Norway: Historic breakthrough for transgender rights
Pictured: John Jeanette Solstad Remø
Key legal reforms proposed by the Norwegian Ministry of Health today mark an important breakthrough that could change the lives of transgender people in Norway for generations to come, said Amnesty International.
If adopted by Parliament, the Ministry’s proposal would give transgender people access to legal gender recognition through a quick, accessible and transparent procedure. Crucially, it would allow individuals to self-determine their gender and do away with Norway’s shameful legacy of compulsory requirements that are discriminatory and violate a range of human rights.
“This is a milestone for all of us who have been fighting hard for the right to be who we are. Thanks to our combined efforts together with transgender activists and LGBT organizations in the country, we can look forward to the upcoming adoption of a law that will give transgender people access to legal gender recognition,” said Patricia M. Kaatee, Policy Adviser at Amnesty International Norway.
“We are pleased to see that the Norwegian government is taking transgender people’s rights seriously, and urge the Parliament to put an end to decades of discriminatory practices by passing the law.”
Changing the gender and legal status of minors
The new proposal would lower the age limit from 18 to 16 for individuals to self-define their gender and apply for legal recognition. Children between six and 16 years old could do so with parental consent. If the parents disagree, an external body will decide based on the child’s best interests.
No children under six years old can legally change gender on the basis of their gender identity under the new proposal. While lowering the age limits is a welcome step, Amnesty International does not see the need for an age limit at all taking into account the best interest of children, their evolving capacities and their right to be heard.
In Norway transgender people have been denied legal gender recognition because of requirements that violated multiple human rights, such as the right to bodily integrity, the right to privacy and family life, and the right to the highest attainable standard of health.
The current practice dates back to the 1970s and subjects transgender people in Norway to a range of onerous and discriminatory requirements to legally change their gender. This includes undergoing a psychiatric assessment, obtaining a psychiatric diagnosis, and undergoing irreversible sterilization.
Amnesty International has highlighted how such processes – which are also in place in many other European countries – are degrading and violate human rights. In February 2014, Amnesty International published a report on the lack of rights for transgender people in Europe. Norway was criticized for requiring people to undergo irreversible sterilization to achieve legal gender recognition.
‘Finally respected for who we really are’
The organization has campaigned extensively on the case of John Jeanette Solstad Remø, a 65-year-old transgender woman from Norway who cannot obtain legal recognition of her gender as she refuses to comply with the current abusive requirements. As a consequence, her official documents refer to her as “male”, which is humiliating and results in her being outed as a transgender person on a daily basis. For John Jeanette, being recognized as a woman would mean being seen as the person she is. It is unacceptable that she is constantly being referred to as a man by public bodies and in everyday life. The proposed new law is a long-overdue victory for her:
“It is remarkable to hold this proposed new law in my hands. It will mean transgender people like me will finally be respected for who we really are. I am looking forward to the day I can show my ID which is in accordance with my gender identity and my gender expression,” said John Jeanette Solstad Remø.
It is remarkable to hold this proposed new law in my hands. It will mean transgender people like me will finally be respected for who we really are
“Now it's a parliamentary vote away before this is Norwegian law and reality. What this really is about is equality, protection from discrimination and human rights. Therefore I cannot in my wildest fantasy imagine that the law will not be passed with a solid majority. The law will dramatically improve quality of life for transgender people in Norway now and in the future."
It is now up to the Norwegian Parliament to pass the law. Amnesty International encourages all members of parliament to vote for an inclusive and non-discriminatory legal framework, in accordance with international human rights standards.
In February 2014, Amnesty International published a report on the lack of rights for transgender people in Europe. Norway was criticized for the current administrative practices that require irreversible sterilization and psychiatric diagnosis in order to achieve legal gender recognition.
The organization called on the Government of Norway to:
• Amend current laws and practices by introducing a legislative proposal that sets out a framework allowing transgender people to obtain legal recognition of their gender through a quick, accessible and transparent procedure.
• Ensure that such proposals will abolish the sterilization requirement, as well as any other medical requirement currently enforced in instances where transgender people seek legal gender recognition.
• Ensure that legal gender recognition is accessible to everyone without the need to undergo psychiatric assessment and to receive psychiatric diagnosis and that transgender identities are removed from the national classification of mental health disorders.
• Ensure that transgender people can access the health treatments they wish on the basis of their informed consent.
Along with transgender people and NGOs in Norway, Amnesty International submitted input to an Expert Committee set up by the Ministry of Health and Care Services in 2013. In April 2015 the Committee announced its conclusion: that transgender people in Norway should no longer be forced to trade invasive treatment for having their gender legally recognized.
Since 2008, the Norwegian National Association for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people (LLH) worked specifically on transgender rights, including calling for an end to irreversible sterilization as a required step towards legal gender recognition.
Read more about Amnesty International’s work on legal gender recognition for transgender people here: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/EUR01/001/2014/en/