Spain takes first step to legalize gender self-determination

International
Frenkie de Jong

FILE – In this file photo dated Saturday, July 6, 2019, participants of the annual LGBTQ pride parade carry the emblematic rainbow flag in Madrid, Spain. The Spanish Cabinet on Tuesday June 29, 2021, passed a draft bill on LGBTQ rights that will seek parliamentary approval to allow transgender people over 16 years old to freely change their gender and name in the official registry without doctors or witnesses intervening in the process. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

MADRID (AP) — The Spanish Cabinet on Tuesday passed a draft bill on LGBTI rights that will seek parliamentary approval to allow transgender people over 16 to freely change their gender and name without doctors or witnesses intervening in the process.

The proposal could still change during a lengthy parliamentary debate of the legal draft. But if its essence prevails, Spain would join a handful of countries around the world enshrining gender self-determination without a diagnosis of gender dysphoria or requiring that a person’s physical appearance conform with traditional male or female expressions.

It would also make the changes in the official registry faster than in most countries: up to four months from the first application to the change finally appearing in official documents. The process would be easily reversible for half a year, but it would require going to court after that.

The legal proposal has been controversial from the start, pitting against each other transgender rights activists and some feminists who believe that the law blurs the concept of biological sex.

It had also opened an internal battle within the left-wing ruling coalition, with the leading Socialists initially opposing self-determination in line with historical feminist activists while the junior partner of the governing alliance, the far-left United We Can party, strongly pushed for the free, unsupervised right to choose one’s gender.

Negotiations within the Cabinet were “long and difficult,” Irene Montero, Equality Minister and a prominent leader of United We Can said Tuesday. But the final draft, she added, was “a giant’s step” in guaranteeing the rights of the transgender community.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the Socialist, said that the draft law put Spain “at the international forefront” in rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities.

The law also bans so-called conversion therapies to suppress sexual orientation or gender identity, establishes fines and punishment for attacks on LGBTI people and overturns a ban that prevented lesbian couples from registering their children under both parents’ names.

“We recognize the right of everyone to be whoever they want to be,” he wrote.

The Spanish government’s move comes amid deep divisions in the European Union on the issue, and with a backlash against LGBTI rights playing out in Hungary and Poland, two countries led by illiberal populist governments who have used the issue in an apparent attempt to energize their conservative voters.

According to the Spanish draft, all nationals above 16 will be able to change their gender and name by simply stating twice their desire to do so. Previously, applicants needed a diagnosis by several doctors of gender dysphoria, which is the psychological condition of feeling a mismatch between one’s biological sex and gender identity. In some cases, they also needed proof they had been living for two years as the gender they identified with — or even records showing they had taken hormones.

Teenagers between 14 and 16 can also apply with parental permission or by going to a judge if there is disagreement among them. A court is involved in applications for those between 12 and 14, and children under 12 are only allowed to register a new name but not to switch their gender.

Transgender rights groups had put pressure for months on the government by holding hunger strikes, proposing more ambitious drafts to Parliament and urging organizers of the country’s biggest Pride celebration, in Madrid, to exclude the Socialists from the annual march.

Mar Cambrollé, from Plataforma Trans, said Tuesday that while the proposal accepts their demand for self-determination, it falls short in protecting transgender children under 14 or guaranteeing the rights of non-binary people and transgender migrants.

“It’s a brutal trim from of what we had demanded for decades,” the veteran activist told The Associated Press. “It does not develop specific policies to deal with unemployment of trans people, it does not delve into protocols for preventing harassment in educational centers, it does not speak of a health care model for us and it does not touch on sports.”

Natalia Aventín, head of the Euforia group of families with transgender members, said that transgender rights had been watered-down because the government included them as part of broader legislation in favor of lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer communities.

“The government’s marketing campaign has been better than the law itself,” Aventín said.

Some feminist opponents say they fear that some men could use gender self-determination to invade women’s safe spaces, that it puts pressure on young women who see it as easier to succeed in today’s world as men or that it would skew quotas and national statistics, making everything from jobs to sports more difficult for women.

A manifesto signed by about 50 women’s groups making the rounds on social media accused the government of “betraying” women.

One of the groups said that Sánchez’s administration should instead pay attention to the gender wage gap and other issues in the feminist agenda. One “that has nothing to do with feelings but rather pay attention to the reality of half of the population in this country,” the Forum of Feminist Politics said in a statement.

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AP writer Joseph Wilson in Barcelona, Spain, contributed to this report.

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