Opinion This week a milestone bill making it easier for trans people to change the name and gender on their birth certificates and completely transforming the way people can access health care passed Alþingi, the Icelandic parliament. Activist Ugla Stefanía writes about the new bill and what it means.
On a cold spring morning over four years ago, myself and a fellow activist sat down in our local bakery and had a donut and coffee. We were meeting there to discuss a resolution we received about the acknowledgement of the ‘third gender’.
Following on from this, we established an informal group of activists from within the grassroot in Iceland, that eventually lead to a more formal group that has assistance from the Left Green Party, lead by parliament member Svandís Svavarsdóttir. When we started the process, we had no idea what was in store for us, and the process has been a long rollercoaster ride.
“The new bill has completely transformed the way people can access health care and legal gender recognition. Now trans people over 18 can change their name and gender by signing a statutory declaration at the National Registry, and young people under 18 can do so with parental consent.”
The group consisted of LGBTI people themselves and allies. We really wanted to be ambitious and suggest changes that would have tangible and meaningful changes to the lives of trans and intersex people. With this in mind we met with all relevant stake holders, experts and organisations that would be affected in one way or the other. This included people from various governmental institutions, health care professionals and human rights and equality organisations.
What has perhaps been the most heartening in this process is everyone’s willingness to make a difference, and a real dedication to making Iceland a better place for trans and intersex people. Before this law, there was a bill about trans rights that came into effect in 2012, but the bill was wildly outdated and based on intense gatekeeping and medical diagnosis to get access to health care and change your name and gender.
The new bill has completely transformed the way people can access health care and legal gender recognition. Now trans people over 18 can change their name and gender by signing a statutory declaration at the National Registry, and young people under 18 can do so with parental consent. If parents are not supportive, young people can request to have this changed via a specialised committee. The law also allows for a third gender option on all forms of ID documents, marked with the letter ‘x’. This is a huge victory in terms of legal gender recognition of non-binary people.
The law will also allow trans people to seek health care based on an informed consent model. They will no longer be required to prove their identity to health care professionals or receive a diagnosis of a mental disorder, much in line with the recent ICD-11. This is huge for trans people and means they are more in control of the health care they wish to have. Health care for young trans people was also legalised for the first time, strengthening access for young trans people to care that they require, whether it be social or in the form of puberty blockers.
However, one of the biggest compromises made that happened in the parliamentary process was that bans against unnecessary and irreversible surgeries on intersex infants wasn’t banned, but rather a committee is to be appointed that will look into this with more detail. Obviously this is a disappointment for everyone involved, but there is still a chance to make it happen through the committee. Iceland still has the chance to be one of the leading countries on LGBTI rights worldwide, with the condition that this ban will also be made into law.
The bill has enjoyed widespread support from almost all parliament members, and a not a single parliament member voted against it. It had support from all major stake-holders, and all questions and concerned were dealt with via having constructive meetings and discussions on the topic, which have lead to inclusive policy making and meaningful steps to ensure that the rights of trans and intersex people are respected.
“However, one of the biggest compromises made that happened in the parliamentary process was that bans against unnecessary and irreversible surgeries on intersex infants wasn’t banned …”
While this law certainly is a huge step, especially for trans people in Iceland, the fact remains that intersex people still require important protections to ensure their bodily integrity. So while we celebrate the immense progress we have made with this, the fight must go on. We as a community cannot rest until all of us are equal and have all the necessary protections in place.
The fight is therefore far from over, as none of us are truly free while others are shackled. True equality and equity will never be achieved until we are all free.