Why does Germany want to limit trans self-ID during wartime?

Tuesday, 19 September 2023 14:17 GMT

A soldier stands in front of a drone at the U.S. military base in Vilseck-Grafenwoehr October 8, 2013. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

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A draft law to make it easier for trans Germans to change legal gender includes controversial restrictions in the case of war
  • Eleven European nations already allow gender self-ID
  • German bill seeks to curb legal gender change in wartime
  • Trans advocates say restrictions are discriminatory

By Enrique Anarte

BERLIN, Sept 19 (Openly) - Transgender rights advocates in Germany have criticised plans by the government to restrict legal gender change during war - a measure that seeks to stop men from abusing proposed trans self-ID rules to evade military conscription.

Germany's government last month approved draft legislation allowing people to change their legal gender simply by visiting the local civil registry office, a move that was initially welcomed by LGBTQ+ rights campaigners.

But trans advocates say the proposed wartime restrictions contained in the self-ID bill - which must still be approved by parliament - raise doubts about the government's commitment to self-determination.

Here is what you should know.

What is the controversy about?

One of the articles of the draft bill includes stipulations for legal gender change in "a case of tension or defence" – a legal state that has never been declared in Germany but could be applied if, for example, the country was under attack. 

The section states that if someone assigned male at birth tries to change legal gender during such a period or up to two months beforehand, they would still be considered male for the purposes of military conscription.

The wartime rights of trans and non-binary people - who identify as neither male nor female - were highlighted in Ukraine when Russia's 2022 invasion led to the declaration of martial law and conscription registration for most men.

Several trans women and non-binary people told Openly at the time that they were essentially unable to flee the country to safety because they still had male identity documents.

Germany suspended mandatory military service in 2011, but in a hypothetical war and the immediate period beforehand, men aged 18 and older can be conscripted to serve in the armed forces or be called to other state bodies such as the border guard.     

What does the government say?

The German Family Ministry, one of the ministries responsible for the bill, said changing legal gender would still be possible if "a case of tension or defence" was invoked, but that the provision was necessary to guarantee national security.

"The purpose of the regulation is to prevent the evasion of compulsory military service in the event of tension or defense and thus to ensure the defence capability of the Federal Republic of Germany," a ministry spokeswoman told Openly.

"Changing the gender marker and names remains possible and has legal effects in other areas."

Germany's centre-left governing coalition holds a parliamentary majority in the Bundestag, meaning the bill is likely to pass despite objections from the conservative opposition.

What do LGBTQ+ activists say?

LGBTQ+ activists say the wartime regulations and other articles in the bill - such as restrictions for migrants awaiting deportation - reflect persistent discrimination towards trans people by raising questions about the veracity of trans identities.

"This article of the bill is really feeding into the stereotype that trans people don't really exist, that they're people trying to cheat and trans women actually are men, and that in times of war we don't have time for 'luxury items' like gender identity," said Richard Koehler, senior policy officer at advocacy group Transgender Europe.

"It (also comes) from a very outdated understanding of gender: the idea of the male hero being the defender of the nation and the female giving birth, staying home and taking care of the nation."

What is the situation like in other countries?

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

Spain and Finland also passed self-determination laws after that study was released.

But none of these countries has experienced war or military tensions in recent times that have led to mandatory conscription since introducing self-ID.

According to Transgender Europe, none of the other 11 European nations with self-determination laws have provisions banning or restricting legal gender transition in times of war, making the German bill a potential first in the region.

(Reporting by Enrique Anarte @enriqueanarte in Berlin; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit Openly, the LGBTQ+ news website from the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit https://www.openlynews.com)

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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