Last week, the government of Sweden took the decision to retain a 1972 gender recognition law under which TS/TG and gender variant people who want to change their legal gender are required to be sterilised. According to Ulrika Westerlund, President of RFSL (the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights), this was done to satisfy the conservative Christian Democrat party who, along with the nationalist Sweden Democrat party, are the only two groups in favour of the law. I gather that Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeld was fully aware that this reqiurement is a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights which is enacted as law in Sweden.
The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, has made a very clear stand on the issue, that forcing TS/TG and gender variant people to undergo unwanted medical interventions in order to change their legal gender is a breach of human rights. The Comittee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, representing 47 membership states has taken a similar stand. The bitter irony in all this is, of course, that while Sweden is often considered to be in the forefront of human rights advocacy and implementation, this decision would seem to be a huge step backwards.
Concerns have been voiced at the loss of the opportunity to bring the legislation up to date: in Sweden, the law is only reviewed every forty years and it already creates at least one anomaly, in that the present law also requires TS/TG and gender variant people to be single in order to receive legal gender recognition – and this in a country which already has same sex marriages. Courts have previously overruled this requirement, but nevertheless it is still enshrined in the law. Additionally, there is the risk of setting a precedent and this is a particular worry for some TS/TG and gender variant people in Finland where the gender equality ombudsman has recommended that Finland should remove a similar requirement from the Finnish law. Finland also has a Christian Democratic Party in its Government which has already blocked a reform giving same sex couples the right to marry.
Although Sweden is not alone in upholding the requirement of forced sterilisation (the Netherlands, Denmark and France are other European countries with similar legislation [source]), the outcry on various TS/TG forums was immediate and international; amongst others, Human Rights Watch, the European Parliament Intergroup on LGBT Rights and TGEU and ILGA-Europe have all made formal statements of protest to the Swedish Prime Minister and Parliament, calling for the immediate abolition of the forced sterilisation requirement for legal purposes.
Meanwhile, All Out, an activist group advocating for improvements in the lives of LGB & T people worldwide, has joined with RFSL to launch an online petition to let the Swedish Prime Minister know that this legislation is unacceptable. The petition currently has over 36,000 signatories and is aiming for at least 50,000. If this is something you feel you can support, then please sign – and distribute the information and the link as widely as you can.