Until late last week one of Europe’s most progressive nations had one of the continent’s most repressive policies on transgender people. Swedish law had required all transgender people to undergo sterilization if they want to legally change their sex. In a Dec. 19 decision, the Stockholm Administrative Court of Appeal overturned the law, declaring it unconstitutional.
Sweden’s 1970s-era statutes on sexual identity mandated that any person who legally wanted to change their sex must be sterile. Transgender Swedes had to go through gender reassignment surgery to have their legal documents updated, and to comply with the law, they were also sterilized, whether or not they wanted to be.
Liberal and moderate members of Sweden’s Parliament fought to repeal the law last year, but faced opposition from the conservative Christian Democrat party. The parties compromised by allowing transgender people to marry, which had been banned under the same law.
Despite Sweden’s other LGBT-friendly laws (Parliament legalized gay marriage in 2009 by a hefty majority) and calls to end the mandate from human rights groups, it has so far remained. That is, until an unidentified plaintiff who wanted to update his legal gender but refused to be sterilized took his case to the Swedish Board of Health.
Now, many of the estimated 500 people who have undergone forced sterilization since the law was passed are demanding compensation. Ulrika Westerlund, head of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights, told Swedish website The Local that 200,000 kronor, or $31,000, would be a “fair sum” for damages.
“If lawmakers take the initiative to adopt a law outlining damages, we will not file a lawsuit,” she said.
Perfection of the Nordic race through sterilization isn’t new, and neither is granting compensation to those affected. In 1999, Sweden granted 175,000 kronor in damages to women who had been sterilized under an infamous eugenics program that lasted 40 years.
Sixteen European countries currently require transgender people to be sterilized before they undergo gender reassignment surgery, including France, Portugal and Italy. In Denmark, the Netherlands and Portugal, the law is under review.