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Spain, Scotland pass laws promoting trans rights, lower age for gender change

Bills makes it easier and faster for those aged 16 and over to change their gender on official documentation; opponents express fears over future of single-sex spaces

People celebrate the new Transgender Law on the steps of the parliament in Madrid, Spain, December 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Paul White)
People celebrate the new Transgender Law on the steps of the parliament in Madrid, Spain, December 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Paul White)

Spain and Scotland both passed transgender rights bills on Thursday despite strong opposition movements in both countries.

In Edinburgh, legislation was adopted making it easier and faster for people to change their gender, despite a rare rebellion within the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) and “concerns” from the UK government.

The legislation, which garnered 86 votes in favor and 39 against in Scotland’s devolved parliament, drops the requirement for a gender dysphoria medical diagnosis in order for someone to alter their gender.

“The motion is therefore agreed and the Gender Recognition Reform Scotland Bill is passed,” presiding officer Alison Johnstone said to loud applause from the public gallery.

People aged 16 and 17 will also now be allowed to change their gender, despite efforts by some Scottish lawmakers to keep the age at 18.

The law reduces from two years to three months — or six months for 16-17 year-olds — the time needed for an applicant to live in their new gender before it is officially recognized.

People react outside the parliament after the new Transgender Law was announced in Madrid, Spain, December 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Paul White)

An additional three-month reflection period is also required, during which time those who have initiated or are considering altering their gender can change their mind.

Opponents of the law fear it could be a danger to women and girls, particularly around the provision of single-sex spaces.

But the Scottish government insists the legislation will not impact the Equality Act, which allows for trans people to be excluded from single-sex spaces such as changing rooms and shelters.

In Madrid, legislation was passed allowing anyone 16 and over to change gender on their ID card, putting Spain on track to becoming one of the few countries to allow the change with a simple declaration.

Approved by 188 votes with 150 against and seven abstentions, the bill now moves to the Senate where, if left unchanged as expected, it will become law in weeks.

The bill simplifies the procedure for changing gender on a person’s national identity card, allowing them to request the change based on a simple statement.

It also bans conversion therapies, promotes non-discrimination against LGBTQ people in the workplace and seeks “to advance the inclusion” of transgender women in particular who tend to be disproportionately affected.

“That’s how history is made,” tweeted Equality Minister Irene Montero, thanking “the feminist majority” alongside a snapshot of the vote count and footage of LGBTQ campaigners applauding.

‘Neither voluntary nor optional’

But the text has sparked a bitter dispute among activists in Spain’s powerful feminist lobby and LGBTQ equality campaigners.

One of the most vocal opponents was lawmaker Carmen Calvo, who abstained from the vote, telling local media she could never vote with the right wing but could not bring herself to vote in favor of the bill.

“When gender is asserted over biological sex, it does not seem to me to be a step forward in a progressive direction; it seems to be a step backward,” she told El Mundo daily in September.

“The state has to provide answers for transgender people, but gender is neither voluntary nor optional.”

Activists fear the law will be open to abuse and erode women’s rights, allowing men who self-identify as women to compete in women’s sports or request a transfer to women’s prisons.

They have also raised alarm about minors having the right to self-determine gender. Under the bill, 12- and 13-year-olds need parental and judicial approval to do so, while 14- and 15-year-olds just need parental approval.

Tensions around the legislation prompted Socialist LGBTQ activist Carla Antonelli — the first and only trans woman to serve as a lawmaker — to resign from the party after decades of activism.

“We have seen part of the Socialist party and the feminist movement go from defending the rights of the trans minority to ruthlessly boycotting our very existence,” she wrote in an op-ed published by El Pais on Thursday.

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