Iceland adopts a new comprehensive law on trans issues

Submitted by Hilmar Magnússon / Samtökin '78

On June 11th the Icelandic Parliament, Althingi, unanimously adopted a new comprehensive ‘Law on legal status of individuals with Gender Identity Disorder‘ (GID). The bill to the new law was drafted by a special five-member ‘Commission on the legal status of trans people’, appointed by the Minister of Welfare on the 24th of March 2011. Trans-Ísland (The National Organization of Trans People) and The Icelandic Human Rights Centre each appointed a representative to the commission.

The law is in accordance with the government coalition platform from 2009, where the Social Democratic Alliance and their junior coalition partner, The Left-Green Movement, committed themselves to improving the legal status of trans people in the country – a move previously recommended by the Parliament‘s Ombudsman.

The main objective of the new law

According to the commission’s explanations the main objective of the law is to ‘clarify the legal status of persons with Gender Identity Disorder’ (GID).* The commission stated that the law was first and foremost meant to amend administrative procedures, to improve practices regarding sex reassignment surgeries and to improve procedures regarding name change and registration with the National Registry. The commission argued that ‘although this group has received medical treatment and understanding of the Icelandic government, it is important to clarify the legal status of the individuals involved’.

The commission stated that it had discussed whether the reforms should be in the form of a new piece of comprehensive legislation or amendments to pieces of existing legislation such as (i) the Law on the Directorate of Health: (ii) the Name Law: and (iii) the Law on the Rights of Children, which would all need to be amended in order to secure the legal recognition of trans people. It said it had come to the conclusion that the introduction of a new comprehensive law would be the best way to guarantee the legal status of trans people, as well as to raise awereness of transgender issues, and that it had thus recommended this path to be taken.

Legislation to reflect the individual’s journey through the system

The commission said that in order to further clarify trans issues it had decided to draft the bill in such a way that, with regards to sex reassignment and name change, it would clearly reflect the individual’s journey through the health care system and public administration.

According to the law (Article 4) the individual will first be referred to a team of specialists on GID at the National University Hospital of Iceland – Landspítali (the hospital will be required to provide this service at all times). The team will include psychiatrists, psychologists and endocrinologists and its role will be to diagnose and treat individuals with GID.

After a treatment of minimum 18 months is concluded (whereof 12 months in the opposite gender role) and after having met all preconditions, the individual can seek the confirmation of belonging to the opposite sex to a minister appointed expert committee on GID (two doctors and one lawyer who serve four years). The committee’s role is to confirm that the individual belongs to the opposite sex and, if it applies, whether the individual is fit for reassignment surgery (Articles 5 and 6).

After having received such a recognition the individual will be guaranteed all the same legal rights as people of this gender enjoy (Article 7). The committee will now notify The National Registry and the individual will then be permitted to change their name according to their new gender (Article 8). This procedure is mostly unchanged from current practice. An individual who is registered in The National Registry but undergoes a sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) while living abroad can request that the National Registry change their name in their database (Article 9). The National Registry will assess the application, including whether the name change and/or correction of sex have been authorised by competent authorities or courts.

Article 10 guarantees a status quo in the legal relationship between a child and a parent who has been confirmed as legally belonging to the opposite sex.

Article 11 addresses the cases of those individuals who decide to return to their previous sex These individuals may seek help from Landspítali’s team of doctors, which will review the application and potentially revoke the gender change.

The new law will take effect on June 27th 2012.

* The commission explained the use of the term ‘Gender Identity Disorder’ (GID) by arguing that it was a more accurate description than e.g. the terms ‘trans-gender’ or ‘trans-people’.

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