Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland Improving Gender Recognition Laws
(Berlin) – The Netherlands, Denmark, and Ireland have moved to improve the rights of transgender people. However, each country retains some requirements that undermine the right of transgender people to have their identity reflected in law.
On July 1, 2014, a new Dutch law on transgender rights will come into force allowing transgender people to change the gender designation on their official identity papers. It eliminates requirements for an applicant to take hormones and undergo surgery, including irreversible sterilization. However each request for a gender change must be accompanied by a medical expert statement affirming the person’s permanent conviction to belong to another gender. The minimum age to request a change is 16.
“The new Dutch law will make a huge difference in the lives of Dutch transgender people,” said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights program at Human Rights Watch. “The new law will give transgender people the legal recognition they need to live according to their preferred gender without intrusive and abusive medical requirements.”
In Denmark, the law on legal gender recognition has also significantly improved. The new Danish law is expected to come into force on September 1. In contrast to the Netherlands, legal gender recognition for transgender people in Denmark is based on a person’s self-determination.
The new Danish law does not require a medical expert opinion, which is a significant improvement over the Dutch law. However, the minimum age for an applicant in Denmark is 18, and it introduces a six-month waiting period, after which the applicant needs to reconfirm the decision to be legally recognized according to their preferred gender.
In Ireland, the government has proposed a new law on gender recognition and sent it to parliament. The draft includes a the minimum age for gender recognition of 16, but 16 and 17-year-olds will require parental consent, a physician’s letter, and a court order to apply for legal gender recognition. The Irish Parliament is expected to discuss the draft bill later this year.
Human Rights Watch believes that it is better not to introduce a minimum age, but instead to review cases on an individual basis. Children under 16 may also benefit from the ability to legally change their gender.
Human Rights Watch published an 85-page report in September 2011, “Controlling Bodies, Denying Identities: Human Rights Violations Against Trans People in the Netherlands,” which documents the impact of the 1985 Dutch law – article 28 of the civil code – on the daily lives of transgender people. Human Rights Watch recommended amending the law on the grounds that article 28 violated the human rights of transgender people. The report was presented to the Dutch government and to several members of Dutch Parliament.
Several European countries like Germany – through a ruling by the Constitutional Court – Portugal, the United Kingdom, and Austria, have already done away with the surgical and hormonal requirements.
The gender identity law widely seen as the most progressive gender recognition law in the world is Argentina’s, which does not require surgical or hormonal intervention, nor any third party involvement. The law permits children under age 18 to change their gender under the same procedures as adults if their request is submitted by a legal representative with the “explicit agreement of the minor.” If a legal representative does not consent to the child’s request, the child may appeal the decision to a judge.
“The Dutch requirement for an expert opinion could lead to long waiting lists, because only a limited group of medical professionals are currently designated as experts,” Dittrich said. “The requirement is at odds with transgender people’s rights to personal autonomy when they want to determine their own identity without third party interference.”