Landmark legislation passed by the Netherlands in December will finally allow transgender persons to choose their own gender without surgical proof of having changed their gender. The passing of the legislation, which will come into effect in July of this year, has made the news worldwide, largely as it is a very significant step in an area which is not legislated for in many countries. Transgender people over the age of 16 must now file a request to have their gender changed on legal documentation, and this must be accompanied by an “expert statement affirming the person’s permanent commitment to belong to another gender”. This legislation abolishes previous requirements such as taking hormones and undergoing surgery, including sterilization.
International rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) have welcomed the decision, but insist that further steps can be taken to continue strive for full equality. They have advised against setting the minimum age at 16 but deciding in a case-by-case basis instead.
The Netherlands was one of the first countries to enact legislation to allow legal recognition of a change of gender, reports HRW, but this 1985 legislation has been long criticised by rights groups for its strict rulings on hormone use and surgery.
Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of HRW’s LGBT Rights Program, was optimistic but hopes for greater autonomy on the part of transgender people in the future: The requirement for an expert opinion in the new law undermines the right of transgender people to determine their own identity without interference of a third party,” Dittrich said. “The new law is a good step forward, but the Netherlands should move quickly to complete personal autonomy in letting people determine their gender identity.”
To get a closer look at what this legislation means to members of the transgender community around the world, the Holland Times spoke to some members of transgender rights organisations and those in the community to find out more:
“I think the change in law comes at a crucial time in the worldwide transgender movement,” said Kylar Broadus, Senior Policy Counsel with the Transgender Civil Rights Project, an organisation based in Washington D.C. “The Netherlands has always been a leader in setting policy and law in this arena and continues to do so by removing the surgical requirement for individuals. In fact, we’ve seen other countries and even policies in the U.S. such as our passport policy remove the surgical requirement. The realization is that being transgender isn’t about body parts and as more legislators embrace this concept the march for transgender equality will forge ahead.”
Stephanie Lourenco, a transgender female living in Portland, U.S., told the Holland Times that living as a transgender person, she feels “that acceptance of transgender persons and transgender rights have come a long way in the last 15 years. I continue to be very hopeful about the future of both issues in the [U.S.].
Vanessa Lacey, Health and Education Officer at the Transgender Equality Network in Ireland and a transgender female who has spoken widely on the need for recognition of transgender rights, told the Holland Times that the Dutch legislation is a welcome move, but on a day-to-day basis, there is a long way to go for equality. “I certainly welcome the recent developments in Holland in regard to to legislation for transgender people,” said Vanessa. “I would also hope as an Irish citizen that the legislative process in [Ireland] will move swiftly and we can finally be recognised in our preferred gender. However I feel personally that as much as this process has moved on worldwide and certainly more countries are enacting legislation for Trans people, I find it amazing the certain terms and conditions that are put in front of us to be recognised as the people that we feel we are. In my opinion being born Transgender in the 60s in Ireland and having to overcome so many barriers and obstacles, the main one I feel was, and is, societal attitudes. The impact of these obstacles on my mental health has been enormous, not including the mental health of my family, and I am sure many others did not ask to be born in a particular way, we had no choice in the matter, we are who we are. The least our legislators, health care workers, educators, media sources etc can afford us is our basic human rights, we are a diverse human race, allow us be who we are without pre-conditions.”