Trans activists in Spain hail self-determination bill 'triumph'

Friday, 23 December 2022 13:45 GMT

Activists for transgender rights celebrate the approval of a bill that will make it easier for people to self-identify as transgender, outside Spain's Parliament in Madrid, Spain, December 22, 2022. REUTERS/Susana Vera

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If approved by the Senate next year, the bill will put Spain at the forefront of trans rights in Europe
  • Self-determination bill expected to become law in 2023
  • Anyone over 14 could change gender without diagnosis
  • Bill hailed as an 'important milestone' by activists

By Enrique Anarte

BERLIN - For Mar Cambrollé, a 65-year-old transgender woman in Spain whose activism dates back to the fascist Franco regime, a bill making its way through the country's parliament marks "the most important milestone for trans people in 44 years of democracy".

The bill, which was approved by the lower house of parliament on Thursday, would allow trans people to self-identify, meaning they could change their legal gender on identification documents without the need for psychological or medical appraisals from the age of 14.

It would also allow children aged 12 to 14 to change gender with a judge's approval if, as expected, it becomes law in 2023.

The bill would put Madrid at the forefront of trans rights, letting trans people bypass a slew of medical tests and outside assessments, and change their status unilaterally.

Spain's Minister for Equality Irene Montero hugs a woman as activists for transgender rights celebrate the approval of a bill that will make it easier for people to self-identify as transgender, outside Spain's Parliament in Madrid, Spain, December 22, 2022. REUTERS/Susana Vera

"Finally there's a place for trans people under the umbrella of democracy," Cambrollé, a campaigner for equal rights since the 1970s, when same-sex relations were still illegal, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The bill will now move to the Senate, which is expected to approve the legislation in the first weeks of 2023 following months of rifts within the ruling coalition.

"It's the triumph of reason and justice," said Carla Antonelli, who became the first trans person to serve in a legislature in Spain in 2011.

"We are in the right side of history."

The bill still faces fierce opposition from right-wing parties, the Catholic Church and some feminist groups, who have said that it could harm women, and pressure children into undergoing hormone therapy and genital surgery.

The main feminist organisation opposing the self-ID bill, The Alliance Against the Erasure of Women, declined to comment.

Spain is one of several nations grappling with legal gender recognition for trans people, with Germany, Finland, and the Netherlands among those in Europe considering self-ID bills.

Activists for transgender rights celebrate the approval of a bill that will make it easier for people to self-identify as transgender, outside Spain's Parliament in Madrid, Spain, December 22, 2022. REUTERS/Susana Vera

Scotland's parliament approved a bill on Thursday making it easier for people to change their legal gender, including lowering the minimum age to 16 from 18.

Across Europe, the rights of trans and non-binary people are under fire, LGBTQ+ campaigners warn, with some feminists saying self-determination could "erase women" and put vulnerable women at risk in same-sex spaces like prisons or changing rooms.

The debate has split groups of activists who are more used to banding together in pursuit of greater rights for all, rather than fighting each other for the same space.

A recent survey published by Spain's conservative newspaper El Mundo found that 63.3% of Spaniards supported allowing trans people to freely choose their legal gender, while 32.7% said they thought a self-ID law would compromise women's rights.

'Atmosphere of fear'

Ten out of Spain's 17 regions already allow self-ID for trans people for services they manage - such as healthcare and education. Yet trans advocates say criticism of the national bill has already fuelled greater abuse, particularly online.

Rosa María García, a 27-year-old translator living in the eastern city of Valencia, said she spends less time on platforms such as Twitter after online harassment led to bouts of anxiety.

"Sometimes it feels like it's a debate about our very existence, instead of about specific rights," said Garcia, who uses they/she pronouns.

"This has all led to an atmosphere of fear, fear of being openly trans, fear of even being in the streets."

According to Spain's interior ministry, there were 466 hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people in 2021, an increase of 68% from 2019, before COVID-19 kept Spaniards at home for part of 2020.

Activist Cambrollé said she could recall no worse time to be trans when it comes to day-to-day abuse.

"It's the worst episode I have lived in the democratic period," Cambrollé said, recalling the state-sanctioned persecution of sexual minorities under Francisco Franco and the fear that lingered in the democracy that followed.

Spain tortured and jailed thousands of LGBTQ+ people under Franco, and many say they suffered persecution long after his death in 1975.

"Some of the arguments (against trans rights) have made me feel like I was back in the worst times of Francoism, even using the same terms," Cambrollé said.

"But I want to send a message of hope, despite this violent storm: after the storm there always comes a rainbow," she added.

A sign for Europe - and the world

If passed by Spain's Senate, the self-ID bill will scrap the current requirement for trans people to undergo two years of mandatory hormone treatment and psychological evaluation in order to access legal gender recognition.

But the proposed legislation also includes other ambitious LGBTQ+-related measures, including a ban on so-called 'conversion therapy' – a practice aimed at changing a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.

The bill would also ban unnecessary surgeries on babies who are born intersex - neither male nor female - and grant gay and lesbian couples new parenting rights.

Yet LGBTQ+ activists criticised that legal recognition of non-binary people had been omitted after the main partner of Spain's centre-left ruling coalition did not back the measure.

Should Spain - the third nation worldwide to legalise same-sex marriage in 2005 – introduce self-ID for trans people aged 14 or older, it would become a leader in Europe, activists said.

Self-determination exists in nine European countries and has been in force in Argentina for more than a decade, but it only applies to adults in most of these nations.

"Such a law (in Spain) is a strong sign not only for Europe, but also globally, for self-determination," said Petra Weitzel, head of dgti, one of Germany's leading trans rights groups.

Related stories:

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

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

'Scared to be openly gay': Fear in Spain after man beaten to death

(Reporting by Enrique Anarte; Editing by Lucy Middleton and Kieran Guilbert. The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit

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

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