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Costa Rica Joins Global Push to Recognize Legal Gender Self-Identification

Government Decree Follows Inter-American Court Opinion

Published in: La Nación

In June, Costa Rica’s president signed a directive and decree ordering government agencies that issue official documents to recognize gender identity based on self-declaration.

The move follows an Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) advisory opinion issued in January, which asserted that countries should establish efficient, inexpensive, and straightforward procedures to allow legal recognition based solely on the “the free and autonomous decision of each person.”

In recent years, in response to a strong push by transgender rights groups, countries around the world have developed policies on legal gender recognition rooted in deference to a person’s self-identification, rather than a determination by a government official, doctor, judge, or other authority.

Argentina was the first to do so with a 2012 law that is now seen as the gold standard for legal gender recognition. Anyone older than 18 in Argentina can choose their legal gender and revise official documents without judicial or medical approval; children can make the change through their parents or guardians, or a court.

In subsequent years, Colombia, Denmark, IrelandNorway, and Malta eliminated significant barriers to legal gender recognition based on self-identity. Courts in IndiaNepal, and Botswana have also called on governments to recognize gender identity, with some South Asian countries, the Netherlands, and some US states making progress on recognizing third gender categories.

Costa Rica is now part of this global change. People should not be forced to carry an identity marker that does not reflect who they are. Recognizing peoples’ self-identified gender, without forcing them to jump through bureaucratic hoops or be subjected to medical procedures, is not asking governments to acknowledge any new or special rights. Instead, it is a commitment to the principle that governments should not decide for people who they are.

Costa Rica’s move, which the government rooted in rights to dignity, non-discrimination, and equality, should inspire other governments around the region to heed the IACHR’s advisory opinion and uphold the rights of trans people to be themselves. 

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