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Iceland adds third gender option and strengthens trans rights in unanimous vote

Vic Parsons June 25, 2019
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Reykjavik Pride

(Photo by imavgjoe/Instagram)

The Icelandic Parliament has unanimously voted to pass a major new gender identity law, which expands the rights of transgender people and legally recognises non-binary people.

However, protections for intersex children – that were originally part of the proposed bill – have been dropped.

The legislation was introduced to the Icelandic Parliament by the Prime Minister’s office.

It was unanimously approved by the parliament on June 18, with 45 votes in favour, none opposed and three abstentions.

The law means that trans people in Iceland will no longer have to go through an invasive and lengthy medical process to change their legally recognised gender and access trans-specific healthcare.

It also means that non-binary people will be able to change their legal gender at the national registry using the new third gender option of ‘X’.

The intersex protections were supposed to forbid the practice of performing medically unnecessary surgery on children born with intersex traits.

But instead, the law says that a new special committee will have 12 months to research a new law specifically for intersex children and adults.

Iceland is ahead of the UK when it comes to trans rights (MARIANA SUAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)

The Icelandic decision has been described as “bittersweet” by activists because the new law doesn’t contain the proposed intersex protections.

“It’s a huge leap forward for trans people but intersex folks are being thrown under the bus, so celebrating feels a bit off,” said Alda Villiljós, a photographer and genderqueer activist.

Owl Fisher, a trans activist and chair of Trans Iceland who helped write the legislation, said in a piece for the Guardian that the new law “has the potential to make Iceland the world leader on LGBTI rights.”

“Iceland has just passed one of the most progressive laws on trans and intersex rights without any public conflict,” they said.

Iceland ahead of UK on trans rights

Fisher also pointed out that in the UK, proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) – which would make changes similar to those just passed in Iceland – have been met with a bitter culture war.

This has resulted in delays to proposed changes and a prolonged and increasingly toxic debate about trans issues.

Last week, Scotland postponed planned changes to the GRA that would have improved trans rights, and dropped proposals to legally recognise non-binary people altogether.

Fisher said, “While the proposed changes to the GRA have received a hostile reaction in the UK, the law in Iceland received support from groups including Amnesty International, children’s protection services and the Women’s Rights Organisation of Iceland.”

“Unlike in the UK, the rights of trans people have never been framed as a threat to women’s rights, but are seen as a vital part of the movement,” they said.

More: Europe, Iceland, intersex, Owl Fisher

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