. “You don’t want to go to your kids’ school and out yourself all the time. I am still listed in the school system as their mum. The other kids in the school ask about it because they can see the [female] name [yet I have a male appearance]. It’s very awkward for me and my kids.”

A lack of gender recognition can also cause problems when out of the country, as one mother from Ireland told Amnesty. Sarah has a child named Kelly who was born male but at the age of four began asserting her female identity. After seeking help from her doctors, Sarah then encouraged Kelly to live gender affirmed. However, because Ireland has no way to recognize gender identity change, Kelly remains legally male on all ID documents. This meant that when Sarah and Kelly went abroad, she faced humiliation at the hands of immigration staff who were less than sympathetic to their case and openly mocked Kelly and Sarah’s decision to let her life gender aligned.

What can be done to change these regulations, or lack thereof, then?

The countries listed above should immediately look to countries like Argentina for examples of how to do gender change recognition correctly and with the most respect to the human rights of the individuals involved. Argentina does not require any kind of surgical procedure and in fact only requires that the person be assessed by mental health professionals just to ensure that they are of sound mind as they make this decision. They also need to have lived as their preferred gender for a period before the gender transition can be authorized.

Amnesty also calls on countries and states that demand sterilization and genital change surgeries or hormone treatments to abandon those forced practices at once as they are clearly against international human rights laws. In addition, Amnesty says that EU lawmakers should do everything in their power to help uphold the rights of Europe’s trans citizens because to do any less is dehumanizing and cruel.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Roberto MARINI
Roberto M2 years ago

Thank you for this interesting article.

pam w.
pam w3 years ago

Why does a change in gender THREATEN so many people?

Ingo Schreiner
Ingo Schreiner3 years ago


Rhonda B.
Rhonda B3 years ago


Rhonda B.
Rhonda B3 years ago


Alexandra G.
Alexandra G3 years ago

interesting, thanks

JoAnn Paris
JoAnn P3 years ago

Thank you for this very interesting article.

Janis K.
Janis K3 years ago

Thanks for sharing. Hope this changes soon.

Janet B.
Janet B3 years ago


donnaa d.
donnaa D3 years ago