Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled that the government can no longer require transgender people who want their name and gender marker on identification documents changed to undergo medical procedures or subject their decisions to judicial review. Last week’s decision is a major shift that reflects increasing global momentum to recognize transgender people’s rights to dignity and recognition before the law.
Transgender people in Brazil had previously been able to change their names and legal gender in the national civil registry and on some identification documents – but only after undergoing mandatory psychiatric evaluations and surgical procedures and obtaining a judicial order from the Public Prosecutor.
Countries around the world have changed their policies on legal gender recognition in recent years to ones based on rights and a person’s self-identification, not the approval of any doctor, psychologist, judge, or other authority.
Argentina was the first country to do so with a 2012 law considered the gold standard for legal gender recognition. There, anyone older than 18 can choose their legal gender and revise official documents without judicial or medical approval.
In subsequent years, Colombia, Denmark, Ireland, Norway, and Malta eliminated significant barriers to legal gender recognition. Courts in India, Nepal, and Botswana have also called on governments to recognize gender identity.
On January 9, 2018, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued an advisory opinion asserting that countries should establish fast, inexpensive, and straightforward procedures to ensure legal gender recognition based solely on the self-perceived identity of a person.
Brazil is now part of this change. People should not be forced to carry an identity marker that does not reflect who they are. Recognizing peoples’ self-identified gender is not asking governments to acknowledge any new or special rights. Instead, it is a commitment to the core idea that governments will not decide for people who they are.