As I have written about previously, one of Europe's most progressive nations has had one of Europe's most repressive policies towards transgender people. Sweden has required all transgender people to be sterilized in exchange for legal change of their sex.
On December 19 the Stockholm Administrative Court of Appeal overturned that law, declaring it to be unconstitutional. The appeal period ended January 10, so the old law, enacted in 1972, is now invalid.
Sweden’s 1970s-era statutes on sexual identity mandated that any person who legally wanted to change their sex must be sterile. Transgender Swedes had to go through gender reassignment surgery to have their legal documents updated, and to comply with the law, they were also sterilized, whether or not they wanted to be.
In March an administrative court in Sweden ruled that compulsory sterilization was a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
I think that it is important for anyone who has been involved in the issue that the legal community has taken a stand and that we receive confirmation that the convention’s support for human rights apply in practice.
--Swedish rights lawyer Kerstin Burman, last March
But while the liberal and moderate members of Sweden's Parliament fought to repeal the law, the conservative Christian Democrats remained stubborn. One compromise allowed transgender people to marry, which had been banned even though same-sex marriage had been legalized in 2009.
An unidentified plaintiff who desired to change his legal gender but refused to be sterilized then took his case to the Swedish Board of Health…and won that right.
Now around 500 people who underwent forced sterilization in order to change their legal gender are suing. Ulrika Westerlund of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights has said that 200,000 kronor ($31,000) is thought to be a "fair sum for damages".
It was an assault, a rape. The state gave an ultimatum I had to accept. The alternative was to die, which I felt so strongly. I do not know how many wills I wrote as a child… I am terribly disappointed that it took so terribly long.
Being transgender is considered embarrassing and unimportant in society. They would rather hide us, it’s hard to even talk about us. Therefore, it has taken time… It’s lucky that I can feel joy for others. Otherwise I would have been driven to madness by the bitterness.
Colliander and her intersex partner, Vio Szabo, are shown in the photo.
Transgender Law Center Operations Manager Maceo Persson offers his reaction to the news.
Today’s news is huge. It lifts a dehumanizing law that traces back to the dark times of the eugenics movement. The sterilization law in Sweden had also been joined with a law that didn’t allow transgender people to be married in order to go through a legal and medical transition. These policies sent a very clear message that the government saw transgender people as unfit to have a family. It is astonishing that we still had to have a legal battle in order to remove this archaic practice and it is a huge victory for transgender Swedes.
If lawmakers take the initiative to adopt a law outlining damages, we will not file a lawsuit.
In 1999 Sweden granted 175,000 kronor in damages to women who had been sterilized under an infamous eugenics program.
Currently sixteen countries require some form of sterilization before they undergo gender reassignment surgery (Belgium, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Monaco, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia. Denmark, the Netherlands, and Portugal are currently reviewing their legal requirements.
Croatia, Ireland, Lithuania have no legal recognition of transgender people. The legal situation in Bulgaria is unknown.
A new policy is slated to be written and the old policy removed from the books effective July 1, 2013.