Sweden will pay $35,000 to transgender people who were forced to undergo sterilization in order to have their gender identity recognized following the passage of a new law.
Legislation was first proposed last year to compensate victims of the practice, which was deemed unconstitutional by the Stockholm Administrative Court of Appeal and found in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Sweden was the first country to allow trans people to change their legal gender in 1972, but the groundbreaking decision came with a cost: Trans people would no longer be allowed to bear children.
As of 2016, more than 20 countries require trans people be sterilized before their identity documents are updated.
But Sweden’s forced sterilization program applied to more than just members of the trans community. As revealed in a 1997 expose published by the Dagens Nyheter daily newspaper, as many as 60,000 people were sterilized between the years of 1935 and 1975 in order to cleanse its population of genetic “undesirables.”
The communities affected by this policy included immigrants, single mothers, biracial people, social deviants, and individuals with mental and physical disabilities. A majority of victims were female.
Those subjected to the procedure were either declared “of unsound mind” or pressured through coercion. Authorities would tell victims that if they didn’t submit to the program, their homes or their children would be taken away. A 1998 report from the Columbia Journalism Review claimed the practice amounted to “legalized blackmail.”
“Freedom of choice was, in fact, totally illusory,” the publication declared.
Sweden’s government has previously offered $22,000 in compensatory damages to other groups impacted by the policy, but to date, it has yet to extend the same courtesy to trans people. Although the country hasn’t sterilized populations like the Roma community for four decades, it only banned trans sterilizations five years ago.
Although countries like Denmark, France, Italy, and Norway ruled in recent years they would halt sterilizations on their transgender citizens, Sweden will be the first to offer reparations to trans victims.
Sweden’s history of forced sterilizations may be surprising to those who view the European nation as a leader on LGBTQ rights. In 2010, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) named Sweden as Europe’s most gay-friendly country. A 2015 survey found that 95 percent of Swedes believe LGBTQ people and heterosexuals should have the same rights.
Advocacy groups believe the reparations law, which goes into effect May 1, is a step toward further equality for the countrywhich currently lacks trans-inclusive nondiscrimination protections.
RFSL, Sweden’s largest LGBTQ organization, called the newly passed law a “historic decision.”
“We have strived for this since 2013 when the requirement of sterilisation to change one’s legal gender was abolished,” RFSL spokesman Emelie Mire Åsell claimed in a press release.
“Monetary reparations cannot completely compensate for the violations of forced sterilization, but financial redress initiated by the government is an official acknowledgement that these actions were wrong and that the State should not have treated its citizens in this way,” added Kerstin Burman, a representative of the group.
Advocates further urge the government to issue a formal apology to trans people harmed by the sterilization law.
An estimated 800 individuals will be eligible for compensation, according to Sweden’s The Local newspaper. The federal government has stated that victims of the practice must submit applications for reparations to Kammarkollegietthe country’s Legal, Financial, and Administrative Services Agencybefore May 1, 2020.
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