Norway’s health minister promises to improve gender recognition laws

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Norway’s Minister for Health, Bent Høie, has promised to improve transgender rights by changing the country’s outdated system of gender recognition.

Earlier this week, Mr Høie, who was Norway’s official representative to the Sochi Paralympic Games, which he attended with his husband, received a petition from Amnesty International calling on him to improve the laws for transgender people in Norway.

Speaking to national broadcasting NRK shortly afterwards, Høie acknowledged that the current system is “very poorly conceived” and had been developed “in the background… without it being properly regulated”.

“I am clear that the present system is not acceptable,” he said.

Yet Mr Høie denied recent claims that the system could be changed “with a snap”, saying he cannot establish a better regulation until he has received the recommendations of the expert committee discussing the laws.

Currently Norway only allows people to legally change their gender after they have undergone surgery and sterilisation, which can only take place at the Oslo University Hospital.

It requires a psychiatric diagnosis of “transsexualism” from a medical professional, which is reportedly denied if the patient suffers from mental health concerns such as depression, or if the patient is considered too old.

Transgender people can receive hormone treatment from their GP, but with no corresponding recognition of their trans status.

Name change can occur easily, but is not accompanied by a change in title or legal gender. Neither does it change a citizen’s identification number, in which their legal gender is embedded.

A recent Amnesty International report includes testimonies from transgender Norwegians who describe the lengthy process of gender recognition, and say they were discouraged by doctors from seeking out the necessary surgery on the grounds that it would be too damaging.

The report states: “Norway violates the rights of transgender people to attain the highest standard of health and to be free from inhuman, cruel and degrading treatments by requiring them to undergo unnecessary medical treatments.”

Norway is this week hosting Euro Pride, which last night included an event entitled “The state decides who I am: Lack of legal gender recognition for transgender people in Europe”, named after the Amnesty paper.