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Nordic transgender policy changing

A new Finnish law banning discrimination of transgender persons went into effect 1 January. The country’s LGBT movement welcomes the initiative, but has no time to celebrate. New laws are meant to improve the conditions for trans persons in the Nordic region, but are they successful? NIKK asked activists in Finland, Norway and Sweden.

Arja Voipio. Foto privat
 Arja Voipio. Private photo

The new Finnish law bans discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression.
‘It’s a very important law, but it has been pushed aside a bit,’ says Arja Voipio, co-chair of Transgender Europe.
Instead the attention is turned to another law. Today Finland requires trans persons wishing to change their legal gender to get sterilised.
‘The state shouldn’t make that kind of requirement. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice the possibility of having biological children in order to be recognised by the state,’ says Voipio.
The sterilisation requirement is being criticised in a current review of the law, but a change is not supported by the present government.
‘We’re in a deadlock despite the strong support for change. I guess Finland is not very eager to legislate on human rights,’ says Voipio.

‘We should have the right to our own bodies’

The sterilisation requirement has been on the political agenda in all Nordic countries in recent years. It has been removed in Sweden and Denmark but remains in Finland and Norway. Finland requires sterilisation through hormone therapy whereas Norway requires non-reversible surgical sterilisation. Luca Dalen Espseth, from the Norwegian organisation LLH, wants to see a change.
‘We should have the right to our own bodies and be recognised for who we are. It should be obvious,’ he says.
The gender recognition legislation is being reviewed in both Finland and Norway. Dalen Espseth hopes that the sterilisation requirement will be removed.
‘I’m looking forward to following the development this year. I hope and believe we’ll get a new law,’ he says.

The Danish legislation stands out

Lukas Romson. Foto: Carolina Hawranek
 Lukas Romson. Foto: Carolina Hawranek

Out of the Nordic countries, Denmark has the newest gender recognition legislation. Only Denmark does not require a diagnosis or confirmation from a psychiatrist in order to change a person’s legal gender. Since last summer, all a person needs to do is send in an application and confirm the wish after a six-month waiting period. This makes the country a leader in a European perspective, says Swedish equality consultant Lukas Romson. Sweden removed the sterilisation requirement in 2013 but still requires a note from a psychiatrist – in practice a diagnosis – in order to change a person’s legal gender.
‘The entire LGBT movement is against this,’ he says.
The issue has been subject to review, and a proposal to revoke the diagnosis requirement was recently presented to the parliament. The review committee also questions the 18-year age limit for changes of legal gender. The Swedish trans-specific healthcare is also being reviewed and the National Board of Health and Welfare is expected to present new guidelines this spring,’ says Romson.

Dalen Espseth hopes that Norway will follow Denmark and stop requiring a diagnosis for changes of legal gender. He describes the Danish legislation as progressive but is critical to the country’s healthcare situation. Weaknesses in trans-specific healthcare are pointed out in all Nordic countries, but the problems are particularly severe in Denmark and Norway, says Dalen Espseth and explains that it takes a long time to process applications, the level of patient participation is low and there are strong expectations that the patient should undergo certain procedures. Up to 60-80 per cent of all transgender persons who seek medical care in Norway are denied.
‘That’s terrible. There can’t possibly be an acceptable reason for denying that many people treatment.’

‘Nobody wants to be worse than their neighbours’

Luca Dalen Espseth. Foto: Camilla Anderson
 Luca Dalen Espseth. Photo: Camilla Anderson

The fact that several Nordic countries are now, almost at the same time, reviewing and changing their gender recognition legislation is hardly a coincidence, says Dalen Espseth. Politicians in the different countries are watching each other and this is leading the development in the right direction.
‘Nobody wants to be worse than their neighbours. The Danish legislation ended up better than the Swedish, and the Norwegian will probably be better than the Danish,’ he says.
At the same time, he sees issues being discussed in other parts of the world that are not on the Nordic political agenda at all. The possibility of introducing additional categories of legal gender is one example.
‘The Western world is stuck in the binary notion of gender. Some other parts of the world are more open to the idea that there are not only women and men,’ he says.

Back to Finland and the new antidiscrimination law: While the Swedish equivalent from 2009 refers to discrimination based on, directly translated, ‘gender-crossing’ identity or expression, both Arja Voipio and Lukas Romson are happy that Finland instead chose the formulation ‘discrimination based on gender identity and expression’.
‘It includes everybody. The Swedish formulation is based on the norm and points out certain individuals as crossing boundaries,’ says Romson.
Another advantage of the Finnish discrimination act is that it includes a requirement for preventive measures, which means that Finnish schools and employers now have to work actively against discrimination of trans persons. This can make a big difference, says Voipio.
Despite the setback with the Finnish gender recognition act, she believes that change is on its way in all Nordic countries.
‘A lot has happened in just the last five years. The human rights of trans persons have become a broadly discussed issue, so I’m hopeful,’ she says.

Updated 14 February 2024