Forced sterilization: Transgender reality in Europe

In Sweden an attempt to reform a law prescribing forced sterilization in case of a gender update on ID cards failed earlier this year.

There is a happy and excited atmosphere in Südblock, a casual bar in Kreuzberg, Berlin. The reason is the celebration of the long night against discrimination. The queer/ trans-scene has gathered to celebrate. While the party is lively and positive, reality in Europe is often not as rosy for many trans-people.

While gay rights have become increasingly accepted in the last 50 years, those of trans- people are in many places far from being recognized. The case of Sweden offers an illustrative example.

The Scandinavian country made headlines earlier this year because of its abusive laws towards trans-people. In order for them to update their gender on their ID cards, they must not only be over 18, unmarried (in case of marriage, get divorced), a Swedish citizen, but also: get sterilized.

In January 2012 the situation gained international attention, as a video made by a 21 year old Swede circulated online and rose awareness on the issue. A discussion in the Swedish parliament unfolded but little has changed since then.The country’s moderate and liberal parties supported a change of the legal situation. However, plans were haltered by an opposition of the Christian Democrats and other small center-right-parties.

The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe stated in 2010 “These practices run counter to the principle of respect for the physical integrity of the person, in particular because transgender people appear to be the only group in Europe subject to legally prescribed, state enforced sterilization.”

The choice trans-persons in Sweden are facing is a hard one. Either they can have their gender legally stated on their ID card and become sterilized or they do not possess official documentation on their preferred gender representation. A situation which leads, so Boris Dittrich advocacy director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Program at Human Rights Watch, to a situation in which they often suffer “frequent public humiliation, vulnerability to discrimination, and great difficulty finding or holding a job.”

But not only in Sweden has official recognition of transgender identification severe consequences. In 14 other Member States of the EU the name on ID cards can only be changed after medical health evaluation and/or surgery, and/or hormonal treatment.

So while the queer and trans-scene is celebrating at Südblock, reality looks way gloomier outside. Maybe initiatives like the long night of discrimination will make a change for the situation of trans-people in Europe one day. However, until real non-discrimination is reached, there is still a long way to go.

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