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‘Trojan horse for feminism’: How Spain’s Trans Law is dividing the left

A transgender rights bill to be voted on this week has sparked bitter divisions within Spain's ruling left-wing coalition, pitting its powerful feminist lobby against LGBTQ equality campaigners.

'Trojan horse for feminism': How Spain's Trans Law is dividing the left
Protesters wear masks during a rally to mark Transgender Day of Remembrance, in Madrid, on November 20, 2022. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

The draft bill effectively simplifies the procedure for changing gender on a person’s national identity card, allowing them to request the change based on a simple statement.

The law for the “genuine equality of trans people and for the guarantee of LGBTI rights” — which will be put to a vote on Thursday — is one of the flagship projects of the equality ministry which is held by Podemos, the radical left-wing junior partner in Spain’s Socialist-led coalition.

If approved, the bill will move to the Senate and if left unchanged, as expected, will become law within weeks.

It would make Spain one of the few countries in the world to allow transgender people to change their status with a simple declaration.

The legislation lets anyone from age 16 freely change their designated sex on their ID card, dropping the requirement for a medical report attesting to gender dysphoria or proof of hormonal treatment.

Those as young as 12 would be able to apply to make the change — but only under certain conditions.

Opposed in its entirety by the right, the bill has not only sown strife within the coalition but has split Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialist party and created divisions within the feminist movement.

Equality Minister Irene Montero, a strong advocate of gender self-determination, has championed the bill as the only way to “depathologise” trans identities.

In 2019, the World Health Organization moved to end the categorisation of trans-related conditions as mental and behavioural disorders.

“Trans people and the LGTBI community cannot wait any longer for the recognition of all their rights. We are not going to accept a single setback in terms of rights,” she told the Senate in October as the Socialists pushed to tighten the proposed rules for minors.

IN DETAIL: Why is Spain’s Trans Law so controversial?

‘Trojan horse within feminism’

Heavyweights in Spain’s feminist lobby have come out fighting, saying it will undermine women’s rights and create problems for youngsters — prompting accusations of anti-trans activism and even transphobia.

They in turn have questioned the feminist credentials of those backing the legislation, such as Montero and Labour Minister Yolanda Diaz, with the two camps engaging in a bitter war of words.

Activists from the Alliance Against the Erasure of Women fear that the law will be open to abuse and cause a significant erosion of women’s rights, allowing men who self-identify as women “to compete in women’s sport. to enter domestic violence refuges or access women’s prisons”, said spokeswoman Lola Venegas.

But she shrugged off suggestions the feminist movement was divided over the draft law.

“What’s happening is that a Trojan horse is being introduced into the feminist movement trying to set an anti-feminist agenda. It’s not division, it’s entryism,” she said.

“You don’t have to be a feminist to say that this is an outrage. People cannot self-diagnose.”

They have also raised the alarm about minors having the right to self-determine gender — with parental authorisation from the age of 14 and with both parental and judicial approval from 12.

Although the Socialists pushed for an amendment that would have extended judicial authorisation to include 14 to 15-year-olds, it was ultimately rejected in what was widely seen as a victory for Montero and Podemos.

Spanish Socialists Party (PSOE) members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) community take part in the annual Pride parade in Madrid, on July 6, 2019. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Internal power struggle

Within the Socialist party itself, the divisions have been bitter with veteran Socialist LGBTQ activist Carla Antonelli — the first and only trans woman to serve as a Spanish politician — resigning from the party after decades of membership.

“Socialism that isn’t brave isn’t socialism,” she wrote on Facebook in October.

She expressed “deep disappointment and dissatisfaction”, saying years of work for gender self-determination had ended in “a Dantesque nightmare of transphobia, exclusions, and internal and external humiliations”.

Analysts said the divisions were a reflection of internal power struggles.

“It has a lot to do with an internal power struggle not only within the Socialist party but within the feminist movement,” said Pablo Simon, a political analyst at Madrid’s Carlos III University.

“It is very likely that if the equality ministry had not been held by Podemos, these feminists would not have raised so many objections,” he said.

The ministry used to be held by the Socialists and its former head is one of the chief opponents of the bill.

The tensions were unlikely to break up the coalition, one year before the next general election, as the two parties “had decided to finish their term in office together”.

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Spain lawmakers reject far-right no-confidence motion

Spanish lawmakers on Wednesday roundly rejected a no-confidence motion against socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez brought by the far-right Vox party and fronted by an 89-year-old former communist.

Spain lawmakers reject far-right no-confidence motion

After nearly 14 hours of parliamentary debate which began early Tuesday, the motion was rejected with 201 votes against, to 53 in favour and 91 abstentions in the 350-seat chamber.

It never had a chance of success given it was only supported by Vox’s 52 MPs, although it secured one extra vote from an independent lawmaker. As pledged, the right-wing opposition Popular Party (PP) abstained.

The no-confidence move – which was defended by elderly economist, Ramón Tamames, who does not belong to Vox – comes two months before local and regional polls in Spain on May 28th and ahead of a December general election.

“We will not vote in favour of this motion out of respect for the Spanish people, and we will not vote against this motion out of respect for you, Mr. Tamames,” the PP’s number two, Cuca Gamarra, told lawmakers ahead of the vote.

An earlier Vox-led no-confidence motion in October 2020 also failed but the PP had voted against, with Wednesday’s decision to abstain drawing fierce criticism from Sánchez.

Vying to govern

“It is remarkable and revealing to see the traditional right… getting closer and closer to the far-right,” he said, accusing opposition leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo, who is not a lawmaker and did not attend the vote, of seeking to appease Vox ahead of the elections.

“What does the absent leader of the traditional right say today in the face of history repeating itself? He is silent. But his silence says it all: they know they need Vox to be able to govern,” Sánchez said.

Vox became Spain’s third-largest party when it entered parliament in 2019, and last year won its first share of power in one of Spain’s regional governments alongside the PP.

It is a model the party is hoping to repeat with polls suggesting the PP would win December’s election but would need Vox’s support to govern.

However, Vox’s ultra-conservative stance, notably over abortion in recent months, has embarrassed the PP which has sought to distance itself from the faction.

Despite the motion’s rejection, Vox leader Santiago Abascal said he was “satisfied”. “Once again, we have exposed one of the worst governments in our history,” he told reporters.

“We knew what the outcome (of the vote) would be but above all we were satisfied with the debate, we wanted this government to be exposed and it was.”