EXPLAINER - What are trans self-ID laws and what impact do they have?

Thursday, 2 February 2023 12:44 GMT

Transgender rights supporters protest in favour of Scottish gender reform bill outside Downing Street in London, Britain January 17, 2023. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

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Finland has joined a growing number of countries that allow transgender self-ID. Here's what it means
  • Finland passes self-ID law
  • Self-ID removes barriers to change legal gender
  • At least 13 nations allow self-certification

By Lucy Middleton

LONDON, Feb 2 (Openly) - Finland has joined more than a dozen countries in passing a self-ID law that makes it easier for transgender people to change their legal gender.

The new law, passed on Wednesday by 113 votes to 69, a spokesperson for Finland's Ministry of Social Affairs told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

She said the change will mean trans people in Finland no longer need to be sterilised or undergo a psychiatric evaluation to change their legal gender.

It comes amid an increasingly toxic global debate over the issue, with the British government seeking to block Scotland's own self-ID bill.

LGBTQ+ groups that back self-ID laws say they greatly improve the lives of trans people, but opponents worry they could endanger women and girls.

Countries that allow trans self-ID include Malta, Denmark, New Zealand and Argentina, while others like Germany and the Netherlands are weighing similar legislation.

Here's what you need to know about the process.

What is self-ID?

Self-ID allows trans people to self-determine their gender, without the need for a psychiatric diagnosis.

In many countries, a legal gender change is not required to enter single-sex spaces like women's toilets or alter their gender on many official documents, such as medical forms.

Britain requires a person to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria - a discomfort people can feel if their gender identity does not match their body - and prove they have lived as their acquired gender for two years to legally change gender.

Some countries also require trans people to undergo medical treatment or surgery.

Self-ID removes these demands and often shortens the wait, making it significantly easier to make the change.

Where does self-ID already exist?

At least 13 countries allow self-ID, according to a December report by Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the United Nations independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Nepal and Pakistan also use a self-ID process for people who identify with a third gender or use a non-binary marker.

Argentina in 2012 became the first country in the world to bring in trans self-ID, with more than 12,000 people changing their gender in the following decade.

Denmark became the first European country to adopt the process in 2014. Nine other EU member states had followed suit as of last June, according to the Council of Europe, a human rights organisation.  

What is the controversy about?

Trans activists say legal gender change processes are often invasive and take too long, while requirements for a diagnosis or treatment are unnecessarily medicalised and stigmatising.

"Legal gender recognition is essential for trans persons to be able to live a life of dignity and respect, but these procedures are often lengthy and downright humiliating," said Julia Ehrt, executive director at ILGA-World, a global organisation fighting for LGBTQ+ rights.

Long waits mean trans people "are constantly exposed to the risk of violence and discrimination, and of seeing their most basic rights denied," she said.

The debate has become increasingly polarised in countries such as Britain and the United States.

Opponents of self-ID laws have said they put women at risk as the process could be used by predatory men to gain access to single-sex spaces, while LGBTQ+ rights groups say data indicates those concerns are unfounded.

Critics also oppose under-18s being allowed to legally update their gender under some countries' laws.

In December, Madrigal-Borloz said he had received no findings of the self-ID process being used by predatory men to cause violence against women in gender-segregated spaces in any of the countries with self-ID laws.

In Argentina, there has been no evidence of a rise in violence against women since self-ID was introduced, with a government study revealing only one trans woman was accused and convicted of sexual abuse between 2013 and 2019.

This article was updated throughout on Thursday, Feb 2, 2023 12:44 GMT after Finland passed its self-ID law. 

Related stories:

British government to block Scottish gender reform law

Scotland's trans self-ID bill no risk for women, says U.N. expert

Do trans self-ID laws harm women? Argentina could have answers 

(Reporting by Lucy Middleton; editing by Sonia Elks. The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit https://www.context.news/)

Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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