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Dispatches: Norway’s Transgender Rights Transformation

Thanks to a new healthcare law voted in by Norway’s Parliament yesterday, the country’s transgender people will be able to self-declare their appropriate legal gender. In the past, they needed to undergo compulsory psychiatric evaluations, diagnoses, and sterilization surgeries in order to be legally recognized as who they are.

A general view inside the Norwegian parliament in Oslo August 1, 2011. © 2011 Reuters

The vote makes Norway only Europe’s fourth country to separate medical and legal processes for legally recognizing transgender people.

Already in Denmark, Ireland, and Malta (following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights), transgender people can legally self-declare their own gender free of any medical assessment or procedures. Argentina, Colombia, and Nepal have also shown progress on legal gender recognition in recent years.

Norway’s new law was introduced in parliament by the Ministry of Health. Healthcare professionals have an important role providing affirmative care for transgender people, free from discrimination and to the highest standard possible. But the process for legal recognition of gender identity should be separate from any medical interventions.

Since the 1970s, Norway has required that the Oslo University Hospital certify to the Norwegian Tax Administration that a “real sex conversion” – based on surgeries and psychiatric evaluations – had taken place. This subjected transgender Norwegians to a bureaucratic nightmare while simultaneously stripping them of their autonomy.

Forty-one states in Europe have legal gender recognition provisions in place. Thirty-five of them require a psychiatric diagnosis to obtain recognition. Twenty-four require sterilisation before recognizing gender identity.

Legal gender recognition has been gaining global momentum as governments start to uphold their commitment to the core idea that the state or other actors will not decide for people who they are.

Countries like Norway are charting a path others should follow. This basic legal dignity cannot come a moment too soon for a minority that shoulders a disproportionate burden of violence, discrimination, and negative health consequences often stemming from the lack of recognition before the law.


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