It’s high time for a new, modern gender recognition act

That Sweden, in 1972, was the first country in the world to introduce a law that regulated the possibility of changing legal gender and gaining access to gender-affirming care is something to be proud of. Today, 48 years later, Sweden's legislation is dated. The issue of a new gender recognition act has been discussed at different times over the past 14 years. Small changes are not enough, the whole legislation needs to be substituted.

February 27 2020

To legally change gender doesn’t require surgical any procedures, it’s an administrative procedure. All children born in Sweden are registered as either male or female. Gender is indicated by the penultimate digit of the personal identity number, which is even for women and odd for men. When you change legal gender you get a new personal identity number that corresponds with your new legal gender – the gender you identify as. Currently, you need to be 18 years old to change legal gender.

The current legislation needs to be replaced to give trans people a foundation for improved living conditions. To be able to live as the gender that you are and identify as is a precondition for being able to live life to the fullest. Sweden’s gender recognition act isn’t in line with a modern view on gender identity, where body and identity don’t have to correspond with the norm, and doesn’t cater to trans people’s human rights.

In 2014, the governmental investigation Juridiskt kön och medicinsk könskorrigering (legal gender and medical gender-affirming care) concluded that legislation based on human rights has to respect an individual’s private life and the right to self-determination and integrity. That means that it should be up to the individual to choose to change their legal gender without any direct or indirect requirements of care and treatment. There should be no prerequisite of a medical investigation, diagnosis or treatment for changing one’s legal gender. The investigation also concludes that legislation that is based on human rights has to consider that people under the age of 18 may be in need of changing their legal gender and/or need gender-affirming care. After the publication of the investigation, additional investigations have been made, and the government has promised to present a bill for the revision of the gender recognition act, but this has yet not happened.

Reforming Sweden’s gender recognition act is a natural step for a country who wants to protect human rights and who has made the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child into law. The Convention on the Rights of the Child establishes that children should have influence over their own lives, that they have the right to express their opinions and be heard in all matters concerning them, and also, RFSL believes, have the right to change their legal gender or gain access to gender-affirming care. In countries like Norway, Denmark, Ireland, Malta and Argentina it is already possible to change legal gender-based on self-determination. In an ongoing investigation carried out by the UN’s Human Rights Council, Sweden is encouraged to introduce a new gender recognition act that makes it easier for trans people who want to change their legal gender.  

As things stand, you currently have to have been in contact with a specialised assessment team for at least two years to legally change gender. This is a contributing factor to the long waiting times for gender-affirming care, which may be several years. Undergoing an assessment to gain access to care should be reserved for people in need of gender-affirming care, not those who merely want to change their legal gender. The government now needs to make good on its promise and introduce a new gender recognition act.

New legislation freeing up more resources for gender-affirming care, thereby satisfying people’s need to themselves decide what gender they should have, is crucial. It will improve the living conditions of many trans people in Sweden, not least by giving them the preconditions to feel better, mentally as well as physically. It’s high time for a new, modern gender recognition act.

Deidre Palacios, president of RFSL
Frank Berglund, vice president of RFSL

The opinion article was published in Sydsvenskan February 27 2020