News (World)

Finland now allows people to legally change gender by simply declaring it

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Finland's Prime Minister Sanna MarinPhoto: Shutterstock

Finland’s parliament has passed a law making it easier for transgender people to legally change their gender and eliminating past policies requiring trans people to be sterilized and diagnosed by a psychiatrist before making the change.

The law, passed in a 113-69 vote within the country’s 200-seat Parliament, allows people over the age of 18 to legally change their gender by making an official self-declaration after a required 30-day “period of reflection.”

The new law prohibits individuals from changing their declared gender more than once a year. This provision was added to prevent men between the ages of 18 to 60 from changing their gender to avoid mandatory military service. Women are not required to enlist in Finland’s military but can do so voluntarily.

The law will go into effect immediately, ABC News reported.

Finland used to require trans individuals to show proof of sterilization and psychiatric evaluation before allowing them to officially change their gender. Trans advocates long criticized this policy for stigmatizing trans people as mentally ill and unfit to raise kids. Amnesty International said the old law was also in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Amnesty International Finland’s LGBTI Rights Advisor, Matti Pihlajamaa, praised the new law, saying it will have a “huge and positive impact and provide an important pillar for non-discrimination.” However, Pihlajamaa said “more must still be done” to respect the self-determination of young trans individuals.

Some campaigners supported lowering the law’s minimum age to allow people aged 16 and 17 to self-declare their gender. Finnish law considers people below the age of 18 as minors.

“Excluding children from legal gender recognition violates the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child,” Pihlajamaa said. “We will continue to call on the government to amend the legislation accordingly to ensure it advances the rights of children.”

Pihlajamaa noted, “The vote comes as a result of more than a decade of campaigning by civil society groups and is a testament to the commitment of activists who have fought long and hard – often in the face of toxic rhetoric – to see this day.”

In the weeks before the vote, transphobic opponents predictably argued the law would allow cisgender men to harass and attack women in bathrooms, prisons, and other gendered facilities, explained Kerttu Tarjamo, secretary general of Seta, Finland’s oldest LGBTQ+ rights organization to EuroNews. This same “wedge” strategy is used to oppose trans rights in the United States, but both countries already have laws punishing harassment and assault in such places.

Finland’s Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, who was raised by two moms, said that the new bill represented “a very important issue to me personally,” as she sought to ensure its passage in parliament. She made this comment at the Helsinki Pride parade in February 2022, where she marched alongside tens of thousands of other LGBTQ+ people and allies.

“Even today, the structures of society put people into unequal positions,” Marin said at the parade. “For me, people have always been equal. It’s not a matter of opinion. That’s the foundation of everything.”

While Finland has legalized same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination protections, the country hasn’t banned so-called conversion therapy, nor does it allow LGBTQ+ couples to have a child through surrogacy. The country allows men who have sex with men to donate blood, but only after a four-month period of sexual abstinence.

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