As Spain advances trans rights, other early adopters hesitate

As Spain prepares to adopt a law simplifying the process for self-identifying as transgender, other countries that introduced similar legislation are applying the brakes over the complexities involved in this highly sensitive issue.

As Spain advances trans rights, other early adopters hesitate
A protester wears a mask during a rally to mark Transgender Day of Remembrance, in Madrid, on November 20, 2022. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Spanish lawmakers gather Thursday to approve a transgender rights bill letting anyone 16 and over change gender on their ID card.

That will make it one of the few nations to allow it with a simple declaration.

It is the final hurdle for legislation that has caused a major rift within Spain’s fractious left-wing coalition, as the country gears up for a general election later this year.

Until now, adults in Spain could only request the change with a medical report attesting to gender dysphoria and proof of hormonal treatment for two years. Minors needed judicial authorisation.

The law set to be passed Thursday drops all such requirements, with anyone as young as 12 now able to apply, although only under certain conditions.

Supporters say the need for laws to safeguard trans rights has taken on a new urgency with the sharp rise in people reporting gender dysphoria — the distress caused by a mismatch between a person’s biological sex and the gender with which they identify.

READ ALSO: What is Spain’s Trans Law and why is it so controversial?

Politically divisive

But in recent years, several European nations which pioneered transgender legislation have had second thoughts.

Among those who have reimposed restrictions are Sweden and Finland, while in the United Kingdom, Westminster last month blocked a Scottish trans rights law similar to Spain’s.

The bitter dispute over transgender issues played a role in Wednesday’s shock resignation of Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Although she had championed the law, Sturgeon became entangled in a major row over transgender women entering all-female prisons following a rapist case that sparked public outcry.

A year ago, Sweden decided to halt hormone therapy for minors except in very rare cases.

In December, it limited mastectomies for girls wanting to transition to a research setting, citing the need for “caution”.

The decision followed moves by Finland, which decided to restrict gender reassignment hormone treatment for similar reasons in 2020.

In Spain, the bill generated deep political and ideological divisions within its left-wing coalition government, driving a wedge between activists in its powerful feminist lobby and LGBTQ equality campaigners.

The law was championed by the equality ministry, held by the radical left-wing Podemos, which says it will “depathologise trans lives and guarantee trans people’s rights”.

Spain’s Minister for Equality Irene Montero (C) poses for pictures with activists as they gather to celebrate after a vote in favour of a transgender rights bill in front of the Spanish Congress of Deputies in Madrid, on December 22, 2022. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

‘An important step’

Campaigners said Spain was setting an example that would encourage others to follow suit.

“Spain is taking an important step with the approval of this law, because it will encourage other countries to follow our example that human rights must be above any ideology,” said Uge Sangil, head of FELGBTI+, the largest LGBT organisation in Spain.

She dismissed the idea that other frontrunners were taking a step back from moves to advance trans rights.

“It’s important to clarify that there is no backtracking, not in the UK, nor in Sweden,” she said.

“In the UK there is a law but it’s at a standstill, but they haven’t gone back on it… and in Sweden, they are reforming the trans law to advance in rights.”

But other voices have warned that gender self-determination could spell difficulties ahead that will need addressing. They include Reem Alsalem, the UN rapporteur on violence against women.

“Nations need to reflect on whether someone with a male biological sex, once they have acquired their female gender certificate, should be able to access all programmes and categories designed for biological women,” she told El Mundo daily earlier this month.

Ahead of Scotland’s vote, Alsalem wrote a strongly worded letter to the UK government outlining her concerns, which played a role in its unprecedented veto of the Scottish law.

At Thursday’s session, Spanish lawmakers will also pass another law bolstering access to abortion services in public hospitals, and allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to terminate a pregnancy without parental consent.

It will also grant paid medical leave to women suffering from severe period pain.

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Madrid Open apologises to women’s doubles finalists for denying speeches

Madrid Open organisers apologised Thursday after not allowing the women's doubles finalists to make speeches after the match at the tournament last week, amid other allegations of sexism.

Madrid Open apologises to women's doubles finalists for denying speeches

The men’s’ doubles finalists were allowed to speak to the crowd after their matches.

Victoria Azarenka and Beatriz Haddad Maia beat Jessica Pegula and Coco Gauff in the women’s final on Sunday but were not given a microphone to let them address the crowd.

“We sincerely apologise to all the players and fans who expect more of the Mutua Madrid Open tournament,” said Madrid Open CEO Gerard Tsobanian in a statement on Twitter.

“Not giving our women’s doubles finalists the chance to address their fans at the end of the match was unacceptable and we have apologised directly to Victoria, Beatriz, Coco and Jessica.”

Tsobanian said the tournament was working with the WTA to improve their process in the future.

“We made a mistake and this will not ever happen again,” he added.

American player Pegula criticised the tournament at a news conference in Rome on Tuesday.

“Did I think we were not going to be able to speak? No. I’ve never heard of that, like, in my life,” she said.

“I don’t know what century everyone was living in when they made that decision.”

Women’s singles finalist Iga Swiatek had criticised the tournament in her speech on Saturday over their late finishes, saying it was “not fun” to play at 1am (2300GMT).

Winner Aryna Sabalenka joked about a birthday cake she was given the day before in her speech, which was smaller than the one the tournament gave men’s champion Carlos Alcaraz.

The Madrid Open also face complaints about the ball girl’s outfits, which some fans said were “sexualised”.