Spain passes law allowing free gender change from age 16

After months of sometimes heated debate within the ruling left, Spanish MPs definitively adopted a law on Thursday allowing people to freely change gender from the age of 16, at a time when other European countries are slowing down on this controversial subject. Battle horse of the radical left party Podemos, an ally of the socialists in the government of Pedro Sánchez, this so-called “transgender” law allows people who wish to change their gender on their identity papers via a simple administrative declaration as soon as the age of 16.

It will therefore no longer be necessary to provide medical reports attesting to gender dysphoria and proof of hormonal treatment followed for two years, as was the case until now for adults. The text – adopted by 191 votes to 60 with 91 abstentions – also extends this right to 14-16 year olds, provided that they are accompanied in the procedure by their legal guardians, as well as to 12-14 year olds, if they get the green light from justice. Spain thus joins the few countries in the world authorizing gender self-determination via a simple declaration, like Denmark, the first country to have granted this right in Europe to transgender people in 2014.

A law that “depathologizes” transgender people

“Today we have taken a giant step” in recognizing the “free determination of gender identity”, launched the Minister Podemos for Equality Irene Montero, defending a law which “depathologizes” transgender people . On the same day, the Spanish deputies voted definitively, by 185 votes against 154 and 3 abstentions, a law creating “menstrual leave” for women suffering from painful menstruation, an unprecedented measure in Europe. “This is a historic day for feminist progress,” Equality Minister Irene Montero, a member of Podemos, tweeted.

The debate over gender dysphoria, that is, the distress caused by a mismatch between a person’s biological sex and the gender with which a person identifies, has gained momentum in many countries in recent years with the increase in requests for transition, particularly among minors. But the adoption of this law in Spain comes at a time when several countries, some of which were hitherto at the forefront on the subject, are slowing down.

In Sweden, the authorities decided a year ago to end hormone therapy for minors, except in very rare cases, citing the need to exercise “caution”. They have also come to drastically restrict the use of breast removal for teenage girls. In Finland, a similar decision was taken as early as 2020 on hormone therapy, while in France, the Academy of Medicine called for “great medical caution” in the treatment of young patients and “the greatest reserve” on hormonal treatments.

“We are not here to experiment with people”

Finally, the The United Kingdom last month blocked a Scottish transgender rights law, similar to that in Spain, passed in late December by the Edinburgh parliament after heated debate. This episode weakened Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who announced her resignation on Wednesday, after a heated controversy arose from the incarceration in a women’s prison of a transgender woman convicted of raping two women before her transition.

In Spain, the “trans” law has aroused fierce opposition from the right. “We are not here to experiment with people… We see countries backtracking because they now see that they have rushed in, which has caused a lot of suffering. Let’s not the same thing,” insisted Thursday Maria Jesus Moro, deputy of the Popular Party.

But this text has also caused deep divisions within the left and the feminist movement, as the country prepares for general elections at the end of the year. The text has been ardently defended by Podemos and by Spain’s largest LGBT organization, FELGBTI+, which hopes, according to its president Uge Sangil, that this law will “encourage other countries to follow” the Spanish “example”.

Dissonant voices on the left

But other, dissonant voices have been heard on the left, with some feminists believing that the notion of gender self-determination jeopardizes decades of struggle for gender equality. “To claim gender as being above biological sex (…) seems to me to be a setback”, denounced the former number two of the Sánchez government, Carmen Calvo.

The Socialists tried to amend the text to extend the obligation of a green light from justice to 14-16 year olds but did not find enough support in Parliament. “Opening this door” of gender transition “without any restrictions to children seems to me hasty” and “very dangerous”, commented for his part Rim Alsalem, UN special rapporteur on violence against women, in an interview. Madrid daily El Mundo.

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